A Comprehensive Guide to CIEMs: Mastering Cloud Security in Limited Resource Settings

Josue Ledesma

February 29, 2024

A Comprehensive Guide to CIEMs: Mastering Cloud Security in Limited Resource Settings

In navigating the cloud security landscape, organizations typically confront two main challenges:  

  1. Simplifying Complexity: Protecting assets becomes a complex puzzle in the face of diverse cloud environments and a delicate software supply chain. It’s about breaking down this complexity into manageable, secure segments.  
  2.  Overcoming Resource Constraints: Limited expertise, team size, and budget often amplify the difficulty of the first challenge. Effective strategies are needed to maximize these resources to optimize security. 

Regarding the first option, many organizations have realized that cloud-native solutions should be prioritized to properly execute on cloud security given the nuances involved in threat and vulnerability management as well as asset management and access control. 

To address this increasing complexity despite a lack of resources, organizations are considering cloud-native solutions that operate across efficiency, security, effectiveness, and operational ease. Commonly referred to as Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) solutions, these new generation of cloud security tools have emerged as a preferred choice for organizations prioritizing their cloud security. A study of over 1200 IT and cloud professionals found that 75% of respondents have implemented or are planning to implement CNAPPs in their cloud environments.  

One of the key elements of CNAPPs are Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) solutions, which we’ll explore as an essential tool for a comprehensive cloud security strategy. 

The Demand of Doing More, with Less: Resource Issues in Cyber Departments 

Across most organizations and departments, budgets are tight and teams are leaner. Yet, for cybersecurity departments, the demand of its personnel only continues to grow, a challenge compounded by today’s acute cybersecurity talent shortage, particularly in cloud security.

“In 2020, spending on cloud infrastructure finally surpassed traditional on-premise datacenter purchase,” says Raphael Peyret, vice president of product at Horangi Cyber Security, a Bitdefender company. This growth isn’t relenting even three years later. In the second quarter of 2023, spending on cloud computing and cloud storage infrastructure increased 7.9% year over year, reaching $24.6B.

With this increase in spending and shift towards a cloud-first infrastructure, the priority for cloud security is higher but many cybersecurity departments are struggling with a knowledge and training gap. Many cybersecurity experts and staff are well-versed in traditional security and significantly less so in cloud security.  

This results in a department that needs to quickly set up a new infrastructure to protect and manage the risks associated with an entirely new attack surface with teams that are too small and don’t have the training or knowledge required. They instead, leverage traditional solutions or advanced solutions they can’t effectively manage. 

A survey of IT professionals around the world found that their top three challenges with security solutions were: 

  • Extending capabilities across multiple environments (43.5%) 
  • Complexity (43.2%) 
  • Lack of security skill set to drive full value (36%) 

Rather than trying to force cloud security through traditional methods, leaders should instead consider cloud security differently. 

Why Cloud Environments Need A Novel Cybersecurity Approach 

“There’s a common misconception that cloud security is simply about protecting assets and data on someone else's servers,” Peyret says. “That there’s a similar threat landscape and the biggest difference is simply a change in where the infrastructure is located.” This is quite far from the case. 

Think of traditional security as the sturdy, physical locks on a building’s doors – a straightforward and familiar safeguard. In contrast, cloud security can be likened to an advanced, smart lock system. These smart locks offer unparalled convenience and efficiency, allowing doors to be locked or unlocked remotely, scheduled to be set, and access to be granted or revoked instantly from anywhere in the world. But, this shift to a connected, electronic system also unveils a new, expansive attack surface. Just as smark locks can be a gateway for sophisticated threat actors if not properly secured, cloud security presenta unique vulnerabilities. It demands vigilant, cutting-edge protection strategies to guard against the increasingly inventive threats targeting these digital doorways.  

This analogy underscores a pivotal insight: navigating the cloud introduces a distinct set of threats, risks, and necessary strategies that fundamentally diverge from those in traditional security frameworks. In this interconnected digital realm, it’s critical not only to adapt by incorporating specialized cloud security tools, but also to integrate them with existing security practices. The goal is to forge a comprehensive defense strategy – leveragint he best of both worlds. This approach ensures a robust security posture that is equipped to manage and mitigate risks in the cloud, without forsaking the foundational security measures that organizations have trusted for years. 

Many cybersecurity teams haven’t yet grasped the crucial differences between traditional and cloud security, leading to a notable gap in understanding and training. This gap often translates into operational and management challenges. When leaders apply traditional security strategies to the cloud, they find them ineffective. Why? Because these methods aren’t tailored for the unique demands of cloud security. 

For example, in an on-premise setup, security revolves around managing a finite set of controls, permissions, access points, and users related to servers and physical assets that change very infrequently.  

“The top three cloud providers alone have over 40,000 different permissions,” Peyret says. “And most ‘users' aren't employees, they're machines, micro-services and bots from other environments and cloud providers.” 

This exponential increase in what requires managing is essentially impossible with traditional security tools, making it extremely easy to end up with a misconfigured environment, lost assets, or mismanaged permissions. We’ve already seen what that can lead to with the infamous 2019 Capital One hack. A compromised Web Application Firewall had unnecessary access to sensitive data which led to a data breach impacting more than 100M customers.  

“There was no business reason for that Web Application Firewall to have access to that data,” Peyret says. “But it was probably easy to lose track of it, you can’t manually review every machine’s permissions.”  

Manual permission and access management tools can’t handle the sheer volume and complexity of accounts, users, and permissions in the cloud, even for fully-staffed teams. Fortunately, to address this specific issue, CIEMs have emerged as a cloud-native solution organizations should consider investing in.  

How CIEM Helps Improve Cloud Security Management 

CIEM is an emerging cloud-native solution specifically designed to enhance security management in cloud environments by addressing some of the issues in cloud security – access and permission management as well as asset visibility.  

CIEM Main Features 

In complex, multi-cloud environments, keeping track of assets – knowing what exists and where they’re located – becomes incredibly challenging, especially as environments splinter off and developer teams grow. CIEM tools provide a comprehensive overview of all assets within an organization’s entire cloud infrastructure, ensuring that nothing goes unnoticed. 

With more comprehensive asset visibility, access management is now possible, with CIEM centralizing efforts for a more streamlined and efficient process. This allows organizations to not only see who has access to what, but control and manage access for effective risk mitigation.  CIEM is designed to proactively identify and remediate potential IAM risks by surfacing weakly protected identities or over-privileged accounts but also to streamline the access reviews required by most organization’s security policies. 

Beyond just visibility, CIEM effectively manages who has access to what in the cloud. It centralizes the management of access permissions, providing a streamlined and efficient way to control how resources are utilized and by whom.  

This gives organizations a more proactive approach to cloud security, helping it stay ahead of issues most commonly associated with the cloud, like accidental exposures or lateral movement attacks. 

Operational Benefits of CIEM 

CIEM tools don’t just centralize asset management; they contextualize it. They help organizations identify and understand permissions and access in a way that is relevant to their specific operational context.  

“CIEM is advanced enough that it allows companies to implement the Principle of Least Privilege (PloP) in the cloud,” Peyret says. “Something that was always impractical to implement in cloud environments.” 

As a cloud-native tool, CIEM also serves organizations with fast-growing cloud environments. Whether it’s due to an organization’s size, their increased investment in the cloud, or because they’re expanding their software development operations, CIEM can scale accordingly without needing to increase a security department’s headcount. This is crucial for resource-strapped organizations and one of the most significant benefits CIEM provides. 

One of the most significant advantages of CIEM is its scalability. As organizations grow and expand their cloud footprint, CIEM solutions can scale accordingly without necessitating a proportional increase in security teams or resources. This scalability is crucial for organizations looking to grow while maintaining a tight grip on their cloud security posture. 

Lastly, CIEM solutions are both low-risk and relatively easy to implement as they’re designed to enhance security without disrupting business operations. Historically, traditional security tools that tried to provide access management for the cloud either lacked the granularity or centralization needed to optimize productivity. Or the tool would be too bulky, based on a single asset or role, resulting in a lengthier implementation time, reducing overall efficiency. 

CIEM solutions represent the next generation of cloud native tools and address the true issues most organizations face when it comes to cloud security. 

Effective Cloud Security Requires Effective Cloud Management 

“When it comes to cloud security, it’s not just about mitigating risk and threats, it’s about operational management,” Peyret says. 

When considering implementing a cloud-first cybersecurity strategy, it’s important to not fall into a traditional security mindset. The cloud security landscape is too complex and a traditional approach may only lead to ineffective implementation that may be disruptive to business operations, negatively impact software development teams, and result in a less-protected business. Key stakeholders in DevOps may not want to adhere to your cloud security measures, citing developer slowdown and, as a result, finance may not see the benefit of budgeting for a big-ticket cloud security solution. This means you’ll be on the hook even as the organization grows in a less than secure manner. 

To get the entire organization behind you, a holistic cloud security strategy is needed, which means finding cloud-native solutions that offer a balance of robust security, maintaining efficiency and productivity, and adhering to budget constraints, while keeping implementation simple and easy. CIEM is an important element here as are tools like cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools, and other cloud native application protection platform (CNAPP) solutions. 

Resource optimization is incredibly important across many departments and it’s now come to cybersecurity, given the constraints and demands teams face. When it comes to cloud security, knowing what’s best for your organization requires asking what it can comfortably manage. This will allow you to enact a more effective cloud security strategy that balances productivity and risk management, a result any company would welcome comfortably.

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Josue Ledesma

Josue Ledesma is a writer, filmmaker, and content marketer living in New York City. He covers cyber security, tech and finance, consumer privacy, and B2B digital marketing.

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