What is cloud security posture management (CSPM?)
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What is CSPM?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is cybersecurity technology that automates and unifies the identification and remediation of misconfigurations and security risks across hybrid cloud and multicloud environments and services, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Why CSPM is important

Organizations are increasingly adopting and combining multicloud (services from multiple different cloud service providers) and hybrid cloud (cloud combining public cloud and private cloud infrastructure).

Multicloud and hybrid cloud give organizations of all sizes the flexibility to deploy best-of-breed apps and development tools, rapidly scale operations, and accelerate digital transformation. By one recent estimate, 87 percent of organizations use multi-cloud environments, and 72 percent use hybrid-cloud environments (link resides outside ibm.com). 

But along with these benefits, multicloud and hybrid cloud also bring security challenges.

Security staff and DevOps/DevSecOps teams have to manage security and compliance for all the components of the cloud-native applications they deploy across multiple providers’ clouds—hundreds or thousands of microservices, serverless functions, containers and Kubernetes clusters.

In particular, Infrastructure as code (IaC), which enables API-driven, on-the-fly provisioning with every continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) cycle, makes it all too easy to program, distribute and perpetuate misconfigurations that leave data and applications vulnerable to security incidents and cyberthreats. According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2023 report, cloud misconfiguration was identified as the initial attack vector for 11 percent of data breaches in 2023.

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How CSPM works

CSPM solutions work by discovering and cataloging an organization's cloud assets, continuously monitoring them against established security and compliance frameworks, and providing tools and automation for quickly identifying and remediating vulnerabilities and threats.

Continuous monitoring and automated discovery 

With multiple cloud providers and distributed cloud components, lack of visibility can be a problem for security teams. CPSM addresses this issue by automatically discovering all cloud services and applications components—and their associated configurations, metadata, security settings and more—across all public and private cloud services and all cloud providers (e.g., Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure) in the organization’s hybrid multicloud environment.

CSPM’s continuous monitoring discovers all cloud resources and assets in real time, as the are deployed. Security teams can monitor and manage everything from a single dashboard.

Misconfiguration management and remediation

CSPM tools monitor for misconfigurations by constantly assessing configurations against industry and organizational benchmarks—like those from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Center for Internet Security (CIS)—as well as the organization’s own benchmarks and security policies. CSPM solutions typically provide guided cloud configuration remediation, as well as automation capabilities for resolving some misconfigurations without human intervention.

CSPM also monitors and remediates other vulnerabilities, such as gaps in data access permissions that hackers can exploit to access sensitive data. And most CSPM solutions integrate with DevOps/DevSecOps tools to speed remediation and prevent misconfigurations in future deployments.

Compliance monitoring

CSPM tools also provide continuous compliance monitoring to help organizations adhere to compliance standards—such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)—and to identify potential compliance violations.

Real-time threat detection

In addition to identifying cloud security and compliance risks, CSPM solutions monitor the entire environment for malicious or suspicious activity, and incorporate threat intelligence to identify threats and prioritize alerts. Most CSPM solutions integrate with security tools—such as security information and event management (SIEM)—to capture context and insights for improved threat detection and incident response.

CSPM vs. other cloud security solutions
Cloud Infrastructure Security Posture Assessment (CISPA)

CISPA, the first generation of CSPM, was primarily designed to report misconfigurations and security issues. CSPM goes beyond simple reporting and automates the detection and remediation process. CSPM solutions continuously monitor security issues using advanced artificial intelligence and benchmark against established security best practices.

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPPs)

CWPPs secure specific workloads across cloud providers and allow organizations to perform security functions across multiple cloud environments, focusing on vulnerability management, anti-malware, and application security. By contrast, CSPMs protect the entire cloud environment, not just specific workloads. CSPMs also incorporate more advanced automation and guided remediation to help security teams fix problems once they’re identified.

Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs)

CASBs, or cloud access security brokers, act as security checkpoints between cloud service providers and their customers. They help enforce policies that regulate network traffic before granting access and provide essential tools like firewalls, authentication mechanisms, and malware detection. CSPM tools perform these same monitoring tasks but take them further, delivering continuous compliance monitoring and establishing a policy that outlines the desired infrastructure state. CSPM solutions then check all network activity against this policy, ensuring the network complies with established standards and maintains a secure cloud environment.


A cloud-native application protection platform, or CNAPP, consolidates several cloud security and CI/CD security technologies into a single platform that helps security, development and DevOps/DevSecOps teams collaborate on developing, delivering and running more secure and compliant cloud-native applications.

CNAPP was originally defined as a combination of CSPM, CWPP, and cloud service network security (CSNS), a technology for protecting network traffic. But depending on whom you ask, CNAPP can include several other technologies such as cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM), for continuously monitoring and managing cloud permissions, and infrastructure as code scanning, for catching misconfigurations during the CI/CD cycle. You can read industry analyst Gartner’s definition of CNAPP here (link resides outside ibm.com).

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Resources Cost of a Data Breach 2023

Be better prepared for breaches by understanding their causes and the factors that increase or reduce costs. Learn from the experiences of more than 550 organizations that were hit by a data breach.

What is SIEM?

SIEM (security information and event management) is software that helps organizations recognize and address potential security threats and vulnerabilities before they can disrupt business operations.

What is multicloud?

Hybrid cloud combines and unifies public cloud, private cloud and on-premises infrastructure to create a single, flexible, cost-optimal IT infrastructure.

Take the next step

Widespread hybrid cloud adoption and permanent remote workforce support have made it impossible to manage the enterprise attack surface. IBM Security Randori Recon uses a continuous, accurate discovery process to uncover shadow IT. Randori keeps you on target with fewer false positives, and improves your overall resiliency through streamlined workflows and integrations with your existing security ecosystem.

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