In the last few years, the adoption of cloud computing has grown in leaps and bounds. A lot of organizations are moving their core operations, services, and data to the cloud for the sake of cost saving, quick deployment, and improved efficiency in their operations.
As of 2022, a report by Gartner projected that end-user spending on cloud services would grow by 20.4% in 2022 to a total of $494.7 billion. By 2023, this spending is expected to reach $600 billion.
With critical functions and sensitive data being moved to the cloud, the security of these resources becomes a key concern for many organizations. The HashiCorp 2022 State of Cloud Strategy Survey established that 89% of organizations consider security a key driver to the success of cloud computing. To organizations, the security of their cloud is crucial in ensuring the availability of their services found on the cloud. Additionally, it helps in avoiding data breaches hence protecting sensitive data.
With cloud computing being highly regulated, cloud security also ensures businesses comply with local laws and regulations governing the use of cloud computing services and handling user data. Robust security infrastructures also help in quick recovery and damage control in the event of a security incident such as unauthorized access.
One way to ensure the security of a cloud computing environment is through effective management of user access and privileges to resources stored on the cloud by using a Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) tool.
Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management(CIEM)
In an organization with a cloud environment, human users, systems, and automated software, which are known as identities, have access to its resources in the cloud. Such access is typically required when running operations on the cloud. In such a scenario, creating a hierarchy that guides the level of access granted to the company resource on the cloud is necessary.
For instance, in an e-commerce platform running on the cloud, a customer shopping on the site will not have the same access to resources as the one granted to company staff. Company staff members will also have different levels of access depending on their level of seniority. Automated software services accessing the cloud environment will also have their own permissions.
With organizations moving many of their services to the cloud and some even using multiple cloud solutions, they need to grant millions of permissions to people, systems, and cloud services accessing their cloud ecosystems. This can become overwhelming, resulting in overpowered users, misconfigured permission, or unused permission, which can be exploited by attackers. Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management(CIEM) comes in handy to avoid such incidents.
Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) is the process of managing and protecting the access rights, permissions, and privileges of users, identities, and cloud services that have access to a cloud environment’s resources, such as data, applications, and services. CIEM is a cloud security solution that makes it easy for organizations to enforce the principle of least privilege on identities with access to their cloud environment.
The principle of least privilege states that users or identities should only have the minimum set of permissions and access to only the specific data and resources necessary to do their jobs.
CIEM helps organizations to identify and avoid risks resulting from privileges being higher than they should be by continuously monitoring the permissions and activities of users and identities accessing cloud resources. It thus ensures that they are always operating within their appropriate access controls.
Why CIEM is important
With the increase in the adoption of cloud computing and a preference for multi-cloud solutions, organizations will need to manage a huge number of privileges for millions of its users and systems that access its multi-cloud computing environment. This presents a security challenge that cannot be addressed by traditional security measures such as Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools.
In fact, according to Gartner, by 2023, 75% of cloud security failures will result from inadequate management of identities, access, and privileges. Managing identities across multi-cloud platforms creates a security problem that only CIEM solutions are capable of addressing.
For instance, IAM tools will help manage and register privileges, but they cannot monitor for overpowered users or services or broken privileges. Only a CIEM solution can achieve this and support multiple cloud computing solutions. CIEM is thus a key security component to avoid security breaches caused by the mismanagement of identities and privileges in a cloud environment.
In addition to beefing up the security of a cloud environment, CIEM allows for monitoring cloud resource usage from one dashboard, even when using multi-cloud. It thus will enable organizations to get reliable insights into their usage of cloud resources. This can inform their spending on cloud resources in the future. Finally, CIEM monitors for permission-related risks and automatically remediates the issues before they can be exploited by attackers.
How CIEM works
To manage entitlements in a cloud ecosystem, CIEM solutions have a knowledge engine that first gathers information on cloud identities which compromises human and non-human entities that have access to a cloud environment. It also collects information on the entitlements of these identities. Entitlements are the tasks and access privileges that identities have.
After the identities available and their entitlements are established, CIEM starts the regular collection of information on the usage of cloud resources by all the available entities and details on how they are using their privileges. This information is passed to a Security Information and Event Management(SIEM) platform for aggregation with other performance and resource usage metrics into a searchable database that is then stored on the CIEM.
The gathered information is verified and counterchecked by CIEM, contrasting the behaviors of identities with their permitted tasks and privileges. In case suspicious behavior or anomalies are detected, the CIEM alerts the administrator. The CIEM can also automatically remediate risks by lowering the privileges of an identity, stripping an identity of all its privileges, or deactivating the privileges. All these happen under the hood without the need for user intervention.
CIEM is made up of three main components. These are:
Centralized Management is a dashboard that allows organizations using CIEM to secure and manage their single or multi-cloud ecosystem all from one place. This dashboard allows for quick monitoring of anomalies and operational efficiencies that result from manual setting changes.
Identity Governance comprises rules which define which human and non-human users are subject to specific policies and regulations. This helps determine the level of access granted to the users at any given time.
These rules determine who or what has access to a cloud environment, when and where they are accessing it, and their reason for access.
By combining the three components above, organizations using cloud computing can clearly see which permissions are used in each session and easily tell which privileges are being abused by overpowered users, in case any exist.
The Role of CIEM in Cloud Security
Cloud computing presents new complex security challenges for organizations as managing access risk to their resources easily overwhelms human security teams. With thousands of applications, services, and users accessing cloud resources, the only way to keep up with the complexity of managing entitlements and privileges in the cloud environment is by adopting CIEM and automation.
CIEM eases the burden of managing privileges, access rights, and identities by providing continuous assessment and validation of the privileges and access rights of identities accessing cloud resources. In the event that access risks are discovered, CIEM allows for quick and automated remediation of the risks to ensure no overpowered identities exist.
To cap it all, CIEM supports scaling and provides support for multi-cloud implementation, allowing organizations to manage the entitlements on multi-clouds all from one central place. In cloud security, CIEM is the shield against risks that can be caused by mismanaged entitlements of users and automation services accessing a cloud environment.
Benefits of CIEM
Some of the benefits organizations can reap from implementing CIEM includes the following:
Improved visibility and identity management – CIEM provides a single dashboard from which organizations can see all users and identities that have access to their single or multi-cloud environment and the permission they have. This allows for easy management of what each user or identity can see in the cloud. This allows for easy assessment and resolution of risks arising from mismanaged permission in a cloud environment.
Risk Reduction and enhanced security – CIEM allows for the implementation of zero trust in an organization’s security by implementing the principle of least privilege. Zero trust is a cyber security approach where implicit trust among users is eliminated by validating every stage of digital interactions. This, coupled with the fact that CIEM allows for continuous monitoring of how permissions are being used, results in the reduction of risk to a cloud environment, thus enhancing its security.
Cost Saving – By using CIEM, organizations can obtain detailed insights into the actual usage of resources on the cloud at any given time. This can, in turn, influence better decision-making when selecting and paying for cloud subscription fees preventing overspending on cloud resources that are not actually used.
Integration with existing systems – CIEM solutions are easy to integrate with existing security solutions and different cloud solutions. Additionally, CIEM allows for compliance with regulations and standards pertaining to user permissions.
The above advantages make CIEM a must-have tool for organizations using cloud computing.
Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management(CIEM) is still a relatively new cloud security tool; thus, it has its fair share of limitations. For a start, CIEM requires a substantial initial investment in capital to acquire it. It is also resource intensive in its implementation, and security teams must be prepared to learn how it works before organizations fully realize its benefit.
It is worth noting that CIEM is designed to work in very complex cloud implementation. Learning and understanding how to use it is not easy, and so is learning how to properly implement it in a cloud environment.
Since CIEM is an enterprise-wide solution that collects and analyzes cloud usage data, it requires access to critical business functions throughout an enterprise. This can, in turn, be a security risk in itself, as in the event of a security breach, it becomes hard to tell what information was accessed by the malicious actors.
Still, CIEM is a very useful tool, and its continued adoption and growth will see its limitations reduce as CIEM solutions are continually being improved.
CIEM vs. CSPM
Although both tools automate the monitoring, identification, and remediation of risks in a cloud environment, their use is different.
Cloud Security Posture Management(CSPM) is a tool used to automate the identification, visualization, and remediation of risks that arise from misconfigurations in cloud environments such as Software as a Service(SaaS), Platform as a Service(PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service(IAAS). Additionally, CSPM monitors compliance with existing security policies, DevOps integration, and incident response.
On the other hand, Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management(CIEM) is a tool used to manage entitlement in a cloud environment. It provides organizations with a single dashboard from which they can monitor and manage the permissions of users and identities that have access to their cloud resources. This allows for the detection of misused permissions and ensures that the principle of least privilege is applied across all users.
How to choose the right CIEM solution
A key challenge with CIEM implementation is the high cost incurred in implementing it. Therefore, when looking for the right CIEM solution, it is important to consider its cost and an organization’s budgetary allocation for the expenditure on a CIEM solution.
Aside from the costs involved, consider an organization’s needs for a CIEM solution. Factor in what the organization wants to monitor, their cloud implementation, whether it is a private, public, or hybrid cloud, and whether they are using a single-cloud or multi-cloud implementation.
Additionally, consider the type and number of resources they want to monitor using a CIEM solution and the information they’d want to be reported by the CIEM. These considerations help in selecting the right CIEM solution to meet the needs of any organization.
It is also important to consider the ease of use, user-friendliness, customer support, and the effectiveness of a CIEM solution in detecting potential risks and remediating them.
Cloud computing has changed the security needs of organizations, and existing security tools may not be sufficient to address all the security that arise in cloud computing. Cloud computing is complex, and tasks such as managing thousands of access privileges to resources on the cloud are daunting.
Their mismanagement can be a security risk that results in data breaches. It is, therefore, necessary to use tools like CIEM, which have been developed specifically for cloud computing. CIEM ensures the easy and effective management of identities and their entitlements in a cloud ecosystem.
Collins Kariuki is a software developer and technical writer for Geekflare. He has over four years experience in software development, a background in Computer Science and has also written for Argot, Daily Nation and the Business Daily Newspaper.