CNAP Platforms: The Next Evolution of Cloud Security

Businesses have far more cloud security options than they once did, making clouds often as safe as, if not safer than, on-premises solutions.

Still, cloud security has grown increasingly complicated as application development and deployment have grown. Businesses implement new cloud applications faster than they can secure them, and as these services become more complex, security becomes even more difficult. Most cloud security solutions will either limit deployment speed or fail to cover every area teams need in an expansive cloud environment.

One of the most significant challenges in cloud security is ensuring visibility. Running numerous applications can create large, fragmented environments where IT teams struggle to keep track of the data flow. As clouds grow, they need a more comprehensive, transparent solution.

A recent survey found that 79% of U.S. companies have experienced at least one cloud data breach in the past 18 months. Most of these incidents stemmed from misconfiguration or a lack of visibility or access management. Cloud-native application protection platforms (CNAP or CNAPP) aim to solve these issues.

What Are CNAP Platforms?

CNAPP, a Gartner-coined term, is a combination of two groups of cloud-native security solutions. In most cases, cloud security posture management (CSPM) and cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs) are separate tools. CNAPPs offer the capabilities of both in a single, unified solution, along with some additional features.

CSPM platforms look for and report potential cloud vulnerabilities like misconfigurations or compliance violations. This automated monitoring provides the visibility and context IT teams need to keep cloud applications secure. Experts predict the CSPM market will more than double by 2026, but these solutions have limited scope and typically rely on other tools.

CWPPs also scan for vulnerabilities, but they focus on workload security. These tools harden and configure applications before implementation, then actively monitor for threats when these workloads are running. Whereas CSPM platforms protect cloud environments from the outside, CWPPs manage internal protections.

CNAPPs combine these functions to provide visibility and security control management across all cloud functions, inside and out. They use extensive automation to monitor and respond to threats from development to end-use, including extra protections like identity management.

Further reading: Top Cloud Security Companies & Tools for 2021

How CNAPPs Work to Improve Cloud Security

Combining the capabilities of CSPM and CWPP solutions allow CNAPPs to address both their limitations. While traditional security solutions like these can be a tremendous help, no single tool provides everything an IT team needs. Those limitations can create holes in businesses’ cloud security, especially when they rely on multiple devices from various services.

CNAP platforms are the natural next step after these other security solutions. Instead of adding another tool into teams’ arsenals, they replace the others with a more streamlined, consolidated option. As clouds keep expanding, that advantage will become a necessity.

Here are a few of the most significant ways CNAPPs resolve current cloud security concerns.

Compatibility

One of the most substantial benefits of a CNAPP is that it can apply to virtually any cloud workload. Traditional security solutions have limited compatibility, either focusing on a specific type of application or requiring other tools to function properly. Since CNAP platforms replace multiple disparate solutions, they can remove compatibility concerns.

When teams must use multiple tools to cover every aspect of cloud security, interoperability isn’t always guaranteed. The more solutions they have, the more likely it is that at least one of them won’t work correctly with the other. Furthermore, different security solutions may not be compatible with the specific applications or environments businesses try to manage.

CNAPPs are truly cloud-native, applying to any workload, be it container-based or running on virtual machines. IT teams don’t have to worry about vulnerabilities that may arise from incompatibility between different services and applications.

Improved compatibility will also ensure cloud environments function as they should. Considering 23% of surveyed organizations say the availability of systems and services is their biggest cloud security concern, that improvement is substantial.

Centralization

Another advantage of CNAP platforms is that they provide a centralized solution to cloud security. Transparency is one of the most glaring issues in most operations, often because they rely on multiple disparate services. Having a single, consolidated platform to analyze and manage risks across cloud environments provides more visibility.

Breaches from vulnerabilities businesses didn’t know existed are all too common. Well known vulnerabilities are at the heart of many ransomware attacks, for example, often because businesses simply don’t have a good handle on everything they have. Greater transparency reveals shortcomings that businesses may otherwise overlook, preventing fixable vulnerabilities.

CNAPPs look for and report vulnerabilities in cloud architecture like CSPM tools and workloads like CWPPs. They also apply this to Kubernetes and permissions configurations, which many CSPM and CWPP tools don’t. Perhaps most importantly, they provide a single solution for viewing all these concerns, enabling more cohesive, faster action.

Earlier Detection

CNAPPs also scan for and resolve issues earlier in the pipeline than many traditional security solutions. CSPM platforms focus on monitoring for ongoing threats after implementing cloud processes, and while CWPPs work earlier, their scope is smaller. CNAPPs offer the timeliness of CWPPs while looking for vulnerabilities across the entire attack surface.

IT teams can use a CNAP platform to identify misconfigurations or compliance issues before producing a new application. Finding these threats early gives them more time to take necessary actions before the problem becomes more disruptive. As a result, cloud environments will be safer from the beginning, and businesses can deploy new programs with minimal disruption.

The transparency of CNAPPs enables faster responses after application deployment, too. If new issues arise after using a program for some time, teams can identify them faster if they don’t have to switch between tools. Even a few minutes can be the difference between thwarting an attack or falling victim to it, so this timeliness is crucial.

Automation

In addition to consolidating once separate security controls, CNAPPs automate many of the processes involved. Many older security solutions offer automation to some extent, but CNAP puts a heavier emphasis on it. This lets teams make the most of these platforms’ centralization and transparency, enabling even faster and more cost-effective actions.

Businesses often lack the budgets or workers necessary to manage all cloud security operations manually. This problem is also likely to worsen, as some forecasts say there will be a global shortage of 85 million tech workers by 2030. CNAPPs’ automation helps with this growing concern, letting smaller IT teams handle more expansive cloud environments.

CNAP automates threat detection, regulatory compliance and reviewing protocols like identity access management (IAM). On top of discovering these potential issues automatically, it prioritizes them based on risk, helping IT workers address the most pressing concerns faster. With this reduced workload, IT teams could expand cloud infrastructure more quickly without sacrificing security.

How Businesses Can Implement CNAPPs

All these benefits make it clear that CNAP platforms are a vast improvement over their predecessors. However, businesses should be aware that these security solutions are still in their early stages. CNAPPs as Gartner described them exist mostly in theory today, with a few rudimentary options starting to appear on the market.

As helpful as they will eventually be, CNAPPs are not a mature option yet, but that future may not be far off. The individual components of a CNAP platform exist and excel in their areas, so vendors only have to combine them successfully. CNAP solutions are beginning to emerge, and they’ll likely deliver on their potential before long.

Businesses can start to move toward CNAP by looking for interoperable CSPM and CWPP tools. The more visibility and control companies can establish over their cloud environments, the closer they can get to CNAPPs’ benefits. As these technologies develop, extensive, high-functioning CNAPPs will become a reality.

Vendors to watch range from the established (Palo Alto Networks, McAfee, Rapid7) to upstarts like Wiz.io and Orca Security.

Further reading: 12 Best CASB Security Vendors of 2021

CNAPPs May Be the Future of Cloud Security

Cloud migration is an inevitable transition, and as more companies move processes to the cloud, these environments will grow increasingly complex. As that happens, security must evolve to ensure this complexity and agility don’t jeopardize safety. CNAP platforms are the next step in that evolution.

Current cloud security options will become obsolete before long. CNAPPs, by contrast, provide the transparency, agility, consolidation and interoperability future cloud workloads need. As these solutions develop and emerge, they may likely become the new standard for security.

Devin Partida
Devin Partida is a technology and cybersecurity writer whose work has been featured on Entrepreneur, AOL, AT&T's cybersecurity blog and Yahoo! Finance. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the tech website ReHack.com.

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