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CSPM vs DSPM: What is the key difference between each?

  • Anas Baig 
dspm vs cspm

Cloud technology has garnered the attention of organizations globally. Due to the ease of scalability, flexibility, global footprint, and cost efficiency, more organizations are increasingly turning to hybrid and multi-cloud to expand their operations. Moreover, it is not just the systems and resources that are increasing beyond borders but also the data these systems and applications generate. In fact, data itself generates more data.

In the age where cyber threats are rampant, it’s more crucial than ever for businesses to address the security concerns present in the cloud environment. The critical need to protect the cloud infrastructure and the data has led organizations to consider two security solutions: Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) & Data Security Posture Management (DSPM). This blog will discuss the primary differences between these two solutions highlighting their distinct approach to cloud security.

What is CSPM & how does it work?

Cloud Security Posture Management is also known as CSPM in the cloud security community. Gartner defines CSPM as “Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) consists of offerings that continuously manage IaaS and PaaS security posture through prevention, detection, and response to cloud infrastructure risks.

To understand the concept of CSPM better, let’s take the example of an autonomous vehicle. An autonomous vehicle has many integrated features to ensure safe driving. For instance, the vehicle may have radar, an integrated GPS, Light Detection and Ranging, and multiple cameras. All these components enable the self-driving vehicle to assess road conditions, the weather, passersby, and other objects. This ensures that the car remains on track, it doesn’t collide with any object, and the brakes trigger near the red light to prevent a crash.

Similarly, CSPM is a solution that scans a cloud infrastructure, including but not limited to compute instances, workloads, datastores, and networks for misconfigurations, such as open ports, publicly accessible datastores, etc. The solution looks for misconfigurations based on a set of industry-standard security policies, such as NIST, CIS, PCI DSS, etc. Upon the identification of misconfigurations across cloud infrastructure, it helps cloud security teams resolve these issues either manually or via automation. All in all, CSPM protects the infrastructure against security threats like unauthorized access, etc.

What are the key capabilities of CSPM?

CSPM solutions are based on various capabilities that enable teams to identify and resolve vulnerabilities in the cloud. However, there are some capabilities that remain the same across different solutions or offerings, such as:

  • CSPM solutions leverage various native connectors or APIs to integrate with a wide range of cloud systems and resources to discover misconfigurations.
  • Another important component of a CSPM solution is configuration settings that are aligned to industry best practices and standards, including but not limited to the NIST framework, CIS, PCI DSS standard, GDPR, etc. These standards help security teams identify and resolve any security risks, non-compliant settings, and other misconfigurations.
  • CSPM solutions enable continuous monitoring of the cloud infrastructure. With real-time monitoring, CSPM delivers prompt alerts if a misconfiguration is detected and offers immediate remediation.

It is also important to note that CSPM treats all data systems equally since it lacks intelligence or insights into sensitive data. Hence, it increases the chances of false positive alerts, which ultimately leads to alert fatigue.

What is DSPM & how does it work?

Data Security Posture Management is usually referred to as DSPM, and it is a relatively new term. Gartner defines DSPM as “Data security posture management (DSPM) provides visibility as to where sensitive data is, who has access to that data, how it has been used, and what the security posture of the data stored or application is.

Let’s take the example of a castle to understand more about DSPM. A castle may have large towers, strong gates, and other infrastructure protection mechanisms. However, if it has no protective mechanisms around the treasure inside the castle, then once a breach occurs from any vulnerable place like an unguarded secret tunnel, the invading army will most likely seize the treasure. Hence, it is important to place protective measures like hidden traps, iron bars, and well-concealed places to hide and safeguard the treasure.

Here, the castle’s outer protective measures resemble CSPM, while the measures around the treasure resemble DSPM. In other words, DSPM is a data-oriented approach to cloud security. DSPM gathers various insights around data to better protect it, such as its existing security controls, potential security gaps or risks, compliance requirements, and access controls policy. These potential data insights help organizations optimize data protection policies and implement effective controls.

What are the key capabilities of DSPM?

DSPM solutions may offer wide-ranging features and functionalities, but every solution’s core capabilities remain the same. Here are some of the core capabilities of DSPM:

  • DSPM solution’s first core capability is detecting and cataloging data assets. It can discover data assets across numerous systems and different types of assets, including shadow and cloud-native data assets.
  • DSPM solutions also offer highly efficient and accurate data discovery and classification capabilities. It can classify and categorize data down to its granular attributes, context, and metadata.
  • DSPM also offers data lineage capabilities, providing insights into data transformation across its lifecycle. This ultimately helps with improving data governance strategies.
  • DSPM also provides comprehensive visibility of sensitive data access. This helps access governance teams optimize access controls’ policies.
  • DSPM also helps map data to various compliance requirements, such as GDPR, CPRA, etc.

What are the most common differences between DSPM and CSPM?

From the above explanations of DSPM and CSPM, we can conclude that the technologies have the following differences.

  • CSPM mainly focuses on protecting cloud infrastructure, while DSPM focuses on protecting data.
  • CSPM identifies and resolves cloud misconfiguration settings like open ports, publicly exposed data stores, etc. Whereas, DSPM identifies and resolves security risks, such as unauthorized access, non-compliance, and data privacy risks.
  • CSPM can identify misconfiguration across IaaS and PaaS, while DSPM can discover data and associated risks across public clouds only.
  • CSPM focuses on the security of multi-cloud infrastructure, such as identity and access management, network security, & configuration management. On the other end, DSPM uses context-aware strategies to provide visibility and security to the data hosted on the cloud.

Final thoughts

Cloud security posture management and data security posture management are two distinct yet crucial components of cloud security. However, as data security professionals, we cannot ditch one for the other. In fact, it is important to leverage CSPM in tandem with DSPM for a holistic cloud security approach.