Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) is a process that uses various software solutions and policies to simplify the management of access permissions in cloud environments, addressing the complexities and resource limitations that organizations face in cloud security. Part of the broader concept of Cloud Native Application Protection Platforms (CNAPP), CIEM focuses on ensuring secure and efficient control over user and machine access within cloud infrastructures by surfacing overprivileged identities. 

Today, it plays a key role in meeting the challenges of cloud security strategies and compliance policies.

How CIEM works?

how ciem works

The core principle that Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) is based on the Least Privilege access model. The goal is that users and automated processes are granted only the necessary access for their tasks. According to the Principle of Least Privilege, CIEM strictly limits access rights to the bare minimum required for specific functions, to reduce security risks from excessive permissions.

CIEM is a holistic approach to managing and securing access in cloud environments, as it integrates technology, processes, and policies that are adapted to an organization's specific cloud security architecture. This approach prioritizes continuous monitoring and adjustment, allowing the CIEM solution to identify and correct deviations from set policies, ensuring security remains robust.

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Key Features of Cloud Infrastructure Entitlements Management


There are various CIEM solutions on the market, each with its own peculiarities, however, certain key features are indispensable for an efficient CIEM:


·       Asset Visibility: Every resource, service, or entity - from user identities and computing instances to storage, network configurations, applications, etc. - needs to be visible and accounted for, as this is the foundation for access management and security oversight.

·       Centralized Access Management: A unified dashboard across multi-cloud ecosystems simplifies the management of complex cloud environments and facilitates a streamlined process for managing who has access to various resources.

·       Proactive Risk Identification and Remediation: Advanced tools designed to identify and mitigate identity and access management (IAM) risks proactively are key for addressing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

·       Tools for Least Privilege Enforcement: Organizations need easy ways to minimize unnecessary access rights across all their cloud assets so that the risk of unauthorized access and potential breaches is minimized. 

·       Auditing Capabilities: Complete CIEM solutions can track and record access and changes within the cloud environment. Maintaining detailed logs of user activities and system changes ensures accountability and helps in the investigation of security incidents.

When to Use CIEM: Examples


CIEM is used by organizations to enhance their security posture, ensuring compliance, and efficiently manage access in the cloud. Below are just a few examples of real-world realities that prove the importance of CIEM:


1.      Over-Privileged Access and Firewall Misconfigurations

In 2019, Capital One faced a breach affecting over 100 million individuals due to a misconfigured Web Application Firewall (WAF) and an overly permissive role that facilitated unauthorized access. This breach was facilitated by a Server-Side Request Forgery (SSRF) attack, a technique where an attacker tricks the server into making requests on their behalf, which exploited the over-privileged WAF role to access and extract sensitive customer data from cloud storage. This incident highlights how important it is to limit access privileges strictly to what is necessary for operational functionality. Had the access privileges been adequately constrained, the breach's impact could have been significantly reduced. Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) solutions for continuous monitoring and validation of configurations are invaluable allies in preventing such breaches.


2.       Excessive Cloud Permissions

In large global corporations, employees might accumulate unnecessary cloud access privileges over time. In fact, according to “State of Cloud Permission Risk Report”, over 40% of cloud identities are inactive, and those active use approximately 5% of their assigned permissions. This over-provisioning of privileges can lead to serious security incidents, such as the Verizon breach in 2017 where an unauthorized party accessed a publicly accessible cloud-based data repository, exposing 6 million customer records. Using CIEM, companies can proactively identify and revoke excessive permissions automatically based on criteria such as admin privileges unused for over 90 days or access to sensitive data not utilized within the last six months, aligning access rights with the principle of least privilege and preventing similar incidents.


3.       Cloud Configuration Errors

Between 2015 and 2023, Toyota Motor experienced a significant data breach due to cloud misconfiguration, affecting approximately 260,000 customers across Japan, Asia, and Oceania. This prolonged exposure of sensitive data, including vehicle and personal customer information, was the result of a misconfigured cloud environment that went undetected for over eight years. Had Toyota employed a Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) solution, it could have continuously monitored cloud configurations, detected the misconfiguration early on, and prevented unauthorized access. CIEM solutions are essential in enforcing strict data handling rules and ensuring that cloud environments are securely configured, mitigating the risk of similar breaches.


4.       Unrotated AWS Keys

In February 2021, Sendtech experienced a data breach caused by an unrotated AWS access key created back in 2015. AWS keys are credentials that allow access to AWS services, and keeping them unchanged for long periods makes it easier for attackers to gain unauthorized access. This security lapse allowed an attacker to gain admin privileges and access sensitive data on over 67,000 individuals, including contact information, partial financial info, and copies of identification documents. The breach exposed critical weaknesses in credential management and potential broader security gaps, leading Sendtech to quickly respond and pay the subsequent regulatory fine. A robust CIEM solution to manage cloud identities could have prevented this breach through proactive enforcement of the principle of least privilege and implementation of strong policies regarding credential rotation and secure access practices.


Challenges Addressed by Entitlement Management


When managing cloud infrastructure entitlements, cybersecurity teams usually encounter several key challenges, some of them closely related:


·       Complexity + Scalability: The vast number of permissions and identities in cloud environments is hard to handle on its own, but as the growth of the cloud footprint of organizations continues to accelerate, the situation becomes even more complicated.

·       Multi-Cloud Environments: Diverse identity and access management (IAM) models and tools across multiple cloud platforms increase the risk of inconsistent access control and security vulnerabilities.

·       Over-Privileged Access + Compliance: Employees often demand broader permissions than they need, which heightens the risk of over-privileged access. This challenge adds to the pressure of having to respect strict compliance standards.

·       Cross-Account Access: Preventing unauthorized access while managing permissions across accounts, especially in third-party collaborations.



Best Practices for Effective CIEM Integration



Cloud security challenges can be overcome through the inclusion of a CIEM solution in your cloud security framework. By adopting several best practices, organizations can enhance their cloud security posture and ensure their cloud environments are both agile and secure.


·       Enforce Least Privilege and Regularly Audit: Use CIEM tools to enforce the principle of least privilege rigorously. Regular audits and continuous monitoring can identify and mitigate over-privileged access, aligning with compliance requirements.

·       Unify Access Controls: Adopt CIEM solutions that offer centralized management across multiple cloud platforms. This unification helps eliminate inconsistencies in access control.

·       Simplify and Automate: Leverage CIEM to automate compiling and visually mapping identities and permissions to simplify the complexity of managing permissions across your cloud infrastructure, an approach that enhances scalability and ensures secure operations even as your cloud environment grows.

·       Manage Cross-Account Access Securely: Implement strict controls and monitoring for cross-account permissions, especially when involving third-party access. 



CIEM Key Security Benefits


Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) has a direct impact on organizations’ security, as well as their operational efficiency:

·       Real-Time Prevention of Unauthorized Access: Through greater precision in how access is granted and revoked, CIEM helps you enforce the least privilege by providing a human-readable visual mapping of identities and permissions. This way, organizations can focus on a proactive defense layer to protect sensitive data and resources from both internal and external threats.

·       Multi-cloud Visibility: CIEM offers enhanced visibility into entitlements across all cloud environments, allowing detection and correction of excessive permissions in real-time. This significantly mitigates the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches by ensuring that every access right is accounted for and appropriately justified.

·       Streamlined Compliance Management: By automating the compilation and mapping of access policies, CIEM simplifies the process of meeting regulatory standards. Audit-readiness becomes an integral part of the access management process, reducing the administrative burden.

·       Operational Efficiency in Security Practices: CIEM's automation capabilities extend to integrating security practices within DevOps workflows. DevOps teams are focused on delivering functionality and applications which provide value to customers and partners. Tools which automate identification of misconfigurations and over-privileged accounts allow DevOps and security teams to spend time on delivery without sacrificing security by not having to manually chase-down mistakes and oversights which can lead to significant risk.

·       Proactive Security Posture: The central governance provided by CIEM, along with its capacity for intelligent security analysis, enables organizations to proactively identify and address potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. This forward-looking, prevention-first approach to security ensures a consistent and robust defense across all cloud platforms.



Why Does Your Organization Need CIEM?


Determining the specific reasons why your organization can benefit from Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) is a great starting point for choosing the most appropriate security solution. As cloud infrastructures face more threats, the need for robust access security and compliance assurance grows exponentially. CIEM has become an essential tool in cybersecurity arsenal, ensuring that cloud access is tightly controlled and fully compliant with evolving regulations.



Choosing the Right CIEM Solution for Your Cloud Security Strategy



When selecting the right solution, establish a process that considers the essential factors for successful CIEM integration. The chosen CIEM solution ideally:


·       …Offers Scalability and Cross-Cloud Support. Look for a CIEM solution that can scale effortlessly with your cloud infrastructure, while at the same time provides support across multiple cloud environments.

·       …Is a Reputable Vendor that Provides Continuous Support. Prioritize a provider with provable expertise in cloud security, committed to innovation and outstanding customer support. A vendor that offers ongoing updates and support will stay ahead of evolving threats and technological advancements in cloud security.

·       …Includes Essentials Features for Discovery, Visibility, and Optimization. Select a CIEM solution that encompasses not only broad discovery capabilities for identifying all identities and resources but also ensures deep visibility into your cloud environment. The solution should also offer optimization features that analyze and adjust entitlements in real-time, eliminating excess and constant fine-tuning.

·       …Comes with Integration Capabilities. The CIEM solution should integrate seamlessly with your current security tools and workflows, for a unified security ecosystem. Look for solutions designed for compatibility with a broad array of cloud services and security tools, tailoring to your organization's unique security requirements.

·       …Supports Organization Compliance and Reporting. Choose a CIEM solution that supports compliance efforts through detailed logging, reporting, and analytics on security posture. Such features simplify adherence to industry standards and best practices.


How does CIEM differ from traditional access management tools?


CIEM is specifically designed for the complexities of cloud environments, addressing the vast number of permissions and the dynamic nature of cloud assets, which traditional tools cannot manage effectively.

In what ways does CIEM contribute to a Zero Trust security model?


Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) significantly contributes to a Zero Trust security model through its foundational principle of Least Privilege. This principle, integral to Zero Trust, dictates that users and automated processes should be granted only the essential access required to perform their tasks. By adhering to this mandate of “never trust, always verify,” CIEM ensures that access rights are strictly tailored to the needs of each entity, thereby minimizing the potential attack surface and enhancing the overall security posture within cloud environments.

CIEM vs CNAPP – what is the difference?


CIEM, or Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management, is a specialized tool within the Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) suite. While CNAPP provides an overarching security strategy for cloud-native applications, CIEM specifically focuses on managing and securing access entitlements. CNAPP is a comprehensive security system that includes elements such as workload security (Cloud Workload Security) and container security, CIEM is the part of that system that controls who has the keys to various parts of the cloud environment.