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What Is Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)?

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) is the process of managing identities and privileges in cloud environments. The purpose of CIEM is to understand which access entitlements exist across cloud and multicloud environments, then identify and mitigate risks resulting from entitlements that grant a higher level of access than they should. With CIEM solutions, security teams can manage cloud identities, entitlements, and enforce the principle of least-privileged access to cloud infrastructure and resources. CIEM solutions help companies reduce their cloud attack surface and mitigate access risks posed by excessive permissions. 

Figure 1: Current permissions vs. least privilege model

Figure 1: Current permissions vs. least privilege model

The goal is to reduce the amount of cloud entitlements an identity has to only the exact ones they need.

Why is CIEM Important to Your Cloud Security Strategy? 

Traditional identity and access management (IAM) tools deliver access controls to static self-hosted or on-premises infrastructure. As companies move to the cloud, the cloud infrastructure, services and applications they leverage become more ephemeral and dynamic than their on-premises environments.

Cloud service providers—Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud—provide unique native cloud-based controls to help businesses enforce granular IAM policy.

According to Gartner, 81% of organizations said they are working with two or more public cloud providers. When companies employ a multicloud strategy, having to manage entitlements for each cloud environment separately, as they do not natively integrate, is overwhelming. CIEM solutions help cloud security teams manage all entitlements across multicloud and understand access risk.

The Managing Privileged Access in Cloud Infrastructure document provides guidance for security and risk management technical professionals on deploying tools that enable the effective management of cloud infrastructure entitlements. Together, the documents define the core meaning of CIEM and explain how security teams should use it to identify and prioritize access control risks across public clouds as well as other infrastructure resources.

What are the Components of CIEM?

The main components of CIEM are entitlement visibility, rightsizing permissions, advanced analytics and compliance. The first step in managing entitlements and mitigating entitlement risks is to understand which entitlements exist within your environment. CIEM tools do this by automatically scanning access control policies, rules and configurations of all types in order to determine:

  • Which entitlements exist.
  • What each human or machine user can do based on those entitlements.
  • Which human and machine users can access each cloud resource based on those entitlements.

After identifying an entitlement, CIEM tools assess it to determine whether the access privileges it grants are the least necessary for achieving a workload’s intended purpose. If the entitlement provides too much access, CIEM tools alert administrators so they can address the problem manually. The tools can also adjust entitlements automatically, which allows teams to work efficiently in large-scale environments. The entitlement assessment that CIEM tools perform is based not simply on generic rules and conditions but on advanced analytics powered by machine learning, along with user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA). While compliance is not the sole focus of CIEM, CIEM tools can align entitlements with compliance requirements by automatically assessing whether entitlements conform with compliance needs. They can also detect instances of “drift” in which entitlements that were once compliant come out of compliance as a result of configuration changes. The end goal is to have a more secure platform for enforcing least-privileged access credentials across cloud resources and providers.

How is CIEM Used?

One of the main benefits of CIEM is that it allows organizations to leverage advanced techniques like machine learning to recommend least privileges for a particular kind of work.

For example, a user might request SSH access to a production machine for verifying some configuration value or checking out some environment variable. The user can request temporary SSH key pair access to perform the work. The security team grants the user’s request and prompts him or her to use an SSO provider to acquire the keys. Once the user performs the required work, the resource access is revoked, and the user cannot access the machine with those keys again. The security team knows the effective permissions of each user at all times, and they can compare them with the minimal requirements for each type of task.

Had they used a more relaxed entitlement model, such as granting the unlimited use of the keys for an indefinite period of time, they would have created a much greater security risk. Granting more than the minimum entitlements required exposes the system to insider threats, the misuse of access keys and other potentially malicious user activity.

How does CIEM Improves Cloud Security?

Entitlements consist of effective permissions that are assigned to users, workloads and data via the cloud provider (IAM policies) to perform necessary tasks following the principle of least privilege. Without proper entitlement monitoring and security enforcement, permissions can be easily over-allocated to users or workloads. To achieve a stronger cloud security posture, you’ll need a solution like CIEM that gives you visibility into the net effective permissions to resources in your cloud accounts, governance for monitoring excess and unused privileges, and a responsive framework that automatically adjusts effective IAM permissions and takes actions in case of any misalignment.

Key Benefits

The main benefits of cloud infrastructure entitlement management are summarized below:

  • Multicloud visibility into entitlements: Gain a complete view of identities, net effective cloud permissions, policies and access risks across multicloud environments. 
  • Improved identity and access management: According to Gartner, more than 95% of accounts in IaaS use less than 3% of the entitlements they are granted.1 Many companies have inactive identities from former employees or proof of concept labs. CIEM solutions continuously monitor access activity to identify outdated identities and rightsize the net effective permissions. 
  • Automatic detection and remediation: CIEM calculates the baseline activity and can detect events like account compromise, insider threats, stolen access keys and other potentially malicious user activities. 
  • Audit-ready: Monitoring and securing entitlements across your cloud platforms also helps you adhere to compliance regulations and standards related to user permissions.

Click here to learn more about CIEM.

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