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DSPM vs CSPM: Understanding the differences for Optimal Data Security

By Securiti Research Team
Published May 24, 2023 / Updated August 16, 2023

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From increased scalability and time-to-market to reduced operational costs, the cloud has enabled businesses on a swift path to innovation and growth. However, the path to modernization isn’t as swift when it comes to cloud security.

Securing the cloud is a challenge in its own right due to the distributed and complex nature of the infrastructure. But securing the massive volume of data across the cloud environment is even more of a paramount concern. This is because petabytes of data are stored in thousands of data repositories across dozens of geographies and cloud instances or services.

Over the years, cloud security posture management (CSPM) has done an excellent job of protecting the cloud infrastructure. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped data breaches from happening. On the contrary, data breaches are now more of a security issue in the cloud than before. Here, data security posture management (DSPM) plays a huge role in complementing CSPM practices and offering robust data protection and compliance.

Let’s learn more about the differences between DSPM vs. CSPM and how these technologies complement each other for increased data security.

What is CSPM & How Does It Work?

According to Gartner,

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 it better, let’s take an example of a fortress. If an invading force were to attempt to beach a fortress, they would be able to do so through any unmonitored entry points that could be vulnerable, such as hidden underground passages, unguarded walls, and less fortified secondary or rear gates. Similarly, CSPM solutions scan a cloud infrastructure for vulnerabilities, allowing information security teams to identify potential infrastructure risks and resolve misconfigurations.

CSPM solutions include a number of automated configuration checks mapped to various security controls prescribed by security and compliance standards, such as CIS, NIST, or PCIDSS. The solution scans the cloud environment (IaaS and PaaS) and its configurations for issues, such as unrestricted ports, exposed storage buckets, or weak authentication techniques. By monitoring the infrastructure continuously, CSPM resolves the issues or misconfigurations to address the risks before they could lead to security, reputational, and compliance problems.

Core Capabilities of CSPM

CSPM is based on a wide range of capabilities that allow organizations to identify and resolve security risks and vulnerabilities in their cloud infrastructure. Some of the capabilities that are commonly available across various CSPM offerings include the following:

  • Cloud resources discovery: CSPM solutions leverage APIs to connect with various cloud providers to discover cloud resources and their configuration settings across the environment.
  • Configuration best practices: A key component of CSPM solutions is configuration best practices and controls that are mapped to security standards and compliance requirements.
  • Risk assessment: This capability involves identifying cloud resources that are not configured per best practices. Examples include cloud resources with excessive access permissions, publicly exposed assets, or unencrypted storage volumes.
  • Remediation mechanisms: The mechanisms are controls that help rectify configuration settings to reduce risk. This can be done by sharing manual remediation steps that teams can follow to fix the problem or by automating the remediation process via the solution itself.
  • On-going monitoring: CSPM isn’t a one-off process. It involves continuous monitoring and preventing security misconfigurations as existing cloud resources are modified or new cloud resources are added to the environments over time.

It is critical to note that CSPM tools may discover cloud storage resources or a managed database containing data, they don't discover and classify data due to the lack of an understanding of data. This means that they treat all data resources alike.

Hence, with a CSPM solution alone, you won’t know which misconfigured data asset to protect first out of the 100s of thousands of assets across the cloud environment containing petabytes of data.

What is DSPM & How Does It Work?

According to Gartner, DSPM is the process that 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 store or application is.

DSPM provides a data-first approach to cloud security, unlike CSPM solutions that do not know what data exists inside a cloud data asset. Let’s take the example of a fortress that we discussed above.

In the analogy of the fortress, the emphasis is on security measures, such as walls or guards that protect the castle. But what about the treasure that lies in that castle? What if the castle is successfully invaded would the treasure be safe? Not unless there’s also a strong security vault that protects the treasure.

Similarly, Data Security Posture Management (DSPM) is all about the controls, policies, and technologies put in place to protect the data across public clouds.

Overall, DSPM answers the following concerns:

  • What sensitive data do we have, and where is it located?
  • Who has access to the data, and what level of permissions do they have?
  • What is the lineage of the data, and how has it transformed over time?
  • What misconfigurations do exist in our multi-cloud, and how can we identify and fix them?

Click to Read More About DSPM

Core Capabilities of DSPM

The core capabilities of a typical data security posture management solution include the following:

  • Data asset discovery: DSPM solutions have the capability to discover data assets, including shadow or dark data assets, along with native data assets.
  • Sensitive data classification: DSPMs have powerful detection capabilities that classify sensitive data in structured and unstructured data repositories in public clouds.
  • Data lineage: DSPM leverages data lineage capabilities to give insights into the data transformation lifecycle.
  • Configuration best practices: It is a set of guidelines that ensure that all the necessary security settings are in place to optimize the data security posture. This includes enforcing strong encryption, setting up passwords, configuring firewalls, or applying appropriate access controls.
  • Access visibility and controls: This capability provides visibility into who has access to data and implements access controls to help operationalize least-privilege security.
  • Compliance management: The capability maps the metadata with relevant data protection regulations, such as GDPR, CPRA, PIPEDA, etc., to enable compliance.
  • Risk assessment: Risk assessment and management identify and analyze potential misconfiguration, access, and compliance risks associated with an organization’s data, including sensitive data.
  • Continuous monitoring: Enterprise data tends to grow boundlessly. Hence, ongoing monitoring is essential for continuous data protection.

How DSPM And CSPM Complement Each Other

CSPM and DSPM are two distinct approaches to cybersecurity. While the two technologies might overlap in some instances, there are some key differences that set them apart.

For starters, CSPM focuses on protecting the cloud infrastructure and its resources. This is why CSPM covers only IaaS and PaaS components, such as virtual private clouds or machines, relational databases, compute instances, lambda functions, and serverless components. From a risk management standpoint, CSPM doesn’t know which data assets need prioritization due to a lack of intelligence around data.

In contrast, DSPM focuses on the security posture of the data in public clouds. It first dives deep into the understanding of data, gaining visibility into the type of the data, its sensitivity, its geographies, its transformation over time, and how it is being accessed or used in terms of its activity. By leveraging such comprehensive intelligence around data, DSPM enables teams to improve the configuration security posture. This includes controlling access around data to prevent unauthorized access and encrypting or masking sensitive data to comply with global data privacy regulations, especially policies around cross-border data transfers and sensitive data sharing, to name a few.

Regardless of the difference between DSPM and CSPM, the two technologies are equally critical for comprehensive cloud security. CSPM may not be effective at protecting data, but it is required for the protection of computing and network resources. DSPM, on the other hand, is more effective in prioritizing data risk based on the type and sensitivity of data.

How Securiti Can Help

Based on a Unified Data Controls framework, Securiti’s DataControls Cloud™ helps organizations optimize and enhance the security posture across all their corporate data. Securiti offers the best of DSPM capabilities by unifying intelligence around data (at rest and in motion), access governance policies and controls, data transformation insights, data mapping automation, and the ability to reduce misconfigured data systems.

Securiti goes beyond typical DSPM solutions that support only the public cloud by delivering a unified solution that secures data across public clouds, private clouds, data clouds, and SaaS. Securiti Data Controls Cloud has been named the Gartner Cool Vendor in data security for helping customers mitigate liability around sensitive data as they pursue their digital transformation journey while reducing the cost and complexity of operations.

Request a demo to see Securiti’s DataControls Cloud™ in action.

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