Definition of CIEM

CIEM is used to manage identities and access rights, permissions, or privileges in single-cloud and multi-cloud environments. CIEM, which stands for cloud infrastructure entitlement management, is also called cloud entitlements management or cloud permissions management. A specialized software-as-a-service (SaaS) category, CIEM provides visibility into which access entitlements are in place across cloud and multi-cloud environments. 

CIEM supports a principal tenet of zero trust security, the principle of least privilege, to help organizations protect systems and data against data breaches, cyberattacks, and other vulnerabilities exposed by excessive cloud permissions. IT and security teams use CIEM to apply the principle of least privilege access to cloud infrastructure and services to minimize cloud attack surfaces by reducing the number of cloud entitlements an identity has to only the specific ones they need. 

What are entitlements?

In the context of CIEM, entitlements consist of effective permissions that are assigned to users, workloads, and data. They determine what permissions a cloud identity (e.g., human users, connected devices, artificial intelligence that has access to the cloud on behalf of a human) has within cloud and multi-cloud environments and how they engage with access credentials and undergo authentication processes for privileged tasks. An entitlement is used to establish boundaries for what a cloud identity can do and which resources it can access.

Why CIEM is important

Due to the highly dynamic nature of cloud resources, traditional identity and access management (IAM) tools and practices, designed to protect and control access to conventional static on-premises applications and infrastructure, cannot provide adequate protection. Cloud providers need cloud infrastructure entitlement management to effectively and efficiently authorize identities to access resources in dynamic cloud environments and address operational, security, and compliance challenges facing cloud security personnel.

CIEM provides the ability to implement and enforce least privilege access throughout single and multi-cloud environments.

To apply and streamline management of least privilege access, cloud infrastructure entitlement management replaces existing manual processes for managing entitlements with automated processes and systems that optimize entitlements for all identities, resources, and services across all multiple cloud infrastructures and thousands of permissions, actors, and resources. 

CIEM also uplevels functions, such as privileged access management (PAM) and identity governance administration (IGA), to provide the granularity required to secure access at the resource level and to scale across growing cloud environments. 

Integrating CIEM and PAM systems into the IGA system is critical in order to maintain consistent visibility and control across all points of access.

Using CIEM to implement centralized management and the concept of least privilege for these identities lowers risk across cloud environments. Cloud infrastructure entitlement management centralizes control and broad security capabilities eliminate blind spots, cloud security gaps, compliance anomalies, and vulnerabilities that can result in a breach

Components of CIEM

The main functions of cloud infrastructure entitlement management are entitlement visibility, rightsizing permissions, advanced analytics, and compliance. CIEM solutions are comprised of different components, but all share the following three. 

  1. Centralized management
    A control center is used as a dashboard to provide centralized management for CIEM. This allows IT and security teams to efficiently use cloud infrastructure entitlement to manage single or multi-cloud environments from one place. The CIEM dashboard makes it fast and easy to monitor systems to detect anomalies and increase operational efficiencies by automating what were previously manual setting changes. 

  2. Identity governance 
    For CIEM, identity governance sets the entitlements that specify which apply to each cloud entity. This mitigates entitlement risk by making it easy to see the level of access granted to the cloud entities at any given time. CIEM provides visibility into cloud and multi-cloud environments using automated scanning to assess access control policies, rules, and configuration continuously and provide up-to-date details about what entitlements are in place, what each cloud entity can do based on those entitlements, and which cloud entity can access each cloud resource based on those entitlements.

    After identifying an entitlement, cloud infrastructure entitlement management determines whether the access privileges a cloud entity has been granted are the least necessary for achieving their intended objectives. If the entitlement provides too much access, CIEM can alert administrators so they can address the problem manually or modify entitlements automatically, increasing efficiency in enterprise environments. 

  3. Security rules and policies
    Security policies and rules determine the who, what, when, where, and why of cloud entity entitlements for accessing and controlling resources, tools, and services within a cloud or multi-cloud environment. Rather than using generic rules and conditions, CIEM access assessments are performed using powerful tools, including advanced analytics powered by machine learning and user and user entity behavior analytics (UEBA). CIEM rules and policies consist of and govern:
    • Security protocols in security information and event management (SIEM) provide details about the highest level of workload access a user should be able to obtain at any given time.
    • Metric logging in SIEM tracks usage to identify entitlements with signs of misuse to prioritize least-privilege access and prevent vulnerabilities due to over-privileging.
    • Compliance management and certification in SIEM automate assessments by continuously comparing existing entitlements to security regulations and requirements to ensure compliance. Cloud infrastructure entitlement management can also detect instances where configuration changes have made entitlements that were once compliant come out of compliance. 

How CIEM is used

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management is used to take cloud access management beyond identifying human users’ privileges. Because non-humans commonly access cloud instances, CIEM also manages cloud entitlements for applications, machines, and service accounts as well as connected devices that need access to applications and databases, such as IoT (Internet of Things) devices (e.g., printers, surveillance cameras, card readers) and OT (operational technology) devices (e.g., sensors, robots, programmable logic controllers or PLCs). 

CIEM also enables the enforcement of granular access controls that restrict access and prevent unsanctioned data sharing. This is vital in cloud and multi-cloud environments that can have millions of individual entitlements to manage.  

CIEM brings the power of automation to ensure that entitlements are tightly managed and least-access controls are enforced as requirements continually change. 

CIEM can also recommend the least privileges for a particular type of work, using advanced techniques such as machine learning.   

An example of how cloud infrastructure entitlement management can be utilized is when a user requests access to a system to verify a configuration. The user can be granted temporary, one-time access to perform the task. Once the job has been completed, access can be automatically revoked. An audit will show exactly what permissions the user had at any given time. This can be used to track down malicious behavior or supply machine learning data sets to help improve least-privilege access recommendations. 

CIEM and cloud security

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management was born out of necessity. As cloud computing continued to present increased complexity and security vulnerabilities, organizations looked for a better way to manage entitlements in cloud and multi-cloud environments.  

CIEM was created for cloud and multi-cloud environments to secure and manage the thousands of applications, services, and users accessing cloud resources. CIEM makes managing privileges, access rights, and identities more effective and efficient by continuously assessing and validating the privileges and access rights of identities accessing cloud resources, following the tenets of zero trust security.   

In addition, CIEM dashboards provide a central location for managing entitlements and mitigate risks related to mismanaged entitlements of users. Access automation services available through CIEM supports the deployment and scaling of cloud and multi-cloud ecosystems.   

Benefits of CIEM

Key benefits of CIEM at a glance

  • Secures cloud ecosystems at scale with protections against access point vulnerabilities
  • Analyze the entitlements landscape to expose risk and detect threats 
  • Automates all monitoring processes 
  • Gives comprehensive visibility into all entitlements and their use among organizations’ users, non-human identities, and cloud resources 
  • Keeps individual users within the parameters of their access roles 
  • Makes it faster and easier for organizations to implement and maintain least-privilege access controls for all
  • Manages access consistently and appropriately across all cloud resources
  • Monitors identities across different cloud environments and ensures that they meet defined governance requirements 
  • Provides audits of existing privileged accounts and entitlements 
  • Remediates vulnerabilities related to excessive access privileges 
  • Revokes access privileges and eliminates credentials from cloud entities no longer associated with an organization 
  • Designed for easy integration with existing security solutions and different cloud solutions

Key CIEM benefits

Overall, cloud infrastructure entitlement management fills the gaps in organizations’ cloud security and provides many benefits in a centralized way for cloud and multi-cloud deployments. The list above summarizes CIEM benefits; following are details about some specific CIEM benefits. 

Automation 
With CIEM, rules can be put into place to trigger automatic actions for specified situations, such as using it to enforce security policies. Examples include enforcing multi-factor authentication (MFA) requirements or limiting permissions to users based on their role. 

Improved compliance 
CIEM ensures the integrity and validity of cloud entities’ entitlements through continuous monitoring, alerts, and remediation. With the automation and consolidation of cloud entities’ access management systems across cloud and multi-cloud platforms, these environments maintain compliance and are audit ready.   

Cross-cloud correlation and insights 
By aggregating data about cloud entities across the enterprise’s entire cloud deployment, cloud infrastructure entitlement management makes it easier to enforce access control policies consistently. This also enables CIEM to provide a unified audit trail across all cloud and multi-cloud environments.  

In addition, CIEM can analyze this data for trends that can be a sign of malicious activity. This data can also be used to define groups for similar users and identify cases where separation of duties and least privilege access should be employed. 

Continuous, granular visibility 

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management provides continuous, granular visibility into organizations’ cloud infrastructure along with details of all the permissions and activity within the cloud or multi-cloud environment. This enables teams to see who is accessing what cloud resources and when by enabling more effective monitoring and management of access controls. 

Improved security posture 

A well-designed and implemented CIEM solution provides enhanced security protections by: 

  • Reducing the attack surface 
  • Assessing and prioritizing issues and recommending remediation tactics 
  • Creating and maintaining an accurate inventory of all existing entitlements 
  • Detecting anomalous cloud transactions that may be a sign of threats, such as malicious activity, human error, or violations of security protocols 
  • Enforcing the principle of least privilege, a key tenet of zero trust security 
  • Identifying and automatically updating entitlements that are misconfigured, unused, or in violation of policy 

Rightsized permissions 
Cloud infrastructure entitlement management makes it easy to rightsize permissions to prevent IT and security teams from applying broader permissions than necessary to save time. With CIEM, it is simple to provision individual resources based on specific access requirements and adjust privileges as needs change. 

Risk reduction and enhanced security 
CIEM allows for the implementation of zero trust in an organization’s security by implementing the principle of least privilege. Zero trust is a cybersecurity approach where implicit trust among users is eliminated by validating every stage of digital interactions. This, coupled with the fact that CIEM allows for continuous monitoring of how permissions are being used, reduces risk to a cloud environment, thus enhancing its security. 

Speed and agility for DevSecOps 
CIEM helps DevSecOps teams manage access configuration for cloud infrastructure with the granular permissioning necessary to maintain least-privileged access, allowing them to accelerate rollouts or provision services without compromising security. 

Visibility from a single dashboard 
A CIEM dashboard provides a centralized overview of entitlements across multiple cloud platforms, making it easier to control access and privileges, which results in improved identity management. This view of entitlements also supports risk assessment and remediation strategies.   

Selecting a CIEM solution

A common question when the topic of cloud infrastructure entitlement management solutions arises is, “Do we really need one?” Here few instances that can guide the decision. 

When a CIEM should be added When a CIEM addition can be delayed 
A sandbox environment is needed for development and testing work. 

All identities in the cloud environment require continuous monitoring (even if there are only a few).   

Automated identity management is required.  

Compliance is a priority, and the landscape is complex. 

There are a large number of cloud entities in the environment. 
The cloud environment does not have many cloud entities.

The cloud environment is private and closed.      
When a CIEM should be added When a CIEM addition can be delayed 
A sandbox environment is needed for development and testing work. 

All identities in the cloud environment require continuous monitoring (even if there are only a few).   

Automated identity management is required.  

Compliance is a priority, and the landscape is complex. 

There are a large number of cloud entities in the environment.   
The cloud environment does not have many cloud entities.

The cloud environment is private and closed.      

When selecting a CIEM solution, evaluate these features and functions: 

  • Ability to integrate the current architecture and security stack
  • Automated detection, remediation, and mitigation capabilities 
  • Capabilities to analyze all policy types and security posture 
  • Comprehensive visibility 
  • Cross-cloud correlation 
  • Discovery of every cloud entity and account activity
  • Entitlement optimization and protection 
  • Implementation guidance
  • Logging and reporting capabilities for compliance and other audits
  • Reliable cloud support
  • Support for federated and native identities
  • User-friendly interface 

CIEM for today’s enterprise security portfolio

With the unceasing move to cloud environments, organizations must pay more attention to cloud security. Legacy access and identity management solutions have limitations in today’s enterprise environment.  

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management solutions have proven to be the path of the future for tackling the daunting task of identity and access management. The ability of CIEM to meet the stringent security requirements that the enterprise demands, combined with their ability to scale at pace with new deployments, have made CIEM critical. With many options available to meet unique needs, CIEM should be on every CISO’s radar if it is not already being utilized in their organization. 

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