Cloud Workload Protection (CWPP): How It Works and Its Benefits
Cloud Workload Protection is essential for cloud security. Learn how a cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) works and the benefits of using one in your business.
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Cloud computing is a critical component of any digital transformation strategy. However, the rapid migration to the cloud has increased the number of threat vectors and attack surfaces— leading to data security concerns for companies of any size.
According to survey results, 79 percent of organizations have experienced at least one cloud data breach in the past 18 months, with 43 percent reporting 10 or more breaches during the same period. Some of the top cloud security threats include cloud services and security misconfiguration, lack of visibility into production environments, improper identity and access management (IAM) configuration, malware infection, and API vulnerabilities.
Implementing workload security can be complex in hybrid architectures because the entire workload must be functional so that the cloud application can work properly without introducing security risks. Cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs) can address these security challenges by offering the capabilities to consolidate monitoring, isolate threats, prioritize remediation actions and apply flexible policies to ensure compliance.
What is cloud workload protection (CWPP)?
Cloud workload protection is a comprehensive cloud security solution that provides enterprises with access to the highest level of protection against cyber threats and data breaches. It secures workloads, including physical servers, virtual machines (VMs), containers and serverless workloads, that move across different cloud environments.
A cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) secures server workloads in public cloud infrastructure by protecting apps, interactions, processes, data, resources and more from attacks. It helps public cloud users ensure that workloads are protected as they pass through a cloud provider's domain.
CWPPs are cloud-native and can be scaled to meet changing business requirements. They offer predictive cyber analytics to proactively identify threats at the workload level and enable security teams to manage cloud assets more efficiently.
How does a cloud workload protection platform work?
A cloud workload protection platform runs on a public cloud environment. It secures server workloads by accessing an enterprise's cloud resources through a gateway or integration with a third-party service. It detects events that can indicate a potential breach, such as unauthorized access to a virtual machine (VM), unusual network traffic or suspicious system behaviors. It can also scan for anomalous activities in log files and data to increase visibility into a cloud environment.
The software then applies adaptive access controls to block malicious actions, reduce false alarms and preserve privacy. It provides users with situational awareness of cloud activities while enabling them to drill down into individual workloads and retrieve logs for further analysis. Teams in IT security operations centers (SOCs) can identify issues, understand their root causes and prioritize mitigation actions.
A CWPP secures workload with micro-segmentation and bare metal hypervisors:
Micro-segmentation is a network security technique that divides a data center into different security segments, down to the individual workload level. Security architects can then assign security controls to each segment. Instead of physical firewalls, network virtualization technology is used to define flexible security policies for each workload. This technique can prevent malware from migrating from one server to another within a cloud environment to minimize lateral movement and contain the impact of an attack.
Bare metal hypervisors are installed on the hardware, creating a barrier between the machine and the operating system (i.e., the software.) They use virtualization software to create and manage virtual machines (VM) that are isolated from each other. If one VM is under attack, you can contain the issue so workloads on your other VMs are protected.
What's the difference between CWPP and application security?
If you already have application security, do you still need a CWPP?
The short answer is yes because the two approaches offer different types of protection.
Application security focuses on safeguarding only the software layer of digital workloads but ignores the rest of the environment. While it can protect applications deployed locally (e.g., on desktops) where a single user accesses an instance of an application, traditional application security is insufficient for cloud environments because it cannot preserve or protect data in transit.
The use of cloud computing requires a different approach to data security. The abstraction between the user and the application can lead to more vulnerabilities, particularly if you do not have control over a public cloud environment. Since each part of the workload must function properly for a cloud application to work, you must also secure and monitor the entire workload and not only the application.
Unlike application security, a cloud workload protection platform analyzes the interactions between the cloud and the physical machines, processes, applications, data, communications, users and more to prevent attacks at the infrastructure layers. It's particularly critical for managing and protecting data-intensive workloads.
A CWPP is complementary to application security and not a replacement. You can use an application security solution for traditional applications within an on-premises infrastructure. A CWPP, on the other hand, is an end-to-end cloud security solution specifically for protecting cloud workloads.
The benefits of cloud workload protection
A cloud workload protection platform ensures that critical software applications and sensitive information in a hybrid or multicloud environment are always protected—whether they're in transit, in use or at rest. Here are the benefits of using a cloud workload protection platform:
Workload behavior monitoring
A cloud workload protection platform continuously monitors the behavior of each workload based on customizable compliance policies. You can discover security gaps and take corrective actions to prevent unauthorized activities. It also reduces false positives and unnecessary alerts so security teams can focus on mitigating real threats.
Identity-based access controls
A CWPP uses adaptive access controls, which are essential for maintaining cloud security and complying with various data privacy regulations. You can assign different permissions based on user identity and work roles to enforce a zero-trust approach to security.
Flexible policy enforcement
A cloud workload protection platform lets you apply and enforce policies depending on changing business requirements. You can create unique security maps and configure each micro-segment to gain granular control and stay compliant with fast-changing regulations.
Visibility into workloads
A CWPP provides you with end-to-end visibility into your cloud environments. You can manage vulnerabilities more effectively by identifying how attackers are trying to access resources, the nature of the attacks and how they may propagate throughout the infrastructure.
A cloud workload protection platform lets you apply security controls at the workload level instead of the sub-segment level. For example, you can use a scale subnet to accommodate more users or services without sacrificing your quality of service (QoS) settings.
Multiple layers of protection
A CWPP can safeguard your data even if your infrastructure uses multiple providers or environments. You can apply security measures to workloads based on their specific requirements, so you can take proactive steps to protect data in transit, at rest and in use.
Log management and monitoring
A CWPP provides unified logs in addition to single-pane-of-glass security monitoring and reporting capabilities to help you coordinate various security technologies associated with different parts of a workload. This can help consolidate incident management, minimize false alarms, increase productivity and simplify compliance audits.
Protection for hybrid cloud environments
You can use a CWPP to protect workload in complex hybrid cloud environments by applying functional and operational security controls to protect sensitive data based on where it's stored, who has access to it and how it's transmitted. Such visibility across your environment is key to ensuring compliance with regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA.
A CWPP helps you harden cloud infrastructure to protect sensitive workloads, particularly those involved in a control system. You can prevent intrusions effectively by using micro-segmentation to protect data in transit, at rest and in use with varying degrees of security controls.
You can reduce attack surfaces and minimize attack vectors by identifying and removing unused and unsupported applications, permissions, programs, accounts, functions, code and more. You can also use a CWPP to create compliance automation workflows to detect and patch vulnerabilities in less time and with fewer resources.
A CWPP helps you prioritize remediation actions based on business impact. In the event of a security incident, you can deploy resources to get business-critical applications back up as soon as possible to minimize costly downtime and further data loss.
A cloud workload protection platform can use data classification to determine access levels based on user identity and security profile, so you can prevent unauthorized access to your sensitive data even if it's shared or stored in multiple places.
You can protect data in memory to prevent unauthorized access, changes and deletion. A cloud workload protection platform uses an in-memory logging approach to detect if a process is accessing protected data or has been tampered with while in use.
A CWPP can help you predict, detect and respond to potential attacks. Some platforms share threat intelligence across their customer base to provide early warnings to new threats. You can make proactive security decisions, allocate cybersecurity resources strategically, prevent breaches before they happen and understand the nature of potential threats more quickly.
Dynamic risk scoring
A cloud workload protection platform can automatically calculate potential security risks based on data from your cloud infrastructure to help optimize resource allocation and prioritize remediation efforts. You can also use this information to verify compliance with security policies and regulatory requirements.
Automate security lifecycle
A CWPP is designed specifically for protecting cloud workloads, so you can secure your environment more effectively and efficiently than by using legacy security tools. You can lower costs and increase operational efficiency by simplifying and automating the entire security lifecycle for faster response times and uninterrupted user experiences.
Implementing cloud workload protection in your business
Cloud workload protection platform is an essential cybersecurity tool for any organization leveraging cloud technologies to support its digital transformation initiatives. It complements traditional application security and endpoint security measures to provide comprehensive protection for data processed and stored in the cloud.
Your solution should allow you to:
- Apply security measures such as integrity protection, whitelisting, memory protection and host-based intrusion prevention.
- Align with your cloud security posture management (CSPM) solution and integrate with your existing security infrastructure.
- Provide consistent visibility and control of all workloads regardless of location, size or architecture.
- Extend workload scanning and compliance efforts into development (DevSecOps), especially with container-based and serverless function (platform as a service-based development and deployment).
- Replace antivirus-centric strategies with a zero-trust approach to workload protection where possible, even if used only in detection mode.
To find a cost-effective cloud workload protection platform for your organization, you must have a complete picture of your entire cloud footprint. A cloud security risk assessment can help you identify risky configurations and assess your compliance status (e.g., PCI, GDPR, NIST, CIS). You can monitor privileged users and access credentials for abnormal behavior, gain real-time network visibility on suspicious traffic, and uncover critical hosts that have exploitable vulnerabilities.