Last updated at Thu, 30 Nov 2023 01:36:07 GMT

Building applications in the cloud has been great for development speed and scalability, but it can sometimes feel more like a sustained migraine for security teams. How do you keep your cloud applications safe without resorting to a dizzying patchwork of overlapping tools and dispersed services?

Gartner® research on “Innovation Insight for Cloud-Native Application Protection Platforms” breaks down the core capabilities required to effectively reduce risk in your cloud environment, and how they might come together into a single solution or ecosystem to relieve your security headaches.

You can read the full report here. But if you’re tight for time, or just want to get a preview first, we’ve got you covered in this post.

At a high level, here’s what Gartner found in its research into cloud-native application protection platforms (CNAPP):

  • “To support [digital] initiatives, developers have embraced cloud-native application development, typically combining microservices-based architectures built using containers, assembled in DevOps-style development pipelines, deployed into programmatic cloud infrastructure and orchestrated at runtime using Kubernetes and maintained with an immutable infrastructure mindset. This shift creates significant challenges in securing these applications.”
  • “The unique characteristics of cloud-native applications makes them impossible to secure without a complex set of overlapping tools spanning development and production,” including infrastructure as code (IaC) scanning, cloud workload protection platforms (CWPP), cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM), cloud security posture management (CSPM), and container management.
  • “Understanding and addressing the real risk of cloud-native applications requires advanced analytics combining siloed views of application risk, open-source component risk, cloud infrastructure risk, and runtime workload risk.”

Gartner also has a few recommendations for how to handle this new security paradigm:

  • “Implement an integrated security approach that covers the entire life cycle of cloud-native applications, starting in development and extending into production.”
  • “Integrate security into the developer’s toolchain so that security testing is automated as code is created and moves through the development pipeline, reducing the friction of adoption.”
  • "[Security and risk management] leaders should evaluate emerging cloud-native application protection platforms that provide a complete life cycle approach for security.”

Basically, securing app development in the cloud effectively is going to require tools that let you consolidate core security functions, get a clear view of your environment (and the risks it may contain), and empower your developers to incorporate security into the security pipeline.

So, what’s our take?

CNAPP represents the next evolution of cloud security through the unification of previously siloed feature sets or solutions. In previous years, just having tools that did one or more of these core functions provided by separate vendors was “good enough.” But over time, as cloud security programs across enterprises continued to scale and mature, it became clear that the dispersed nature of these tools made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get a true understanding of risk across complex cloud environments and make meaningful progress in operationalizing cloud security.

CNAPP is essentially a mindset that can save organizations from having to deploy a new set of technologies. It’s the idea that teams need a consolidated view of the different risks in their environment at the infrastructure, workload, orchestration, or API level, as well as unified workflows and automation capabilities to effectively mitigate those risks.

The reality today, however, is that very few vendors can actually live up to the high bar that Gartner has set with CNAPP. The capabilities shown on the diagram above are extremely wide-ranging and span across multiple teams (DevSecOps and more) within an organization.

CNAPP is about more than just identifying a shopping list of capabilities that your security team needs. When considering how to build out a program to protect cloud-native applications, security teams should focus on driving toward a set of outcomes they hope to achieve. Gartner doesn’t define these outcomes in their CNAPP report, but based on our experience working with some of the most sophisticated cloud and application security teams in the world, some of those desired outcomes may include:

  1. An up-to-date, easily maintainable inventory of all infrastructure, workloads, and apps that make up your organization’s entire cloud footprint
  2. Centralized reporting on risk across the full application stack, including open-source and third-party components
  3. Ongoing, real-time monitoring of suspicious or malicious activity at both the application and infrastructure levels
  4. Integration into the development team’s CI/CD pipeline in order to prevent risks at scale before code is deployed
  5. Automated workflows, both for notification and remediation, to detect and respond to threats as quickly as possible, with minimal human intervention

Each team’s list of outcomes will vary slightly depending on operational maturity, compliance requirements, size and complexity of the cloud environment, and what types of applications they are protecting. Keeping these five outcomes top of mind while evaluating solutions will help your team build from a solid foundation and avoid simply checking boxes off a long list of capabilities.

CNAPP may be a mindset shift first and foremost – but at the end of the day, the capabilities needed to achieve this more holistic approach to cloud and application security have to live somewhere within your technology stack. A unified platform that supports all these needs can help break down unnecessary silos and make it easier to contextualize your security data across the entire cloud infrastructure.

GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Gartner, Innovation Insight for Cloud-Native Application Protection Programs, by Neil MacDonald, Charlie Winckless, 25 August 2021

Additional reading:


Get the latest stories, expertise, and news about security today.