Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)

What is Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management?

In its 2020 Cloud Security Hype Cycle, Gartner defined Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) as specialized identity-centric SaaS solutions focused on managing cloud access risk. Specifically, these solutions accomplish this via administration-time controls for managing entitlements and data governance in hybrid and multi-cloud IaaS architectures. The category of CIEM solutions has emerged because the challenges of Identity Access Management (IAM) have become more complex in tandem with the increased usage of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud infrastructures. These tools handle identity governance for dynamic cloud environments, typically following the least privilege principle, where users and entities are able to access only what they need at the right time and for the right reason.

What are some significant challenges to entitlement management?

CIEM solutions must seamlessly operate within dynamic multi and hybrid cloud environments. This includes privileged access management as well as identity administration and governance. Needless to say, the challenges to this approach are numerous, including:

  • Difficulty monitoring a dynamic global multi-cloud infrastructure
  • Prevention of misuse from privileged accounts
  • Poor visibility for performing compliance and oversight
  • Difficulty of governance in a complex cloud environment
  • Added complexity from short-term cloud entitlements
  • Inconsistency across multiple cloud infrastructures
  • Accounts with excessive access permissions

These challenges remain the biggest reason for the growth of CIEM in the industry. In short, multi-cloud IAM required a more refined approach. Below, we’ll discuss the modern approach to cloud infrastructure management and how it addresses these challenges.

What to look for in a CIEM

CIEM solutions should encompass a thoughtful and strategic approach. Most importantly, a CIEM solution should provide visibility into the entities currently accessing the organization’s cloud infrastructure: employees, clients, applications, cloud services, etc. This analysis must also cover the specific resources being accessed and the type of access, as well as the time. Simply put, the information gathered must include the who, the what, and the when.

That analysis then informs the next implementation step, which deals with managing risk across the cloud infrastructure. The main task within this step involves implementation of the least privilege principle noted earlier. In short, entities can only access applications and data they need to complete their work. No additional access should be given. 

Finally, cloud engineers need the means and visibility to monitor cloud activity on a 24/7 basis. This includes receiving actionable alerts whenever suspicious activity happens, such as unauthorized access.

Ultimately, partnering with a top CIEM provider lets companies work with the experts to devise an implementation strategy compatible with the organization’s cloud security approach. As CIEM is a relatively new sector in cloud technology, best practices for implementing a platform are still being developed, which makes that expert input all the more valuable.

Typical features of a CIEM platform

Any suitable CIEM platform must include a robust collection of features and functionality. For example, an easy-to-use module for access control and provisioning helps cloud administrators manage privileges for all accounts accessing the cloud infrastructure. This module must also facilitate enforcement of the least privilege principle as well as any other governance policies for the company.

A related entitlement management module gives administrators the means to control specific permissions for each user. An automated audit feature helps companies wrangle any dormant or orphaned accounts that exist. These kinds of accounts must be identified and removed, if necessary. They remain a significant security risk to any company’s cloud infrastructure. Auditing also helps cloud administrators track the current entitlement level for each account.

Additionally, many leading CIEM platforms seamlessly integrate with the top cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Of course, the best platforms also support multi-cloud and hybrid cloud infrastructures. Remember, when choosing a CIEM platform, easy integration helps ensure a successful implementation.

The benefits of CIEM

Implementing a CIEM solution offers significant benefits to any company with a complex cloud infrastructure. As noted earlier, the best platforms provide visibility into the current activity on the cloud, even hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

By using CIEM, an enterprise’s cloud-based applications and critical data stay protected from hackers and other nefarious cybercriminals. Once again, automated features detect and alert when discovering any potential threats, like dormant accounts or activities outside of the norm. Even mistakes when creating new user accounts, like assigning overly permissive access, are detected by the system, preventing potentially harmful errors from impacting business operations.

Additionally, companies with significant regulatory compliance requirements benefit from a CIEM platform’s automated auditing features. This approach provides a documentation trail detailing the company’s tight controls on cloud access, especially those critical data privacy considerations. Companies in the banking, insurance, and financial sectors especially benefit from this functionality.

The limitations of CIEM

As a still-emerging cloud management solution, CIEM platforms can be expected to add more improvements over time. Still, any current limitations are greatly outweighed by their significant benefits.

However, when analyzing potential CIEM vendors, choose one known for building holistic solutions. Many existing IAM vendors simply port over their non-cloud products without the seamless integration necessary to work in the complex multi-cloud of today. Any effective solution for cloud-based identity and access management must take into account each client’s unique approach to their cloud infrastructure. This is especially the case at organizations with complex policies regarding cloud access and permissions.