What is a Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)? 

A cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) is, according to Gartner®, a workload-centric security offering that targets the unique protection requirements of workloads in modern hybrid, multi-cloud data center architectures. CWPPs help organizations protect their capabilities or workloads (applications, resources, etc.) running in a cloud instance.

CWPPs vary across vendor platforms but typically include functions like system hardening, vulnerability management, host-based segmentation, system integrity monitoring, and application allow lists. CWPPs enable visibility and security control management across multiple public cloud environments from a single console.

So, what exactly is a CWPP protecting? A cloud workload is any application, service, database, or other function running in the cloud. These workloads include virtual servers, database instances, containers, nodes, and even old-fashioned computing hardware. Their specific purposes may differ, but any resources hosted in the cloud are considered workloads.

Why is a CWPP Important?

CWPPs are important because of the acceleration in cloud adoption, where businesses enjoy myriad benefits after migrating their technical assets to a cloud-based environment. Faster operations and significant cost savings are two key benefits that have spurred on this trend.

In this environment, cloud workload protection becomes critical. After all, any company’s reputation and business can suffer a notable hit whenever a hacking incident hits the news. To meet this growing security need, vendors in the security operations (SecOps) space offer a variety of CWPP options.

Unlike earlier security solutions, like endpoint protection platforms (EPPs), CWPPs specifically focus on workloads. It’s an approach more suitable for the wide variety of cloud architectures in use today. Ultimately, enterprise cybersecurity platforms needed to evolve to sufficiently protect modern cloud-based technical infrastructures. As such, CWPPs support public, private, hybrid, and multi-cloud data centers.

How Does a CWPP Work? 

A CWPP must provide the ability to manage any workload currently deployed on a company's cloud platforms. Network administrators typically conduct a vulnerability assessment of workloads, verifying compliance with the organization's cybersecurity policies.

If necessary, an admin applies various security techniques to the workload. These can include integrity or memory protection, allow lists, or host-based intrusion protection. Anti-malware protection is another option, depending on the SecOps needs of the enterprise.

Other use cases also depend on the nature of the business. For example, software development organizations are able to integrate CWPPs into the automated processes in their continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline, typically as part of the build process. This approach is becoming commonplace in organizations following the development operations (DevOps) or development security operations (DevSecOps) methodologies.

At some enterprises, CWPP works in concert with a cloud security posture management (CSPM) solution. CWPP ensures the security of the cloud workloads, while CSPM focuses on the broader view – including the accounts deploying those workloads on the company’s cloud platforms. Tightly integrating CWPP and CSPM makes managing cloud assets an easier process for administrators.

In fact, any CWPP must seamlessly integrate with other parts of the enterprise SecOps infrastructure. In cases where data privacy and security are critical, linking to a data loss prevention solution becomes a wise strategy. The CWPP also enhances the capabilities of the security operations center (SOC), helping it to more effectively detect and analyze complex, cloud-based cyberattacks.

What are the Major Benefits of a CWPP?

A CWPP provides an easy-to-use management window into an organization's cloud infrastructure. This includes public, private, and on-premises clouds, where cloud engineers can gain insights into potentially threatening workloads in real time, at a glance. Let's take a look at some other ways a CWPP can be of benefit: 

  • Easy integration with other cloud-management tools gives administrators a helpful portal to manage workloads, overall security posture, and other related network components such as firewalls. 
  • Automated alerts help the team quickly react to any threats. Support for enterprise policy scripting improves response time, including posture changes, creation of allow lists for applications, and more. 
  • Comprehensive protection for all cloud workloads deployed in an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) architecture makes managing security for any modern hybrid cloud environment a simpler and more effective process. 
  • Cost savings become part of an overall cloud-based technical infrastructure strategy so businesses can reduce capital expenditures on hardware servers and other components. This also applies to overhead earmarked for maintenance and facilities. 
  • Near-seamless scalability is important for companies requiring flexible technical infrastructure. CWPPs provide analytics and reporting to help cloud engineers optimize and scale the platform based on demand. As such, customers enjoy superior performance while keeping their critical data safe.

What are the Differences Between CWPPs and Other Solutions?

The difference between CWPPs and other solutions are critical to know and understand, as it will determine the correct solution for an organization. Remember, cloud workload protection platforms are only one piece in an enterprise's overall cloud security strategy. 

One major limitation of a CWPP is an inability to perform identity tracking and access-management functionality. Also, most platforms don't provide cloud risk management services for all cloud-based deployments. Because of these potential limitations, enterprises typically use CWPPs in concert with other cloud security tools. Let's dissect some of the differences between a CWPP and a few of these tools. 

CWPP vs Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

A CSPM handles identity and access management (IAM) for a cloud environment. Since this functionality is beyond the scope of a CWPP solution, adding a CSPM platform provides another critical piece of the cloud security puzzle. It also focuses on monitoring and analytics, inventory and asset classification, and cost management. 

CWPP vs Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP)

A CNAPP focuses on protecting cloud-based applications and data as part of a security solution, working in concert with a CWPP and a CSPM. This helps bring application and data context to protect hosts and workloads, including VMs, containers, and serverless functions. Its significant automated capabilities also improve the efficiency of cloud administrators. 

CWPP vs Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)

A CIEM helps to reduce excessive cloud infrastructure entitlements and streamline least-privileged access controls across distributed cloud environments. This process can be additive to a CWPP in that it helps to proactively reduce the number of humans and machines who can work with and access workloads so that security remains a priority. 

CWPP vs Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)

A CWPP is focused on protecting workloads while a CASB enforces policy. A CASB provides strong security policy enforcement by consolidating many features such as authentication, single sign-on (SSO), authorization, credential mapping, device profiling, data encryption, tokenization, logging and alerting. Enterprises need to consider including a CASB with a CWPP and other cloud security tools.

Read More About Cloud Security

2022 Cloud Misconfigurations Report: Latest Cloud Security Breaches and Attack Trends

Learn about Rapid7's InsightCloudSec Product

Cloud Security: Latest News from the Blog