What Is Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)?


Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) organizes and safeguards user identities and entitlements within public and multi-cloud environments, providing continuous monitoring against entitlement-based attacks. The goal of CIEM is to provide additional security beyond traditional identity-based security solutions like Identity and Access Management (IAM), Privileged Access Management (PAM), and Identity Governance and Administration (IGA).

Why CIEM Is Valuable

Roughly 10% of all cybersecurity breaches are identity-focused ransomware attacks in which malicious actors access the network using simple, valid credentials and then scale their access within the network undetected.

In 2024, UnitedHealthcare saw one of the largest breaches of sensitive personal data in history, possibly affecting one-third of all Americans. In this example, the attackers used compromised credentials to gain access to remote desktops, access droves of normally encrypted files, and then deploy ransomware software inside the network.

CIEM offers security against these types of attacks by offering identity management, access controls, continuous monitoring, and advanced analytics to enforce zero-trust network security principles from a centralized resource.

How CIEM Works

Managing permissions and enforcing entitlement across a large portfolio of cloud environments can be massively complex. CIEM tools consolidate the management of user privileges and monitor against breaches via the following core capabilities.

User Discovery and Authentication

The first step to managing user privileges is to accurately identify the users. CIEM solutions provide insight into all users of an organization’s multiple cloud networks, whether they are internal, external, human, non-human, or applications.

CIEM solutions also require all users to be authenticated and, if not, will remove those users from the cloud environments. There are several common ways of authenticating a user, such as simple username and password verification or more complex multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocols.

Governance and Entitlement Management

Once a user is authenticated, CIEM solutions use advanced analysis to track user permissions and entitlement, identifying potential risks and gathering information to inform security policy. Machine learning can be used to audit user entitlements to determine if they are unused, overused, or properly utilized, and compare them against predefined security governance structure and access controls.

For example, a multinational corporation may have certain restrictions in place that prevent access to certain resources for users in specific countries or in a certain job role. A CIEM solution can evaluate user entitlements across multiple cloud environments and provide entitlement visibility, informing the organization of its users for management against their governance structure.

Enforce a Least-Privileged Access Model

A common trait of CIEM solutions is the ability to create and enforce policy within their cloud infrastructure and resources, often aligning with the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) security model. Security enforcement and the PoLP model seek to limit or completely restrict user permissions to resources based on their access policies. Functionally, this reduces a company’s risk of attack by minimizing excessive permissions.

In the example of a multinational corporation with country- or role-based restrictions, a CIEM tool can enforce security policies such as read-only access to certain resources for certain users, while maintaining write access to other users. For example, a client-facing support specialist should likely not have access to software deployment infrastructure. A CIEM tool can be used to identify these permission inconsistencies and enforce limitations. This is particularly advantageous for maintaining compliance.

In the event of an identity-based breach, PoLP models drastically limit the ability of an attacker to access or change critical resources. The CIEM tool restricts their access to only a small segment of the company’s network resources, limited to the single user’s credentials they are using.

Continuous Monitoring and Response

Cloud entitlements constantly change within an organization, as users may genuinely need additional access to resources or an application’s access is edited. CIEM solutions utilize advanced analytics techniques such as machine learning to establish a company’s baseline entitlement activity over time, commonly referred to as User and Entity Behavioral Analytics (UEBA).

UEBA can be used for real-time monitoring and detection of behavioral anomalies, potential threats, and security incidents. In most CIEM solutions, centralized UEBA dashboards are available for constant monitoring and threat notification and even provide threat response measures.

For example, a CIEM system may detect that the previously mentioned support specialist is trying to access a resource that they have never accessed before at a time of day when they are not usually active. The CIEM tool could then restrict all access of that user until their behavior can be reviewed further to deem its validity or level of threat.

What Is the Difference Between IAM and CIEM?

While they are fundamentally similar, Identity Access Management (IAM) and CIEM are distinctly different. IAM focuses on managing user identities, authentication, and access controls within an organization’s entire IT infrastructure. Meanwhile, CIEM is a specialized instance of IAM that specifically addresses managing user identities and entitlements across multiple cloud services. While IAM security principles address on-premises and cloud environment access, CIEM focuses on cloud computing and multi-cloud environments.

What Is the Difference Between PAM and CIEM?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is also different from CIEM. PAM is the methodology for managing access to administrative accounts, superusers, and other high-privileged accounts commonly associated with internal IT resources. PAM is like IAM methodologies in that it is a broad concept that allows the management of privileged access across all IT systems and infrastructures, including on-premises and cloud environments, while CIEM is narrowly focused on managing entitlements within cloud infrastructure.

While PAM and CIEM address different aspects of access management, organizations often deploy these solutions in a complimentary manner that allows for the existence of highly privileged accounts while still ensuring comprehensive control over said accounts. CIEM platforms can be used to enable PAM methodologies and extend highly privileged access into a multi-cloud environment while maintaining centralized visibility, continuous monitoring of entitlement, and threat response specific to these accounts and many others.

What Is the Difference Between IGA and CIEM?

Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) is a specific subset of IAM that focuses on managing identities and access to resources throughout an IT organization. This governance structure applies to employee onboarding, offboarding, and role-specific access, which is conceptually related to CIEM methodologies.

However, IGA applies to all IT resources while the governance and access portions of CIEM are specific only to cloud infrastructure. For example, IGA practices may include a governance structure for on-premises badge access for a specific employee, while CIEM governance and access would only apply to the cloud resources they have access to. Of course, the security standards driving both the IGA and CIEM strategy within the company would utilize the same strategy, but IGA is a broader and more holistic framework of identity governance.

Conclusion | Cloud Security Using CIEM

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management solutions provide a framework for managing and monitoring the behavior of user identities and permissions across complex cloud environments. Unlike traditional security frameworks such as IAM, PAM, and IGA, CIEM solutions specifically address the unique challenges of cloud environments by providing tools for monitoring, controlling, optimizing, and managing entitlement through an organization’s cloud networks.

CIEM solutions ensure organizations have secure access monitoring and control through features like access discovery, user authentication and governance, user and entity behavioral analytics (UEBA), least-privilege access enforcement, and centralized oversight. This capability is crucial for meeting compliance and countering cyberattacks, especially in instances where compromised credentials can grant unauthorized access to sensitive resources.

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