What Is a Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform?

by / ⠀Technology / September 5, 2023
person typing on computer; cloud-native application platform

Cloud technologies have dramatically shifted IT practices. Faster innovation, lower costs, and quicker deployment times allowed organizations to take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing. But with the increased flexibility and speed, dev teams also face significant challenges.

One of the biggest challenges of modern app development is data and application security. Since cloud technology isn’t secured on-premise, data breaches and malware attacks are significant risks. Since applications store high volumes of user and customer data, security is perhaps the most important aspect of cloud-based development.

That’s where cloud-native application protection platforms (CNAPPs) come in. If you’re a new entrepreneur or tech professional looking to build robust, secure cloud-native applications, this guide is here to help you understand the basics of CNAPPs.

What are cloud-native application protection platforms?

A cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) is a comprehensive security suite designed for cloud-based applications. CNAPPs offer various levels of protection, from data and application encryption to malware scanning and vulnerability assessment.

While traditional security measures often lack the flexibility, scalability, and compatibility needed for modern cloud-based applications, a CNAPP fills these gaps. They provide a unified, scalable platform to secure workloads running in various cloud setups, including public, private, and hybrid clouds.

Components and Tools in a CNAPP

The tools included in a CNAPP can vary depending on the vendor and the specific needs of the organization. However, the aim is generally to provide a comprehensive, end-to-end security solution that covers the entire CI/CD application lifecycle. Here’s a look at the typical components or tools included in a CNAPP:

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Scanning

Popular IaC tools like Terraform, AWS CloudFormation, and the Cloud Development Kit for Terraform (CDKTF) have become industry standards. Like any code, however, these configuration files are susceptible to vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. In short, they pose potential security risks.

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IaC scanning primarily aims to catch security flaws early in the development lifecycle, thereby reducing the risk of cloud misconfigurations. It scrutinizes configuration files (like Terraform’s HCL files) to identify issues such as improperly exposed network resources, violations of compliance mandates, or failure to adhere to the principle of least privilege in access controls. By doing this, it adds an additional layer of security.

This scanning usually takes place within the CI/CD pipeline, making it an integral part of your DevOps processes, although manual scans can also be run for isolated validation, especially during the development phase.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

CSPMs are also available as standalone services. That’s the main differentiator when comparing CSPM vs CNAPP; CPSMs focus almost exclusively on compliance and safety. They provide a detailed set of guidelines to meet specific industry regulations, which can be quite burdensome for cloud-based applications. HIPPA-compliant app development would be one example of this.

CNAPPs are all-in-one solutions for cloud infrastructure and security. They go far beyond compliance and safety, providing a comprehensive suite of tools to secure cloud-based applications. This includes data encryption, malware scanning, vulnerability assessment, and user authentication (in addition to built-in CSPM capabilities).

Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) safeguard your cloud infrastructure workloads, which encompass a broad array of services provided by your cloud vendor. These could be virtual machines (VMs), databases (both SQL and NoSQL), APIs, containers, or Kubernetes clusters.

Cloud Service Network Security (CSNS)

Cloud Service Network Security (CSNS) provides advanced protection for user traffic to and from cloud-based applications. It leverages security mechanisms such as application firewalls, intrusion detection systems, deep packet inspection, and virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect your apps from external threats.

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Kubernetes Security Posture Management (KSPM)

Kubernetes Security Posture Management (KSPM) is a specialized subset of CSPM. It focuses exclusively on Kubernetes clusters, the popular container orchestration platform. It helps ensure that your cluster configuration adheres to industry best practices and supports compliance requirements.

DevSecOps Integrations

Most CNAPPs provide integrations with leading DevOps tools, including CI/CD pipelines, version control systems like GitLab and GitHub, orchestration platforms like Kubernetes, and public cloud providers. This allows developers to build security into their software development life cycle. The following are the most popular integrations in CNAPPs:

  • Source code security: Automated source code analysis with static and dynamic scanning for vulnerabilities.
  • Compliance automation: This allows developers to evaluate the compatibility of their applications with various compliance standards such as HIPAA, GDPR, or PCI DSS
  • SCM integrations: Integrations with Source Code Management systems like Git
  • CI/CD pipeline security: Tools that can be integrated into CI/CD pipelines to include security checks during code building and deployment stages
  • Configuration management: Tools to automate the configuration and provisioning of cloud services
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC) security: Security tools specifically designed for infrastructure as code configurations, such as Terraform or Ansible scripts

Key Features and Benefits of a CNAPP

CNAPPs offer a variety of features designed to protect cloud-based applications and the data they store. Here’s what you can expect from a CNAPP:

  • Data encryption: A CNAPP offers encryption options for in-memory, on-disk, and over-the-wire data. This ensures that even if a malicious actor gains access to your application, they won’t be able to read the data.
  • Malware scanning: CNAPPs also scan for known viruses and some zero-day vulnerabilities (including zero-day exploits).
  • Automation: Being cloud-native, CNAPPs can automatically scale with your applications and easily integrate into DevOps pipelines.
  • Microservices support: Cloud-native app protection platforms often leverage containerization technologies like Docker and orchestration systems like Kubernetes.
  • Data protection and compliance: Devs use CNAPPs to protect sensitive data using encryption, access control lists, and role-based access to comply with HIPAA, GDPR, and other data security regulations.
  • API security: Given the prevalence of APIs in cloud-native applications, most CNAPPs offer robust API security features like access tokens, threat monitoring, and blacklisting.
  • Integrated view: They often provide an integrated dashboard or control plane that gives security teams a holistic view of the application environment and its security posture.
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A CNAPP offers DevOps and DevSecOps teams the ability to secure cloud-native applications throughout the entire application lifecycle with minimal setup. They provide a comprehensive suite of features that cover all aspects of application security, including data encryption, malware scanning, compliance automation, and user authentication. Most importantly, it automates the process of identifying and resolving security issues so you can be sure your applications are safe and secure.

To get the most out of a CNAPP, it’s important to do thorough research to find one that best meets your needs. Make sure to consider factors like cost, integration capabilities, scalability, features, and customer support when making your choice.


Featured Image Credit: Unsplash

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