The Difference Between CSPM and SSPM

Years ago, a marvelous cartoon in The New Yorker featured one bearded college professor yelling at another, “Wait, all this time, I was talking macro and you were talking micro?” This is how conversations unfold when people talk about cloud security posture management (CSPM) versus software-as-a-service (SaaS) security posture management (SSPM). The two are similar and overlap to a certain extent. Yet, SSPM is quite different from CSPM. This article will explore those differences.

First, Some Definitions

Security posture, in general, is about how well an organization is prepared to defend itself against cyber threats. Typically, posture amounts to being able to detect threats and respond to them effectively—and quickly. In specific terms, security posture deals with guarding networks and protecting an organization against malware, ransomware, denial of service (DoS) attacks, data breaches and other serious threats.

CSPM applies the principles of security posture to instances of cloud computing. It involves automating the detection and remediation of risks across infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS).

SSPM realizes security posture goals with software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. It combines tools, people, processes, and policies with the goal of reducing cyber risk exposure for SaaS apps. For example, an SSPM solution might monitor and remediate insecure SaaS configurations or third-party integration plugins.

Why CSPM and SSPM Are Important

CSPM is essential because traditional security processes and countermeasures don’t work very well in the cloud. The cloud is exposed to risks that do not affect on-premises infrastructure. For one thing, there’s no perimeter. The very flexibility and ease of access that makes the cloud so useful, in business terms, makes it vulnerable to threats that you don’t run into in traditional IT environments. Nor is there the kind of centralized management that’s common with on-premises infrastructure. Manual processes don’t scale well in the heterogeneous landscape of the cloud, either. After all, in addition to encompassing IaaS, SaaS, PaaS, and other “as-a-service” technologies, a cloud environment can also be public, private, or hybrid.

Like CSPM, SSPM is an important element of an overall security program because it addresses SaaS apps’ unique risks. A SaaS app can be accessed, in theory, by anyone, from anywhere, on multiple device types. This is great for operational agility but terrible for security. Countermeasures, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) are critical for protecting SaaS apps and the sensitive data they contain, if they are turned on, which they often aren’t. The problem is partly one of scale. The average organization uses over a hundred SaaS apps, each of which has its own unique custom security settings that can be modified by individual users. The security team cannot keep up without SSPM tooling. 

How CSPM and SSPM Differ

CSPM and SSPM both address themselves to the parts of the IT estate that live in the cloud, which are outside the standard zone of security policies and operations. They overlap, to some extent, with CSPM potentially monitoring access to SaaS apps, for example.

Similarities and overlap aside, CSPM and SSPM are different, but also complementary. CSPM is concerned with cloud infrastructure, while SSPM deals with applications.  It’s the micro to CSPM’s macro, if we go with the cartoon’s theme. CSPM is broader in scope than SSPM. For instance, CSPM might include the integration between software development and cloud operations, while SSPM does not.

SSPM, conversely, deals with a level of detail in SaaS security that CSPM does not touch. An SSPM solution, such as Suridata’s SSPM platform, monitors the configurations of all SaaS apps. It flags, and can automatically remediate, insecure configurations. SSPM inventories third-party plugins and alerts security managers to integrations that may expose the organization to risk.

An SSPM solution identifies all of the places in the SaaS ecosystem where corporate data is stored, and identifies any security risks that arise from such data storage. An SSPM platform monitors SaaS user sessions and flags suspicious activity, such as excessive file downloading, which can signal a ransomware attack in progress. An SSPM platform prioritizes SaaS security alerts and recommends remediation of the most urgent issues first.

Conclusion: You Probably Need Both CSPM and SSPM

If you have cloud assets and SaaS, which would make you like most organizations, you probably need both CSPM and SSPM. On their own, they each provide part—but not all—of the cloud security you need. CSPM protects your cloud infrastructure, with possibly some defense of SaaS. To get thorough SaaS security, however, you need SSPM in addition to CSPM. You have to talk micro as well as macro.

Lee Kappon

Co-Founder & CEO

Back to list

Watch also