What Is a CNAPP?

A cloud native application protection platform (CNAPP) provides access to a unified set of integrated security and compliance functionality designed to protect cloud native applications. It is a unified set of tightly integrated security and compliance functionality designed to protect cloud native applications across the entire lifecycle—from development to production.

Rani Osnat
June 21, 2023

What Is a CNAPP?

It is an emerging category of security solutions, defined by Gartner, which aims to address the unique security requirements of cloud native environments. A CNAPP consolidates multiple previously disparate capabilities, such as container scanning, infrastructure-as-code (IaC) scanning, cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM), cloud security posture management (CSPM), runtime workload protection (CWPP), runtime configuration scanning, and vulnerability scanning. 

In this article:

Why is CNAPP Important?

The growing interest in CNAPP can be attributed to several key factors highlighting the need for comprehensive, integrated security solutions for modern cloud environments.

Increasing Adoption of Cloud Technologies

As cloud technologies gain popularity due to their flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness, organizations need tailored security solutions that can effectively protect these complex environments.

Rising Complexity of Cloud Environments

Modern cloud-native architectures often involve multiple services, platforms, and tools working together. This complexity challenges traditional security approaches to provide adequate protection across all components. CNAPP address this issue by offering a holistic solution designed explicitly for complex multi-cloud ecosystems.

Growing Cybersecurity Threats Targeting Cloud Infrastructure

Cybercriminals continue to evolve their tactics as organizations shift towards the cloud. The growing number of high-profile breaches involving cloud-based resources underscores the importance of effectively securing these environments. CNAPP solutions help organizations stay ahead of emerging threats by providing continuous monitoring and advanced threat detection capabilities tailored for dynamic cloud workloads.

Demand for DevSecOps Integration

  • Better collaboration: Organizations embracing DevSecOps practices seek tighter integration between development, operations, and security teams. CNAPPs facilitate this collaboration by providing a unified platform that can be used by all stakeholders.
  • Shift-left security: Shifting security left in the development lifecycle is crucial for identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities early on. CNAPPs support this approach through features like static application security testing (SAST) and Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) scanning, which helps detect potential issues before they become critical risks.

Regulatory Compliance Requirements

Maintaining adherence to industry-specific rules and norms is an ongoing struggle for companies utilizing cloud services. CNAPP solutions help businesses meet these requirements by offering built-in compliance checks, reporting capabilities, and remediation guidance tailored to various regulatory frameworks such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS.

Key benefits of CNAPP

  • Integrated platform: Instead of protecting cloud native applications with multiple siloed solutions, each with its own interface and learning curve, CNAPP allows security teams to protect applications via one unified and tightly integrated solution.
  • Enhanced security posture: CNAPP enables a proactive security approach by offering comprehensive visibility into cloud resources, configurations, vulnerabilities, and supply chain risks across multiple environments. This allows organizations to quickly identify potential risks and take remediation steps before an incident occurs.
  • Accelerated incident response: In case a vulnerability or breach is detected within your environment, CNAPP solutions offer automated response capabilities that help minimize damage by quickly containing threats before they spread further.
  • Reduced complexity: Managing multi-cloud environments can be complex, leading to misconfigurations or gaps in security coverage. A well-designed CNAPP simplifies this process, making it easier for organizations to maintain consistent policies across all their cloud assets while reducing operational overheads.

Key CNAPP Features and Capabilities

A CNAPP offers a comprehensive approach to securing your infrastructure, code, workloads, and networks by combining multiple security capabilities in one unified platform. In this section, we’ll cover the main features of CNAPP as described in Gartner’s Innovation Insight for Cloud-Native Application Protection Platforms report.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

CSPM solutions enable organizations to identify and address risks within their cloud environments by continuously monitoring configurations across various services. This ensures cloud resources are compliant with industry standards and best practices while minimizing potential attack surfaces.

Learn more in our detailed guide to Gartner CSPM 

Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) Scanning

IaC scanning tools examine code templates used for provisioning infrastructure components in the cloud. These tools identify misconfigurations or vulnerabilities before deployment into production environments, reducing the risk of breaches caused by insecure deployments.

Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)

A CWPP offers runtime protection for workloads running on virtual machines, containers, or serverless functions in public clouds. It monitors processes and system calls at runtime to detect malicious activities such as unauthorized access or data exfiltration attempts.

Kubernetes Security Posture Management (KSPM)

KSPM is a subset of CWPP specifically focused on managing the security posture of Kubernetes clusters. KSPMs ensure Kubernetes configurations follow best practices, while providing insight into cluster-wide risks associated with misconfigurations or vulnerable container images.

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)

CIEM tools assist organizations in managing access permissions for users and applications across their cloud infrastructure. By continuously monitoring entitlements, CIEM solutions can identify excessive or unused permissions that could be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive resources.

Graph Database Technology

A key component of a robust CNAPP offering is its ability to analyze and understand the complex relationships between various application components, services, and data. 

Graph database technology can be used to model these relationships, enabling the CNAPP to gain a holistic view of an application’s architecture and dependencies. By leveraging graph databases, CNAPP can identify potential security risks and vulnerabilities within the application’s structure, as well as track the flow of sensitive data. 

Choosing CNAPP Solutions

When evaluating a CNAPP solution, focus on these key criteria:

Integrations

A single-vendor CNAPP solution should be easily integrated into an organization’s existing infrastructure and workflows. This includes compatibility with popular cloud platforms, container orchestration systems, and CI/CD pipelines. It should also support various security tools, such as vulnerability scanners, compliance checkers, and intrusion detection systems. A well-integrated CNAPP will streamline the process of securing cloud-native applications while minimizing the need for manual intervention.

Runtime Visibility

Favor CNAPP vendors that provide a variety of runtime visibility techniques,

including traditional agents, Extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF) support,

snapshotting, privileged containers, and Kubernetes integration. This will ensure maximal flexibility at deployment.

Advanced Analytics

A well-architected CNAPP should utilize advanced analytics capabilities to identify and respond to security threats in real-time. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can be employed to analyze vast amounts of data generated by cloud-native applications and detect anomalous patterns, which may indicate a security breach or vulnerability. Analytics is also used to correlate vulnerabilities, configurations, and other parameters and automatically prioritize risk.

Templates for Common Compliance Frameworks

A well-architected CNAPP should include support for common compliance frameworks, providing organizations with predefined templates and guidelines to ensure that their cloud-native applications adhere to relevant industry standards and regulations.

By providing templates and guidelines for common compliance frameworks, such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and ISO 27001, a CNAPP solution can simplify the process of managing and maintaining regulatory compliance. Organizations can easily understand and implement the necessary security controls and measures required by these frameworks, reducing the complexity of compliance management.

Cloud Provider Support

A well-architected CNAPP offering should provide extensive support for various cloud providers, enabling organizations to secure their cloud-native applications across multiple platforms.

As organizations increasingly adopt multi-cloud strategies to leverage the unique capabilities of different cloud providers or to avoid vendor lock-in, a CNAPP should offer support for all major cloud providers, including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and others. This allows organizations to consistently secure their applications, regardless of the underlying cloud infrastructure.

Overcoming CNAPP Adoption Hurdles

Simplifying Implementation

Implementing CNAPP solutions can be complex due to factors such as diverse technology stacks, multi-cloud environments, or hybrid infrastructures. To streamline this process, organizations should work with experienced vendors who offer comprehensive support during deployment. Additionally, creating clear guidelines for integrating CNAPP tools into existing workflows will ensure an easier transition.

Agentless vs. Agent Based

Choosing the right CNAPP deployment method is a critical decision point. This typically involves the long-lasting industry debate between agent-based or agentless solutions.

Agent-based CNAPPs require the installation of software agents on each system that needs protection. These agents actively monitor and enforce the security policies set by the CNAPP, allowing for a high degree of control and granularity. The unique vantage point of agent technology enables you to detect advanced attacks such as fileless malware that evade agentless scanning technology. However, this approach requires careful management and may introduce complexity in diverse environments due to different operating systems, versions, or cloud platforms.

On the other hand, agentless CNAPPs operate at a higher level, typically interfacing directly with the cloud providers’ APIs. Agentless scanning technology consists of taking snapshots of running workloads and scanning them via cloud providers’ APIs. This method provides quick visibility into cloud workloads, risk posture management, while detecting some, but not all, risks, such as misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and more. This approach is simpler, but typically cannot offer the same level of granular control and security as agent-based solutions. 

Ultimately, a robust CNAPP solution must combine both agentless and agent-based technology in a single platform, ensuring a strong connection, unified visibility, and correlation of the risks between the two. By leveraging fast agentless visibility connected with real-time in-workload detection and response capabilities in one tightly integrated platform, security teams can achieve the most effective and efficient cloud security.

Demonstrating ROI

It is crucial for IT leaders within an organization to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) associated with adopting CNAPP solutions. By highlighting the long-term benefits of enhanced security, reduced risk, and improved compliance, it becomes easier to justify budget allocations for these tools.

Integrating with Existing Security Tools

Organizations may already have various security tools in place that need integration with CNAPPs. Integration can be challenging but is essential for maximizing the effectiveness of both existing and new security measures. To achieve this, organizations should opt for CNAPP solutions that offer open APIs or built-in integrations with popular cloud-native technologies.

Addressing Knowledge and Skill Gaps

Because CNAPP is a new category, security professionals and cloud-native engineers may have inadequate awareness of their capabilities. In addition, the rapid evolution of cloud-native environments has resulted in skill gaps among IT professionals who may not yet possess the expertise required to manage CNAPPs effectively. 

To address this challenge, organizations should invest in ongoing training programs and consider hiring dedicated experts specializing in cloud-native application protection.

Best Practices for CNAPP Adoption

When adopting a Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP), organizations should consider several best practices to ensure a successful implementation. These practices can be divided into three key stages: Strategy and Planning, Evaluation, and Deployment.

Strategy and Planning

In this stage, organizations should first identify their security requirements and objectives. This includes understanding the specific risks and threats associated with cloud-native environments, as well as relevant compliance and regulatory requirements. A thorough assessment of the current security posture, including potential gaps and weaknesses, should be performed to help guide the selection of a CNAPP solution that best aligns with the organization’s needs.

It’s also essential to involve relevant stakeholders, such as security, development, and operations teams, in the planning process. This collaboration ensures that everyone understands the benefits and expectations of the CNAPP implementation, which can help reduce resistance and promote a culture of shared responsibility for security.

Evaluation

When evaluating CNAPP solutions, organizations should consider various factors, such as the platform’s capabilities, ease of use, scalability, and integration with existing tools and infrastructure. It’s important to select a solution that meets both current and future security needs, while also fitting within the organization’s budget and resource constraints.

Organizations should also consider conducting proof-of-concept (PoC) tests with multiple vendors to gain hands-on experience with the platforms and assess their effectiveness in addressing security concerns. This will enable organizations to make a more informed decision when selecting a CNAPP solution.

Deployment

Once a CNAPP solution has been selected, organizations should carefully plan the deployment process. This includes determining the scope of the implementation, setting milestones and timelines, and assigning responsibilities to various teams.

During deployment, it is crucial to ensure that the CNAPP is properly configured and integrated with existing systems, such as CI/CD pipelines, container registries, and monitoring tools. This integration will help maximize the platform’s effectiveness and provide a holistic view of the organization’s security posture.

Finally, organizations should invest in training and knowledge sharing to ensure that all relevant teams are familiar with the CNAPP platform and its capabilities. This will enable them to effectively use the platform to monitor, detect, and respond to security threats and incidents.

CNAPP with Aqua Security

Aqua Security enables organizations to unify cloud native application protection and detect, prioritize, and reduce risks across every phase of their software development life cycle.

The Aqua Cloud Native Security Platform is a Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) solution that secures your cloud native applications from day one and protects them in real time. With its fully integrated set of security and compliance capabilities, you can discover, assess, prioritize, and reduce risk in minutes across the full software development life cycle while automating prevention, detection, and response.

Rani Osnat
Rani is the SVP of Strategy at Aqua. Rani has worked in enterprise software companies more than 25 years, spanning project management, product management and marketing, including a decade as VP of marketing for innovative startups in the cyber-security and cloud arenas. Previously Rani was also a management consultant in the London office of Booz & Co. He holds an MBA from INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. Rani is an avid wine geek, and a slightly less avid painter and electronic music composer.