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What Is Data Security Posture Management (DSPM)?

Data security posture management (DSPM) is a category of solutions designed to help protect an organization’s data—both local and in the cloud—against unauthorized access, misuse, or theft by continuously monitoring, updating, and refining security measures. DSPM solutions use intelligent automation to identify potential vulnerabilities, enact safeguards, and perform regular system tests and audits.

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How DSPM Works

DSPM solutions evaluate an organization’s security controls and identify vulnerabilities through various means, including vulnerability scans, penetration testing, and security audits of data centers and cloud environments.

Once potential risks are surfaced, the DSPM and the organization’s security team can implement or modify security controls (firewall rules, access controls, IPS configurations, etc.) as needed. Regular testing and auditing help keep controls effective as well as make it faster and easier to identify and enact further changes, helping the organization maximize its data security posture.

Key Components of DSPM

Most DSPM solutions can be broken down into a few core components or functions:

  1. Continuous risk assessment and security posture monitoring to identify and evaluate potential risks, vulnerabilities, and threats to data security.
  2. Automated security control tuning and tracking to implement or modify firewall rules, intrusion detection/protection system configurations, and access controls.
  3. Regular security control auditing and testing to ensure controls are up-to-date and effective.
  4. Automated incident response workflows to streamline and speed up identification, containment, investigation, and recovery in the event of a security incident.
  5. Integration with threat intelligence feeds to keep the DSPM solution up to date on the latest threats and tactics.

Why Modern Organizations Need DSPM

Modern organizations need a DSPM solution to protect their sensitive data (e.g., PCI, PHI, and PII data) from data breaches and other cyberattacks. As organizations move more data to the cloud, this cloud data faces risks related to access, complex services, distributed infrastructure, and more—and today’s attackers are looking to capitalize on these new vulnerabilities by launching faster, more sophisticated attacks.

Let’s look at some of the benefits an effective DSPM solution can offer in today’s data risk landscape.

Benefits of DSPM

Embedded properly within your security stack, the right DSPM solution can provide:

  • Stronger security and a reduced risk of data breaches: By automating identification and management of misconfigurations, outdated policies, faulty data classification, excessive permissions, and more, DSPM helps you better protect your data.
  • Tighter compliance and reputation support: By auditing your policies against data protection laws and regulations (e.g., HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA), DSPM helps you avoid fines and legal action while assuring customers and partners that their data is secure.
  • Smaller attack surface through effective data discovery: With a holistic view of where your data is located—even across multicloud and SaaS environments—you can more confidently create policies and controls that suit the needs of your organization and its data assets.
  • Greater operational efficiency and cost savings: Using automation to continuously monitor and strengthen your security posture, DSPM enables your security team to focus on other high-value priorities while helping you avoid the costs of a breach.

How to Get Started with DSPM

The key to establishing a DSPM suite is laying a strong foundation for your data security. Conduct an initial risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and threats, implement appropriate security controls based on your findings, and then establish a plan that incorporates the DSPM solution for continuous monitoring, regular audits, and incident response.

DSPM Deployment

Deployment will look different depending on your DSPM provider, the rest of your ecosystem, and your organization’s needs. However, any successful deployment will require a few basic steps:

  1. Identify your organization’s security requirements. Understand the types of data you need to protect and any data governance regulations or industry standards you need to follow.
  2. Select the best solution for your business needs. Looking beyond security, consider cost-effectiveness, scalability, ease of use, integration with your existing technology, and reporting.
  3. Empower your security team to work with the DSPM. Set your team up to succeed with clear policies and procedures, and make sure everyone understands their responsibilities.
  4. Deploy and configure the DSPM, and start monitoring. As it learns your environment and data flows, your DSPM will automatically start helping you fine-tune your security policies.
  5. Integrate the DSPM with your other security tools, ideally during initial deployment. The most effective DSPM solutions will integrate with your stack natively and automatically. We’ll look at key integrations next.

DSPM Integrations

DSPM tools are more effective when working together with complementary technologies such as:

  • Identity and access management (IAM) tools ensure only authorized users have access to sensitive data. Integration with DSPM enables you to automate enforcement and management of your authentication and access controls.
  • Cloud access security brokers (CASBs) provide visibility into cloud infrastructure and apps, enforce data protection policies, and prevent unauthorized cloud access. Integration with DSPM lets you extend your data security posture to your cloud data stores.
  • Endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools monitor and detect threats on endpoints in real time. Integration with DSPM helps you keep your data security policies in lockstep with your EDR solution.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) tools consolidate and analyze data from your enterprise environment to support incident detection and response. Integration with DSPM provides broader visibility and correlation to bolster your data security.
  • Data loss prevention (DLP) tools protect sensitive data from loss or theft. Integration with DSPM lets the solution monitor and control data as it moves through your environment, helping it make appropriate changes to prevent unauthorized access or disclosure.
  • Intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) monitor for suspicious activity to prevent illicit access or malicious traffic (e.g., DoS attacks). Integration with DSPM enables real-time monitoring and alerting for proactive incident prevention.
  • Security analytics tools use machine learning to identify potential threats by recognizing patterns and anomalies. Integration with DSPM provides real-time threat detection and insights that help you take action to bolster your security posture.

DSPM Best Practices

Effective DSPM comes down to effective configuration and planning, both for ongoing tuning and for your policy frameworks and procedures. As you adopt and deploy a DSPM solution, start by considering these five basic best practices.

1. Discover and Classify Data

To reduce overall data breach risk, you need to achieve visibility, then control, over the sensitive data in your ecosystem. Consider data tagging or other solutions to classify structured (e.g., PII) and unstructured data (e.g., source code, secrets, intellectual property). This will help your security team understand the most critical areas to focus security efforts.

2. Restrict Data Access and Implement Least-Privileged Access

Controlling access to data is one of the basics of cybersecurity hygiene. Effective cloud data security must manage privileged access while limiting data breach exposure, reducing privileged user friction, maintaining customer trust, and ensuring compliance.

3. Perform Continuous Risk Assessment and Compliance Auditing

As data moves in the cloud, you need to continuously monitor new and modified data stores against your security posture and regulations. This includes regular assessments and auditing as well as monitoring network traffic, system logs, and user activity. Sensitive data can be subject to various mandates (e.g., GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, PCI DSS), and you need more than classification to ensure your handling of it is compliant.

4. Prioritize Risk and Remediation

To prioritize security efforts and implement remediation measures to proactively reduce risk, your team needs to be able to analyze and score data risks based on data sensitivity, regulatory compliance, security controls, and other factors. Using this as a basis for configuring real-time alerts and notifications of potential incidents, you’ll be able to respond quickly and effectively to mitigate the impact of a breach.

5. Establish Security Policies and Procedures

To govern how data is handled and protected, your security tools and teams need the right policies and procedures in place. These should cover data access, use, storage, and disposal, aligned with industry standards and regulatory requirements. By establishing clear policies and procedures, you’ll reduce the likelihood of human error or intentional misuse of data leading to a breach.

What’s the Difference Between DSPM, CSPM, and CIEM?

DSPM, cloud security posture management (CSPM), and cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) solutions all help you manage your security posture, with some key differences:

  • DSPM focuses on your overall data security posture, including on-premises and cloud environments, by helping you identify and assess risks, monitor controls, and plan incident response.
  • CSPM focuses on cloud data security, identifying and managing risk and compliance issues in cloud environments through asset discovery, configuration and access management, and detection and response.
  • CIEM monitors, identifies, and manages risks and noncompliance related to entitlements and permissions in cloud infrastructure.

Zscaler Posture Control and DSPM

DSPM, CSPM, CIEM, and more functions are fully integrated within Zscaler Posture Control, an agentless cloud native application protection platform (CNAPP) built to secure cloud infrastructure, apps, and confidential data in any public cloud (AWS, Azure, GCP, etc.).

Seamless data protection and threat intelligence integration in Posture Control empower your security team to more effectively discover, classify, and secure sensitive data and secrets. By correlating signals, Posture Control helps you understand the overall impact of risk and prioritize it more accurately.

Integrated DLP with our CNAPP lets you move away from siloed point products and more accurately correlate hidden risks caused by the combination of misconfigurations, threats, and vulnerabilities across your entire cloud stack. With this precision, you can eliminate alert fatigue and be able to prioritize risks more effectively, speeding up response time and strengthening security while being more resource- and cost-effective. 

Posture Control makes it easier for security and cross-functional teams to understand who is doing what with your sensitive data, helping you implement appropriate controls as well as facilitate cross-team cooperation across the entire application life cycle.

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