The evolution of cloud computing began as early as the mid-20th century, with the dominance of mainframe computers. Utility computing emerged in the early 2000s, followed by virtualization technology in the mid-2000s. All these technologies paved the way for agile and scalable cloud computing as we know it today, and adoption quickly grew. However, security concerns appeared due to the shared nature of cloud resources, shadow IT, potential vulnerabilities, and the dynamic nature of cloud environments. In response, Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) were introduced to help organizations manage the workloads they run in the cloud and protect them from risks.

A Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) is a cybersecurity solution that focuses on securing cloud-based workloads across virtual machines, containers, and serverless functions by providing continuous threat and monitoring protections. Continue reading this article as we explore the ins and outs of CWPP.

In this 2-minute video, understand what CWPP is and how the Orca Platform revolutionized cloud workload protection with an agentless solution

Understanding Cloud Workloads

The magic of cloud computing boils down to something called a cloud workload. A cloud workload is the engine that powers cloud applications and services. Simply put, a cloud workload is a collection of resources, applications, processes, and tasks needed to run anything from a simple application to a complex service. It may include things like computing power, storage, networking, applications themselves, and data processing tasks.

The beauty of cloud computing is its versatility in delivering these workloads. For instance, cloud workloads come in different types and can be delivered in various ways, depending on your needs:

  • Virtual machines (VMs): Imagine these as super-efficient servers that allow multiple operating systems to run on a single physical host, offering you flexibility and control. 
  • Containers: Containers provide a lightweight and portable way to package and deploy applications while providing isolation between applications and their dependencies, allowing them to run consistently across different environments.
  • Serverless: Serverless computing allows developers to write and deploy code without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. 

While cloud computing offers many benefits, workloads are vulnerable to various risks:

  • Data breaches and loss: A data breach occurs when there is unauthorized access to data as a result of weak authentication, misconfigured access control, malware, vulnerability, or insider threats.
  • Compliance and legal risks: Since data privacy is a growing concern, storing data in the cloud subjects organizations to various regulatory requirements regarding data protection, privacy, and residency.
  • Service outages and downtime: Infrastructure failures and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks can overwhelm the resources available hence leading to service interruptions, slowdowns, or outages for legitimate users.

Why is Cloud Workload Protection Important?

According to the Orca Security 2024 State of Cloud Security Report, the majority of organizations have neglected assets that are wide open to attackers: 81% of organizations have public-facing neglected assets with open ports that bad actors regularly scan. This dramatically increases the chances of data breaches, ransomware attacks, and compliance violations. Malware is also a major threat in the cloud, with the majority of malware (86%) being found on VMs, but also in storage buckets (12%) and containers (2%).

Cloud workload protection plays a crucial role in protecting against these threats in cloud environments by providing continuous monitoring of cloud workloads, identifying vulnerabilities, detecting malware, and helping organizations implement data protection measures.

Benefits of CWPP

Once implemented, Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPPs) provide organizations with significant benefits, including:

  • Visibility: CWPP solutions offer visibility into cloud workloads, showing the OS and applications running on the workload, as well as the versions and installed patches. 
  • Reduced attack surface: CWPP solutions can detect vulnerabilities on cloud workloads, including virtual machines, containers, serverless functions, and applications.
  • Advanced threat detection: CWPP solutions use advanced threat detection techniques, including machine learning, signature-based detection, and heuristics-based detection to identify and prevent malware and other security threats.
  • Improved compliance: CWPP solutions assist organizations in meeting compliance requirements by securing workloads in the cloud. 

Core Components of Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP)

CWPPs offer a range of features that work together in safeguarding workloads from potential threats. Here is a breakdown of the core components of CWPP:

  1. Inventory
    A CWPP provides a complete inventory of cloud assets, what operating systems and versions they’re running, as well as any installed software packages. In the case of a zero-day outbreak, the inventory can be searched to quickly understand exposure and any critical remediations that are needed.
  1. Continuous monitoring and threat detection
    CWPP solutions leverage robust threat detection techniques, such as behavioral analysis, machine learning, signature-based detection, and heuristics-based detection to identify malware and other security threats.
  2. Vulnerability assessment
    CWPP solutions offer continuous vulnerability assessment capabilities to identify and prioritize security weaknesses within cloud workloads.
  3. Data protection and encryption
    CWPPs prioritize data security by detecting sensitive data in the cloud and ensuring it is properly secured.
  4. Secrets detection
    CWPPs check if any secrets are stored insecurely that could enable an attacker to move laterally or access sensitive data.

How Cloud Workload Protection Works

As discussed in the above sections, Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep your cloud environment safe. But how exactly do they pull off this security magic? How can they ‘read’ cloud workloads? There are two types of Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP): the traditional approach is based on installing agents on cloud assets, and the more modern approach is agentless. Here’s a detailed comparison of the two approaches:

Agent-Based CWPP

In an agent-based deployment, software agents must be installed on each cloud workload in order to monitor for threats.

Pros of agent-based deployment

  • Agents provide detailed visibility into workload activities, network traffic, and system configurations, enabling comprehensive security monitoring and control.
  • Agents can detect and respond to security threats in real time, offering better protection against active threats.
  • Agents can be customized to suit specific workload requirements, allowing organizations to tailor security policies and controls based on workload characteristics.

Cons of agent-based deployment

  • Deploying agents on each workload is very time consuming and frequently causes friction between DevOps and security teams.
  • Agent-based solutions can take weeks or months to fully implement.
  • Coverage of cloud assets will never be complete due to partial deployment of agents, causing dangerous security blind spots. On average, coverage of cloud assets by agent-based solutions is no more than 50-70%.
  • Running agents on each workload incurs significant overhead in terms of local resource consumption, including CPU, memory, and network bandwidth.
  • Managing agents across a large number of workloads can be challenging, requiring centralized management, patching, update processes to ensure effectiveness and avoid disruption.
  • Agent-based solutions rely on the presence and proper functioning of agents on each workload, making it essential to ensure agent deployment and maintenance.

Agentless CWPP

In agentless cloud security solutions, security controls are implemented within the cloud infrastructure without requiring software agents on individual workloads. 

Pros of agentless deployment

  • Eliminate the need to install and manage agents on each workload, reducing resource consumption, management complexity, and potential compatibility issues.
  • Agentless platforms are very fast to deploy and provide quick time to value.
  • Get 100% continuous coverage of all cloud assets, and automatically cover any new assets as they are added.
  • Simplifies security management by centralizing control and enforcement at the infrastructure level, streamlining policy configuration and enforcement.
  • Without agents to manage, organizations can avoid the overhead of agent deployment, patching, and updates, reducing administrative overhead and operational costs.
See how Orca’s agentless platform provides cloud workload protection across 100% of assets

Cons of agentless deployment

  • Agentless solutions provide continuous scanning but do not provide real-time detection. However, for most assets real-time scanning is not needed. In the few cases that an agent is needed, agentless-first solutions can be supplemented with agents for specific workloads.
  • Without agents installed on individual workloads, organizations may have less granular control over security policies and controls, limiting customization and flexibility in security enforcement.

Are all agentless CWPP platforms equal?

No. This is because some agent-based platforms have later added agentless options to satisfy the growing demand for this feature. However, agentless coverage by these solutions is very often limited, and usually still requires the installation of an agent to get sufficient insights. 

As opposed to these solutions, the agentless-first Orca Platform was purpose built for the cloud to collect rich and comprehensive data without using any agents, providing 100% coverage. Orca’s patented SideScanningTM technology works by collecting data from the workloads’ runtime block storage and reconstructing the workload’s file system – OS, applications, and data – in a virtual read-only view. Then Orca performs a full risk analysis with zero performance impact on the workloads themselves to detect and prioritize any risks found in the environment.

Best Practices for Implementing Cloud Workload Protection

Here are some of the best practices to implement with your CWPP: 

1. Conduct a cloud security assessment

Conducting a cloud security assessment involves evaluating the security status of your cloud environment to identify potential risks, vulnerabilities, and areas for improvement. This also helps you prioritize security measures and focus your efforts where they’re most needed.

2. Adopt the principle of least privilege (PoLP)

PoLP is a fundamental security principle that advocates granting users and systems only the minimum level of access or permissions necessary to perform their tasks. By adopting PoLP, organizations can reduce their attack surface, enhance access control mechanisms, and improve overall security posture within their cloud environment.

3. Continuously monitor and automate security policies

Continuous monitoring keeps a watchful eye on your cloud environments. CWPPs perform automated security screening, such as vulnerability scanning and patch management to improve efficiency and reduce response times.

4. Regularly update and patch cloud workloads 

It’s important to regularly update operating systems and applications running on cloud workloads to prevent vulnerabilities. If vulnerabilities are detected by the CWPP, security teams need to quickly be able to understand which risks are the most critical so these can be fixed first. A CWPP can help prioritize risks by applying risk scores based on context and risk severity.

5. Provide training and awareness in cloud security

Providing comprehensive training and awareness programs for your cloud users is key. By educating employees, developers, and IT personnel about cloud security best practices, policies, and procedures, many issues can be prevented. 

Choosing the Right Cloud Workload Protection Solution

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) are your guardians in the cloud, but with so many options, picking the right one can be tough. Here are 4 recommendations to guide you:

1. Understand the key features to look for in a CWPP solution

Different CWPPs offer varying capabilities so it’s important to ensure the below key features are included:

  • Robust vulnerability scanning and assessment capabilities to identify security weaknesses, misconfigurations, and known vulnerabilities within cloud workloads.
  • Advanced malware detection mechanisms, such as behavioral analysis, machine learning, and heuristics based detection in addition to signature based.
  • Features for secure configuration management, compliance monitoring, and policy enforcement to ensure cloud workloads adhere to security best practices and regulatory requirements.
  • Incident response and remediation capabilities, including alerting, incident investigation, automated response actions, and integration with security orchestration and automation platforms.
  • A centralized management console or dashboard that provides comprehensive visibility, policy management, and reporting capabilities across cloud workloads, facilitating efficient security operations and compliance management.

2. Consider Multi-Cloud Environments

If you operate in a multi-cloud environment (using multiple cloud providers), vendor lock-in can be a concern. You can tell whether a CWPP solution is fit for your multi-cloud environment by considering the following factors:

  • Ensure that the chosen CWPP solution integrates and works seamlessly with the various cloud platforms used by the organization.
  • Look for a CWPP solution that provides centralized management and visibility across all cloud platforms. A unified management console enables administrators to monitor security events, enforce policies, and generate reports from a single interface, simplifying security operations in a multi-cloud environment.
  • Establish consistent security policies and configurations across all cloud environments to maintain a unified security posture.
  • Consider data sovereignty regulations and compliance requirements when deploying CWPP solutions in multi-cloud environments.
  • Implement resilience and redundancy strategies to ensure continuous protection and availability of security controls in multi-cloud environments. 

3. Why AI-driven CWPP is something you should look for

To reduce workloads and speed up remediation times, AI-driven Cloud Workload Protection Platforms deliver several benefits:

  • Quickly detect sophisticated and evolving threats that traditional security approaches may miss.
  • Automate incident response and remediation processes, allowing organizations to respond to security threats faster.
  • Enhanced visibility into cloud workloads and security events by analyzing vast amounts of data generated by cloud environments. 
  • Simplify and accelerate cloud workload investigations so teams can for instance quickly understand exposure to zero-day risks.

4. Evaluate Vendors and Products 

Once you understand your needs and key features, it’s time to evaluate vendors and products. Here are some tips:

  • Read reviews and case studies: See how other companies have used CWPPs to address their security challenges.
  • Request demo and POC: Experience the platform firsthand and see if it fits your workflow.
  • Consider cost and support: Compare pricing models and evaluate the level of customer support offered. 

Why a Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) is not enough

While Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) are essential to cloud security, they are only a small part of the cloud security puzzle. CWPPs only cover cloud workloads and lack visibility into the cloud control plane, such as misconfigurations and overly permissive identities. 

This limited visibility impacts the tool’s ability to provide full security coverage and effective alert prioritization. Any risks due to cloud misconfiguration (such as MFA not being enabled for the ‘root’ user account or KMS encryption keys not being rotated) cannot be detected by a CWPP.

Many organizations solve this problem by acquiring more siloed security tools to cover missed risks, such as a CSPM, CIEM, API Security, DSPM tool and more. In fact, most organizations deploy five or more siloed security tools in their organization. However, this results in many duplicated alerts and the inability to prioritize risks to be remediated due to a lack of overall visibility.

The 2022 Cloud Security Alert Fatigue Report showed that the majority of respondents use five or more public cloud security tools and that the more tools organizations use, the higher the proportion of false positives and the worse the alert fatigue. 

Introducing CNAPP: A Unified Defense System

Instead of siloed security tools, the modern security landscape demands a more comprehensive approach. Enter Cloud-Native Application Protection Platforms (CNAPP).

A Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) is a consolidated security platform that protects and secures cloud environments in a holistic way. The trend of consolidating cloud security tools into a single CNAPP reflects the evolving needs of organizations to streamline and simplify their security operations in cloud-native environments. Several factors are driving this consolidation trend:

  • Need for reduced complexity: As organizations adopt cloud-native architectures and technologies across multiple cloud provider platforms, they face increasing complexity in managing and securing their cloud environments. Consolidating multiple security tools into a single CNAPP platform helps simplify security operations, reduce tool sprawl, and streamline management workflows.
  • Importance of unified visibility and control: CNAPP platforms offer unified visibility and control over cloud-native applications, workloads, and infrastructure. Organizations gain a holistic view of their security posture, allowing them to not only see siloed risks, but also how different risks can be combined to create dangerous attack paths.
  • Improved integration and orchestration: CNAPP platforms facilitate seamless integration into existing workflows, allowing organizations to automate risks for remediation, orchestrate responses to security events, and enforce consistent policies across diverse cloud-native environments. 
  • Enhanced threat detection and response: By consolidating many different point solutions in one platform CNAPP platforms can leverage advanced technologies such as AI, machine learning, and behavioral analytics to enhance threat detection and response capabilities. 
  • Scalability and flexibility: Agentless CNAPP platforms are designed to scale and adapt automatically to the dynamic nature of cloud-native environments. Organizations can scale security controls elastically to meet changing workload demands, adapt to evolving threats, and support future growth and expansion without requiring any manual intervention.

Benefits of a CNAPP

Consolidating cloud security tools into a CNAPP offers several benefits for organizations operating in cloud-native environments. Those benefits include:

  1. Simplified security management and operations: CNAPPs streamline security management by providing a single platform for monitoring, managing, and enforcing security policies across cloud-native applications, workloads, and infrastructure.
  2. Collaborative approach: Different stakeholders, such as security and risk management teams, DevOps, DevSecOps, IAM, and IT professionals, can collaborate and implement an integrated security approach using CNAPPs.
  3. Unified visibility and control: CNAPPs offer unified visibility into the security posture of cloud-native environments, providing a single pane of glass for monitoring security events, vulnerabilities, and compliance status. 
  4. Integrated security capabilities: CNAPPs integrate a wide range of security capabilities, including vulnerability management, malware detection, identity management, misconfiguration detection, compliance checks, API security, data protection, and more into a single platform. 
  5. Shift left security: CNAPPs enable automated security checks by integrating with cloud-native orchestration tools, DevOps and DevSecOps pipelines, and CI/CD workflows. This allows organizations to automate security processes, such as vulnerability scanning, configuration management, and incident response, and embed security into the development lifecycle.

About the Orca Security Cloud Security Platform

The Orca Cloud Security Platform offers a true agentless-first CNAPP that identifies, prioritizes, and remediates security risks and compliance issues for AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, Kubernetes, Alibaba Cloud, and Oracle Cloud. 

Orca’s solution consolidates cloud configuration, workload, identity & entitlement security, multi-cloud compliance, vulnerability management, and more in a single platform. Leveraging a Unified Data Model, Orca contextualizes risks and recognizes when seemingly unrelated issues can create dangerous attack paths. This enables Orca to prioritize risks effectively, reduce alert fatigue, and ensure your teams can focus on the most critical and important tasks.

After a quick setup (usually less than 30 mins), Orca provides deep and wide visibility into all cloud assets and helps organizations continually improve their cloud security posture. Schedule a demo with one of our experts to see how the Orca Cloud Security Platform can uplevel your cloud security.

Cloud Workload Protection FAQs

What’s the difference between CWPP and CSPM?

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP) solutions focus on safeguarding workloads, applications, and data within cloud environments, offering tailored security controls such as vulnerability assessment, threat detection, and data protection. Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM ) solutions focus on the cloud provider by assessing and managing the overall security posture of the entire cloud environment, evaluating configurations, compliance, and risk exposure across accounts, services, and resources. 

Can CWPP be used across different cloud service models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS)?

In IaaS environments, CWPP solutions secure individual workloads, applications, and data by offering security controls. For PaaS, CWPP ensures application security and data protection, safeguarding against unauthorized access and vulnerabilities. In SaaS environments, CWPP solutions enforce access controls and monitor user activity to protect sensitive data, allowing organizations to maintain security and compliance.

How does Cloud Workload Protection impact system performance?

Deployment methods, such as agent-based or agentless, affect resource usage differently; agents may offer granular visibility but consume CPU and memory resources which can cause performance degradation, whereas agentless approaches have zero impact on performance. 

How does a CWPP integrate with existing security tools and workflows?

Most CWPP solutions enable seamless integration with security tools, orchestration platforms, and management systems. CWPP solutions can integrate with event and log aggregation platforms (SIEM), Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) tools, ticketing platforms, notification systems, and more.

What’s the difference between CWPP and CNAPP?

CWPP solutions were created to protect individual workloads, applications, and data within cloud environments. CNAPP solutions offer CWPP capabilities, but cover much more, including CSPM, CIEM, DSPM, API security and more, and are specifically designed to secure cloud-native applications, microservices, and containerized workloads deployed in cloud environments.

Does the Orca Security CNAPP include CWPP?

Yes, the Orca Platform incorporates cloud workload protection to discover risks in all cloud workloads (VMs, containers, and serverless) such as vulnerabilities, malware, and data at risk. Unlike other CWPPs, Orca is completely agentless, fully deploys in minutes with 100% coverage, and includes wide and deep visibility into risks across every layer of your cloud estate, including cloud configurations as well as workloads.