Cloud security11 min read

What is a cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP)?

A CNAPP brings together various security capabilities into a single, unified platform.

Cloud-native environments introduce new security challenges. Traditional security tools can’t keep up with the pace and complexity of cloud-native applications. To address these needs, the cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) has emerged as a comprehensive solution. In this post, I’m also considering when it’s a good time to adopt a CNAPP, and when a cloud security posture management (CSPM) solution is the better alternative.

Definition and overview

A cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) is an integrated security tool designed to protect cloud-native applications. It combines several security functions into one platform, providing an end-to-end solution.

CNAPPs ensure security across the entire lifecycle of cloud-native applications—from development to deployment to runtime.

Key components

  1. Cloud security posture management (CSPM). Monitors and manages cloud security configurations. Identifies misconfigurations and compliance issues.

  2. Cloud workload protection platform (CWPP). Protects workloads running in the cloud. Detects vulnerabilities and malware in virtual machines, containers, and serverless functions.

  3. Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM). Manages and audits user permissions and access in the cloud. Ensures the principle of least privilege is followed.

  4. Kubernetes security posture management (KSPM). Secures Kubernetes environments. Scans for vulnerabilities and enforces security policies in Kubernetes clusters.

  5. Data security posture management (DSPM). Protects sensitive data in the cloud. Monitors data access and ensures compliance with data protection regulations.

  6. Cloud detection and response (CDR). Continuously monitors cloud environments for threats. Provides real-time alerts and automated responses to security incidents.

  7. CI/CD security. Integrates security checks into continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. Ensures security vulnerabilities are identified and fixed early in the development process.

Evolution from CNSP to CNAPP

Initially, organizations used cloud-native security platforms (CNSPs) to address cloud security needs. CNSPs focused on specific security functions like CSPM or CWPP. However, these solutions were often siloed and lacked integration. This fragmentation led to security gaps and inefficiencies.

The need for a unified approach led to the development of CNAPPs. CNAPPs integrate the functions of CNSPs into a single platform. This evolution addresses the limitations of CNSPs by providing comprehensive security coverage and streamlined management.

Importance in modern cloud-native environments

Modern cloud-native environments are dynamic and complex. They require security solutions that can keep up with rapid changes and provide comprehensive protection. CNAPPs are crucial because:

  • Visibility. CNAPPs offer complete visibility into cloud environments. They monitor all resources and configurations, reducing blind spots.

  • Integration. By combining multiple security functions, CNAPPs reduce the need for multiple tools. This integration simplifies management and improves efficiency.

  • Proactive Security. CNAPPs integrate security into the development process. This ensures vulnerabilities are identified and fixed early, reducing the risk of security incidents.

  • Compliance. CNAPPs help organizations meet regulatory requirements by providing continuous monitoring and automated compliance checks.

CNAPPs represent a significant advancement in cloud security, ensuring that cloud-native applications are secure from development to runtime. This comprehensive approach addresses the unique challenges of cloud-native environments, providing organizations with the tools they need to protect their cloud investments.

When do organizations need a CNAPP?

Cloud-native environments present unique challenges that traditional security tools struggle to address. Organizations need a CNAPP to overcome these challenges and ensure comprehensive security.

Challenges with traditional cloud security tools

Traditional cloud security tools often operate in silos, focusing on specific aspects of cloud security. This fragmented approach leads to several issues:

  • Limited visibility. Traditional tools provide limited visibility into cloud environments. They often miss critical security gaps and vulnerabilities.

  • Complex management. Managing multiple security tools is complex and time-consuming. Each tool requires its own configuration, monitoring, and maintenance.

  • Inconsistent security. Different tools apply security measures at different stages of the application lifecycle. This inconsistency creates security gaps and increases the risk of breaches.

  • Reactive security. Many traditional tools react to security incidents rather than preventing them. This approach leaves organizations vulnerable to attacks.

Benefits of an integrated security approach

A CNAPP offers an integrated approach to cloud security, addressing the limitations of traditional tools. The benefits include:

  • Comprehensive visibility. CNAPPs provide a unified view of the entire cloud environment. They monitor all resources, configurations, and activities, reducing blind spots.

  • Simplified management. By consolidating multiple security functions into a single platform, CNAPPs simplify management. Organizations can configure, monitor, and maintain security from one interface.

  • Consistent security. CNAPPs apply security measures consistently across the entire application lifecycle. This ensures continuous protection from development to deployment to runtime.

  • Proactive security. CNAPPs integrate security into the development process. They identify and fix vulnerabilities early, preventing security incidents before they occur.

Long-term cost and efficiency benefits

Investing in a CNAPP offers long-term cost and efficiency benefits:

  • Reduced costs. CNAPPs eliminate the need for multiple security tools, reducing licensing and maintenance costs. They also reduce the resource costs associated with managing and maintaining separate tools.

  • Improved efficiency. By consolidating security functions, CNAPPs streamline security operations. This improves efficiency and allows security teams to focus on more strategic tasks.

  • Enhanced productivity. CNAPPs automate many security tasks, freeing up time for security teams. This increased productivity allows teams to address more significant security challenges.

  • Better ROI. The comprehensive protection and improved efficiency provided by CNAPPs result in a better return on investment. Organizations can achieve stronger security outcomes with fewer resources.

Organizations face numerous challenges with traditional cloud security tools. A CNAPP addresses these challenges by offering comprehensive visibility, simplified management, consistent security, and proactive measures. The long-term benefits include reduced costs, improved efficiency, enhanced productivity, and better ROI.

Integrating CNAPP into your development workflow

Integrating a CNAPP into your development workflow ensures that security is an integral part of the development process. This approach helps identify and fix security issues early, reducing risks and improving overall security posture.

Injecting security early in the CI/CD Pipeline

Injecting security into the CI/CD pipeline is crucial for proactive security measures:

  • Early detection. Implement security checks at each stage of the CI/CD pipeline. This includes static code analysis, dependency scanning, and configuration checks. Early detection of vulnerabilities prevents security issues from reaching production.

  • Automation. Automate security tests to ensure consistent enforcement. Automated tests run with every code commit, providing immediate feedback to developers.

  • Shift-left strategy. Shifting security left means addressing security issues during the development phase rather than after deployment. This reduces the cost and complexity of fixing security issues later in the lifecycle.

Collaboration between DevOps and security teams

Effective collaboration between DevOps and security teams is essential for integrating CNAPP into the development workflow:

  • Shared responsibility. Both teams must understand their roles in maintaining security. DevOps focuses on building and deploying applications, while security teams ensure that these processes are secure.

  • Communication. Regular communication between teams helps identify and address security issues promptly. Use collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams for real-time communication.

  • Training. Provide training for both DevOps and security teams on the importance of security in the development process. This includes understanding common vulnerabilities and how to prevent them.

  • Integrated tools. Use integrated tools that both teams can access. This ensures that security information is available to everyone involved in the development process.

Integrating CNAPP into your development workflow involves injecting security early in the CI/CD pipeline, using the right tools and methods for consistent enforcement, fostering collaboration between DevOps and security teams, and learning from real-world examples. This proactive approach to security helps ensure that your cloud-native applications are secure from development through deployment and beyond.

Addressing distributed problems with integrated solutions

Modern cloud environments present unique security challenges. These challenges often arise from the distributed nature of cloud-native applications and the numerous tools used to manage them. A CNAPP provides integrated solutions to address these problems effectively.

The need for a unified security platform

A unified security platform is essential for managing the complexity of cloud-native environments:

  • Single pane of glass. A CNAPP consolidates various security functions into a single interface. This unified view simplifies monitoring and management, ensuring that security teams can oversee the entire cloud environment efficiently.

  • Reduced complexity. Using multiple standalone tools increases complexity and the potential for misconfigurations. A unified platform reduces this complexity by integrating security functions, making it easier to enforce consistent security policies.

  • Streamlined operations. With a unified platform, security teams can streamline their operations. They can manage security policies, monitor threats, and respond to incidents from a single point of control.

How a CNAPP handles overlapping responsibilities

Cloud environments often involve overlapping responsibilities among different teams. A CNAPP helps clarify and manage these responsibilities:

  • Shared responsibility model. A CNAPP integrates with cloud providers’ shared responsibility models. This ensures that both the cloud provider and the organization understand their roles in maintaining security.

  • Role-based access control (RBAC). A CNAPP uses RBAC to assign specific roles and permissions to different teams. This prevents unauthorized access and ensures that only the right people have access to sensitive information.

  • Automation. By automating security tasks, a CNAPP reduces the burden on individual teams. Automated tasks like vulnerability scanning and compliance checks ensure that security measures are consistently applied.

Comprehensive coverage across networks, applications, and infrastructure

A CNAPP offers comprehensive coverage, providing several key benefits:

  • Network security. A CNAPP monitors network traffic for suspicious activity. It uses tools like Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) to identify and block potential threats.

  • Application security. A CNAPP continuously scans applications for vulnerabilities. This includes both static and dynamic testing to ensure that applications are secure throughout their lifecycle.

  • Infrastructure security. A CNAPP secures the infrastructure by monitoring configurations and ensuring compliance with best practices. This includes scanning for misconfigurations in cloud services, virtual machines, and containers.

Addressing distributed problems with integrated solutions requires a unified security platform, effective handling of overlapping responsibilities, and comprehensive coverage across all areas of the cloud environment. CNAPP delivers these capabilities, helping organizations secure their cloud-native applications efficiently and effectively.

When is it too early to adopt a CNAPP?

Adopting a CNAPP is beneficial for enterprises with complex and comprehensive security needs due to its integrated approach to securing cloud-native applications across various stages of their lifecycle. For some companies however, it might be too early to adopt a CNAPP, and they may be better off starting with a CSPM tool instead. Here are a few examples.

  • Early-stage companies
    • If a company is in its early stages or still small, its cloud environment might not be complex enough to justify the comprehensive features of a CNAPP.

    • Startups and smaller companies might have limited resources and simpler cloud infrastructures, making a CSPM tool a more suitable and cost-effective option.

  • Limited cloud adoption
    • Companies with an emerging cloud footprint or those just beginning their cloud journey might not need the extensive capabilities of a CNAPP.

    • CSPM can provide essential security posture management and compliance without the added complexity of a CNAPP.

  • Simplicity and cost considerations
    • CNAPPs can be more expensive and require more operational overhead compared to CSPM. For companies looking to manage costs and keep their operations straightforward, starting with CSPM is advisable.

    • CSPM tools are often easier to implement and manage, providing essential visibility and compliance monitoring without the need for extensive configuration.

  • Focus on compliance and visibility
    • If a company’s primary concern is achieving and maintaining compliance, along with basic visibility into their cloud environment, CSPM might be sufficient.

    • CSPM focuses on identifying misconfigurations, compliance violations, and security risks, which might be adequate for companies with less complex environments.


Adopting a CNAPP is ideal for large, complex enterprises with advanced security needs. However, for smaller companies, those early in their cloud journey, or those with limited resources and simpler environments, starting with CSPM can be more appropriate. CSPM tools provide essential security posture management and compliance monitoring without the complexity and cost associated with CNAPPs. As the company’s cloud environment and security needs grow, transitioning to a CNAPP can then be considered.

With Fix Security, we’ve built a CSPM solution that also features CNAPP capabilities, such as an integration with your CI/CD pipelines and Kubernetes security. It’s the ideal starting point for cloud security that also offers an upgrade path as your cloud environment and security needs grow.

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