CASB vs. SSPM: Key Differences and Use Cases

Written by Hatice Ozsahan and Kate Lake on September 5, 2023

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Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) and SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) are two complementary tools in modern data security. While CASB focuses on the broad concepts of corporate policy, governing areas like identity, permissions, and data encryption, SSPM dives deeper into each SaaS application, scrutinizing its individual settings and usage patterns.

CASB and SSPM solutions become even more powerful when integrated within a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) architecture, a cloud-native framework that seamlessly blends networking and security services. As businesses shift away from traditional corporate networks, the unified approach offered by CASB, SSPM, and SASE is increasingly crucial for adaptive, comprehensive security.

Understanding CASB, SSPM, and SASE is imperative to developing a modern security approach. Let’s dive in.

What Is CASB?

Initially developed to address shadow IT, CASBs have evolved into multifaceted security policy enforcement tools. Defined by Gartner, they can be situated either on-premises or in the cloud, serving as intermediaries between cloud service consumers and providers. Their primary function is to enforce various enterprise security policies as users access cloud-based resources.

How Do CASBs Work?

CASB systems act as filters, proxies, and firewalls that protect users and Cloud systems by detecting unsanctioned cloud applications and sensitive data in transit.

CASBs have proven to be an invaluable resource for implementing security policies. The measures include basic authentication and single sign-on, as well as more complex measures such as authorization, credential mapping, device profiling, and encryption. Logging, alerting, and malware detection and prevention are also useful features of CASBs.

A CASB monitors SaaS applications from the outside, whereas SSPMs provide a more nuanced and personalized security experience.

CASB Use Cases

Discover Cloud Apps and Services

CASBs give a comprehensive view of all cloud-based applications within an organization. This helps organizations manage shadow IT, which can make up a significant portion of a company’s cloud services.

CASBs, however, have a limitation in monitoring SaaS interactions when employees are off company networks. With remote work and geographically dispersed teams on the rise, this is especially relevant.

Assess Risk and Compliance

CASBs evaluate the security, regulatory compliance, and legal considerations for every cloud app the organization utilizes.‍

Continuous Monitoring

With ongoing monitoring features, CASBs alert enterprises to new cloud services and unusual usage spikes, helping mitigate potential risks.‍

Data Loss Prevention and Compliance

CASBs enforce Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies as soon as data is uploaded to the cloud. They help locate sensitive files in cloud storage and offer remediation options.‍

Secure Data on Unmanaged Devices

CASBs provide granular access controls that prevent downloads or apply protection labels to data accessed on unmanaged devices.‍

Malware Detection and Remediation

CASBs identify malicious files within cloud applications and offer quick remediation options to manage threats effectively.

What Is SSPM?

SSPM, or SaaS Security Posture Management, is an automated security solution designed specifically to monitor and manage potential risks within Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. SSPM tools identify risks such as misconfigurations, dormant user accounts, over-privileged user roles, and potential compliance infractions.

According to Statista, only 38% of companies surveyed in 2022 plan to use SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM). The main reasons for not implementing SSPM were lack of familiarity with its capabilities and insufficient resources.

How Do SSPMs Work?

SSPMs rely on four main functionalities: visibility, policies, alerts and remediation.

These features work together to provide a comprehensive security solution.To achieve these functionalities, SSPMs operate in the following manner:

Discovery and Inventory

The SSPM detects all SaaS apps within the organization and creates an inventory of all assets.

Configuration Assessment

The SSPM continuously monitors configuration data to identify any potential vulnerabilities caused by misconfigurations.

Policy Enforcement

Organizations can create custom policies to align with their specific needs. When a vulnerability is detected, these policies can be used to solve the issue.

User and Access Monitoring

The SSPM tools continuously monitor user and access behavior patterns to identify any unusual activity that may cause vulnerabilities within the system, such as insider threats.

Compliance Checks

Many SSPM tools include built-in compliance checks for standards such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. Organizations can also customize these checks to ensure their compliance posture.

Threat Detection

Advanced SSPM solutions offer threat detection capabilities, including unauthorized access detection.

Automated Remediation

SSPM tools swiftly address any threats detected before they become a serious vulnerability within the organization.

Integrations with Other Systems

The SSPM can integrate with other security tools to achieve a comprehensive and high-level security posture.

Reporting and Dashboards

Detailed reporting and dashboard capabilities provide organizations with a view of their security posture at all times.

SSPM Use Cases

SaaS Application Discovery

SSPM tools can identify all SaaS applications across an organization, including unsanctioned or shadow IT applications. This provides a comprehensive view of the SaaS environment, enabling better management and control.‍

Data Security and Privacy

SSPM solutions help ensure that sensitive data within SaaS applications is properly protected and handled, maintaining compliance with relevant data privacy regulations and preventing data leakage or breaches.‍

Access Management

By monitoring user access and permissions, SSPM tools ensure secure and appropriate access to SaaS applications. They can identify and alert to risky or excessive permissions, enhancing security.

Configuration Management

SSPM solutions can detect and remediate insecure or non-compliant configurations in SaaS applications, reducing the risk of security vulnerabilities.

Compliance Management

SSPM tools can automatically detect and report compliance deviations in SaaS applications, helping organizations adhere to various security standards and regulations.

Threat Detection and Response

SSPM tools often offer capabilities to identify and respond to security threats in real-time, providing alerts and automating responses to potential security incidents within the SaaS environment.

Scope of Policy Application

CASBs deploy overarching security policies across a selection of applications, serving as a policy enforcement layer for multiple SaaS apps. SSPMs, however, offer a more granular approach by securing the configurations of each individual application.

Operational Perspective

CASBs operate as intermediaries that function externally to the SaaS applications, essentially ‘brokering’ information and user activity. SSPMs, on the other hand, are deeply integrated within the SaaS stack itself, offering an inside-out view. This internal vantage point allows SSPMs to provide security measures that are tailored to the specific characteristics of each application.

Visibility and Control

CASBs have a limited scope, focusing primarily on identity management, permission scopes, and some aspects of data encryption. SSPMs provide comprehensive visibility into every facet of a SaaS application, covering everything from misconfigurations and third-party integrations to user device monitoring. This gives organizations a fuller picture and more control over their security posture.

Threat Detection and Response

CASBs generally lack real-time threat response capabilities. SSPMs excel in this regard by enabling real-time detection and remediation of threats, including identity-centric ones such as capturing unusual user behavior patterns. They offer timely alerts, remediation steps, and even ticket creation to aid security teams in immediate response.

Customization

CASBs usually employ a one-size-fits-all model, which may not suffice for diverse corporate landscapes where applications are used differently across departments. SSPMs offer much greater customization, accommodating the unique security features and configurations of each application. This nuanced approach is vital for addressing the distinct security requirements of various SaaS tools used across different parts of the organization.

What Is SASE?

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), pronounced “sassy,” is a cloud-native architecture that combines networking and security services. Conceived by Gartner in 2019, it has rapidly gained traction as a forward-looking security model for modern enterprises. This approach becomes increasingly relevant as more users and applications operate outside traditional corporate networks, reducing the effectiveness of conventional hardware-based security measures.

How Does SASE Architecture Work?

SASE integrates both networking and security features into a unified cloud-based service, offering a timely solution as users and applications increasingly move beyond traditional corporate networks. This evolution renders traditional and hardware-based security measures less effective.

The SASE approach eliminates the need for perimeter-focused hardware appliances and antiquated security methods. Rather than funneling traffic through these physical appliances for security evaluations, users connect directly to the SASE cloud service. This direct connection facilitates secure interaction with web services, applications, and data, all while uniformly enforcing security policies across every access point.

As a result, SASE provides a more agile and scalable security framework, perfectly suited for modern, decentralized work environments.

Key Features of SASE

User and Device Identification

SASE goes beyond basic identity recognition by utilizing advanced identification metrics to discern not just who is trying to access the network, but also from which device. This dual authentication mechanism enables SASE to apply highly precise security controls. It allows organizations to differentiate between, for example, a CFO accessing sensitive financial data from a secured corporate laptop and the same CFO accessing less sensitive data from a personal device.

This granularity in identification enhances security measures significantly.

Policy-Based Security

SASE’s strength lies in its ability to implement dynamic, policy-based security controls that adapt to the changing context. For example, if an employee transitions from a trusted corporate network to less secure public Wi-Fi, SASE can automatically adjust the security protocols to match the perceived risk level.

This flexible and adaptive approach to security makes SASE ideal for modern, fluid work environments where users frequently switch between different networks and levels of data sensitivity.

Location-Agnostic Access

In traditional network architectures, the location of the user or the data source could significantly affect the security measures applied. SASE eliminates this constraint by providing a consistent, uniform security posture regardless of geographical locations or network environments. Whether employees are accessing corporate resources from a regional office, a public coffee shop, or an international location, SASE ensures that the same level of security is uniformly applied.

This location-agnostic approach is particularly beneficial for global or remote teams that need secure, reliable access to data from anywhere.

Wrap Up

Gartner anticipates that SSPMs will become increasingly important over the next five to ten years.

SSPM is adept at navigating the intricate SaaS environment, continuously evaluating security risks, and proactively preventing configuration errors and advanced threats while CASBs focus on closing security gaps specifically at the SaaS layer.

Meanwhile, SASE is driving innovation in network and security architectures with its cloud-native, unified, scalable, and agile solutions.

Each of these technologies—SSPM, SASE, and CASBs—offers its own set of valuable security features. However, no single solution will suit every organization’s unique needs. Just as not all pools are suitable for swimming, there is no one-size-fits-all security tool.

Organizations should carefully assess their risk profiles and security requirements. The optimal solution may involve SSPM alone, a combination of SSPM and CASBs, or even all three technologies, depending on the organization’s specific characteristics. Therefore, it’s crucial to meticulously evaluate your organization’s unique security needs and select the tools that best ensure the safety and integrity of your business operations.

Hatice Ozsahan
Kate Lake

Kate Lake is a Senior Content Writer at JumpCloud, where she writes about JumpCloud’s cloud directory platform and trends in IT, technology, and security. She holds a Bachelors in Linguistics from the University of Virginia and is driven by a lifelong passion for writing and learning. When she isn't writing for JumpCloud, Kate can be found traveling, exploring the outdoors, or quoting a sci-fi movie (often all at once).

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