ASPM vs. CSPM: Understanding the Key Differences

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Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Organizations are looking for effective ways to protect both their applications and cloud-based assets. With malicious actors becoming more advanced in their methods and the number of assets targeted growing every day, cybersecurity is of massive importance. Two different solutions aim to secure applications and cloud infrastructure: ASPM and CSPM.  This naturally raises the question: What’s the difference?

In this blog, we define ASPM and CSPM. We explore the key differences between the two solutions, including the focus, scope, implementation, and more. By understanding both ASPM and CSPM in detail, you’ll be ready to choose which security solution is right for you.

ASPM and CSPM

Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) is a holistic approach to security that focuses on the application layer. It helps organizations to identify, prioritize, and remediate security risks in their applications from code to cloud. It monitors and identifies security risks in applications in both on-premises and cloud-based environments. ASPM solutions leverage a combination of automation, data correlation, and risk assessment to provide organizations with a comprehensive view of their application security posture.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) visualizes and remediates risk across diverse, hybrid or multi-cloud infrastructures. By constantly monitoring cloud environments, CSPM delivers visibility and remediation into both threats and misconfigurations to prevent breaches.

On a basic level, ASPM contextualizes the risk of applications, while ​​CSPM contextualizes the risk of cloud services. Both play important, yet different, roles in building a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. 

What Is ASPM?

The primary focus of ASPM is to secure applications throughout their entire software development lifecycle (SDLC) from code to cloud. ASPM is designed to identify and address code vulnerabilities, exposed APIs, vulnerable open source or third-party dependencies, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) misconfigurations, and sensitive data flows that could be ripe for exploitation. Beginning with code in SCMs and going all the way through to applications in deployment, ASPM scans applications using common application security testing (AST) tools like SAST, SCA, and secrets scanners. ASPM also monitors code and build tools as the application is compiled and built thereby ensuring the integrity of software supply chains.

The goal of ASPM is to reduce an organization’s risk by protecting its applications. Organizations implement ASPM because it delivers complete visibility into real-time risk posture. It does this by connecting to native and third-party AST scanners and then correlating all signals to give context for each vulnerability. ASPM provides a comprehensive view into the security of a company’s application, allowing them to identify, prioritize, and remediate vulnerabilities more easily than ever. With ASPM, organizations realize vulnerability traceability from code to cloud for total visibility of the SDLC, including application code, tool configurations, cloud infrastructure, ownership, and more.

Applications are often the primary target of cyberattacks, and their security is of paramount importance to protect sensitive data and ensure business continuity. ASPM solutions help organizations proactively secure their applications, reduce their attack surface, decrease MTTR, and enhance their overall security posture. ASPM represents the next evolution of application security and plays a crucial role in modern cybersecurity.

Related reading: Application Security Posture Management (ASPM): Key Components for Complete Coverage

What Is CSPM?

The primary focus of CSPM is to secure cloud infrastructure. Unlike ASPM, which focuses on applications, CSPM addresses cloud security risks by assessing an organization’s cloud environments and infrastructure, remediating vulnerabilities, and creating a secure cloud-based environment. This includes Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (Saas)and Platform as a Service (PaaS). CSPM also scans for common misconfigurations and compliance violations.

CSPM does not secure applications or code. CSPM is cloud-centric, covering cloud-based assets, networks, and more. Its objective is to protect cloud infrastructure and resources as well as prevent misconfigurations that could lead to a breach. By using CSPM, organizations are better equipped to manage and improve their security posture in the cloud.

Key Differences Between ASPM and CSPM

ASPM and CSPM are both powerful approaches that help reduce an organization’s risk. However, there are several key differences, which we will explore.

Scope of Protection

ASPM protects applications across the entire software development lifecycle. ASPM’s scope of protection focuses on the security of software applications. No matter what the application is used for, ASPM provides a comprehensive lens through which to secure applications.

By contrast, CSPM doesn’t address the application layer. Instead, CSPM secures the cloud-based environments in which the applications are deployed. CSPM scans for misconfigurations, compliance violations, and risky user behaviors that could compromise the integrity of a cloud-based system.

Primary Security Concerns

For ASPM, the primary security concerns are code vulnerabilities, exposed APIs, open source and third-party dependencies, or sensitive data flows. ASPM is focused on the security of each application and all connections made with it. 

For CSPM, the prominent security concerns include misconfigurations, compliance violations, and risky user behaviors that could compromise a cloud-based environment. The goal of CSPM is to create a secure cloud-based infrastructure into which applications can be safely deployed.

Typical Use Cases

For ASPM, typical use cases include identifying and prioritizing application security risks, automating the remediation of application security vulnerabilities, and monitoring application security posture over time.

For CSPM, typical use cases include identifying and remediating cloud vulnerabilities, fixing cloud misconfigurations, and monitoring cloud security posture. Its focus is on the cloud environment itself, not the applications within it.

Key Features and Functionalities

Both approaches boast similar features, but they serve different functions. 

For ASPM, key features are the ability to identify code vulnerabilities, manage open source and third-party dependencies, and automate risk remediation of an organization’s applications. 

For CSPM, key features include helping you manage your cloud asset inventory (databases, storage, networking components), compliance monitoring, misconfiguration remediation, and threat detection.

Impact on Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC)

Both ASPM and CSPM can have a significant impact on the software development lifecycle of an organization’s applications and cloud-based environments. Here are some areas where both ASPM can CSPM impact the SDLC:

  1. Early Stages: Both ASPM and CSPM can help identify and meet security requirements early in the SDLC, which informs the design and development of the security infrastructures. 
  2. Testing: Before an application or cloud-based system is deployed to production, ASPM and CSPM can be used to test the security of each infrastructure.
  3. Deployment: Once the applications or cloud infrastructure has been deployed, ASPM and CSPM serve to identify any security risks that may emerge.

Integration and Synergy

While ASPM and CSPM have distinct focuses and scope, they have several overlapping areas that highlight how, when integrated properly, the two solutions work well together to enhance your organization’s security across the board. They both deliver security, compliance monitoring, asset inventory, automated remediation, and risk reporting.

When used together, ASPM and CSPM can cultivate a comprehensive view of your organization’s security posture across all application and cloud-based environments. 

For example, utilizing both ASPM and CSPM can help your organization stay in compliance in every application and every cloud environment. This also translates to improved communication and collaboration between teams, as well as more time freed up for teams to focus on more strategic tasks.

Overall, integrating ASPM and CSPM helps organizations identify and remediate security risks across their entire IT environment, ultimately contributing to a holistic security strategy.

Also Read: Controlled Shift Left: A Strategic Blueprint for Modern Software Security with Cycode

Selecting the Right Approach

Every organization has unique goals and challenges, so it’s imperative that you determine whether ASPM, CSPM, or a combination of both is optimal for your circumstances.

To help you determine which approach is right for you, consider these factors:

  • What are your organizational goals?
  • What’s your existing infrastructure? What are its strengths? What does it lack?
  • What are your security requirements?
  • Do you have a team of developers and develop your own applications in house?
  • Are you able to monitor your applications from lines of code to deployment in the cloud and then prioritize and remediate risk all from one platform? 
  • Do you have full cloud security monitoring capabilities including remediation of risk and non-compliant resources?

Also read: 5 Steps to Overcome AppSec Chaos with a Complete ASPM Platform

Conclusion

No matter which approach you choose, picking the right solution for your situation is imperative to securing your organization and preventing a potentially catastrophic breach. For a growing number of organizations, a combination of both ASPM and CSPM is necessary to protect their applications and cloud environments in today’s rapidly evolving threatscape.

If you’re ready to stop worrying about security and start transforming your organization’s application security with ASPM, learn more here or book a demo with us right now!

To read more, check out Introducing an All-New Cycode: The Only Complete Approach to ASPM

 

Originally published: November 16, 2023