Cloud security is a fast-evolving arena, demanding inclusive solutions to safeguard an organization's valuable assets and sensitive data. Our earlier article titled “Comprehensive Guide on Agent-Based and Agentless Cloud Security,” focused on these two unique cloud security approaches. Now, we intend to delve deeper into the value-added benefits of utilizing agentless features within Defender for Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM).
As cloud environments become more complex and dynamic, enhanced visibility, scalability, and simplicity are paramount in security solutions. In this sequel, we will focus on the agentless features of Defender for CSPM, highlighting the advantages they offer.
Agentless security works by leveraging existing cloud APIs and services, removing the need to install software agents on individual hosts. This simplifies the deployment process and reduces operational complexity. It presents a compelling alternative to traditional agent-based security, which involves installing lightweight agents on each virtual machine or host within the cloud environment.
In this article, we will outline how integrating the agentless approach into Defender for CSPM fosters a more robust and efficient cloud security posture. By utilizing agentless features, organizations can enhance visibility of their cloud resources, simplify deployment, maintain compatibility with diverse cloud platforms, and ensure thorough security coverage. By the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of the benefits and considerations of leveraging agentless security in your cloud environment.
Microsoft Defender for Cloud – Cloud Security Posture Management
Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) forms one of the key elements of Microsoft Defender for Cloud. This comprehensive solution provides visibility, protection, and governance for your cloud resources across Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud Platform. CSPM continuously assesses your cloud security posture, identifies, and rectifies misconfigurations, and ensures compliance with security standards and regulations.
Defender for Cloud offers basic CSPM features for free, such as asset discovery, security recommendations, and secure score. However, for advanced features like attack path analysis, cloud security explorer, you need to enable the optional Defender CSPM plan.
An advantageous benefit of the Defender CSPM plan is its agentless scanning feature. This allows scanning of your cloud resources for vulnerabilities, sensitive data, secrets, and exposures without installing any agents. This feature is especially useful for cloud-native services, like PaaS databases and storage accounts, which don't support agent installation or require minimal management.
The Defender CSPM plan incorporates four default agentless features.
The four features include:
Agentless Container Posture and Container Registry Vulnerability Assessment
Containerization has become a standard approach to building, packaging, and deploying applications. It has greatly improved the consistency and efficiency of software development and deployment by creating isolated environments for apps. However, containers, like any other component of an IT ecosystem, come with their own security challenges.
To address this, Microsoft Defender for Cloud introduces agentless container posture assessment and vulnerability scanning for container registries. This feature provides a comprehensive security posture of the container environment without the need for an agent inside the container or on the container host. By scanning container images for potential vulnerabilities and providing remediation recommendations, it proactively secures containerized applications. Enabling this feature strengthens the security of container-based applications and enables continuous threat mitigation. You can also watch this episode of Defender for Cloud in the Field for more information about agentless container posture.
Agentless Discovery for Kubernetes
Kubernetes, an orchestration platform, has become the preferred solution for managing containerized applications on a scale. However, securing a Kubernetes environment can be complex due to its dynamic nature. To assist with this, Defender for Cloud offers an agentless discovery for Kubernetes.
This feature enables API-based discovery of Kubernetes resources, enhancing visibility and understanding of Kubernetes environments without requiring an agent inside the cluster. It also integrates identity binding, linking Kubernetes resources to their Azure identities. This significantly enhances cloud security posture and underscores the importance of visibility and understanding in maintaining robust cloud security.
Agentless Scanning for Machines (VMs)
Virtual Machines (VMs) serve as fundamental building blocks in cloud infrastructures. Ensuring their security is crucial in the era of cloud computing. Microsoft Defender for Cloud addresses this need with its agentless scanning feature for VMs.
This feature identifies potential vulnerabilities in VMs without the need for additional agent installations, improving the efficiency and accuracy of security checks. Additionally, it generates software inventory, and it is capable to scan for secrets such as SAS Tokens and SSH keys. Enabling this feature ensures robust VM security, allowing resources to be allocated to other aspects of cloud infrastructure security.
Data-Aware Security Posture
In the digital age, data is the lifeblood of every organization, making safeguarding it a pivotal part of any cybersecurity strategy. Microsoft Defender for Cloud's data-aware security posture feature plays a crucial role by providing automatic discovery and evaluation of data sensitivity and exposure.
Using intelligent sampling methodologies, this feature identifies potential data risks, enabling a proactive and continuous risk discovery approach. It also provides a detailed analysis of potential attack paths and generates alerts for suspicious activities. Enabling this feature not only strengthens data security but also ensures a comprehensive security posture. You can also watch this episode of Defender for Cloud in the Field for more information about Data-Aware security posture.
These features play a pivotal role in securing containerized applications, Kubernetes environments, VMs, and data. Offering a comprehensive approach to cloud security, they efficiently adapt to the expanding size and complexity of your infrastructure, ensuring a holistic security posture. What's more, all these advantages are included in the plan cost without any additional charges.
Moreover, they provide significant benefits in terms of scalability, integration, complexity reduction, proactive threat mitigation, efficiency improvement, and cost savings. Easily scaling with your organization and cloud infrastructure, they seamlessly integrate into diverse configurations, eliminating the complexity of managing individual agents. Prioritizing proactive threat detection through continuous monitoring and real-time analysis, they facilitate swift responses to security threats. The absence of individual agents enhances efficiency and allows IT teams to focus on strategic planning. Adopting agentless features eliminates the need for agent software maintenance, leading to considerable cost savings. For more detailed information, please refer to the original blog post titled “Comprehensive Guide on Agent-Based and Agentless Cloud Security.”
By continually utilizing these features, organizations empower themselves to consistently uphold a robust security posture, proactively anticipate emerging threats, and ensure continuous protection of their cloud infrastructure. While enabling these features is necessary initially, their true effectiveness and value stem from their ongoing operation and consistent usage over time. By maintaining their active state and utilizing them consistently, organizations can stay vigilant against evolving risks and promptly address potential vulnerabilities. This enduring commitment to using these features is crucial for establishing a resilient and secure cloud environment that can adapt to changing circumstances.
Enhancing Cloud Security Through Agentless Features
In the context of cloud security, agentless features in Microsoft Defender for Cloud serve as invaluable tools. These features, when combined with contextualized Cloud Posture Management (CPM), attack path analysis, and security risk analysis, contribute to an enhanced overall cloud security strategy.
Let's explore how these elements work together seamlessly:
Contextualized Cloud Posture Management:
The agentless features of Microsoft Defender for Cloud enhance Cloud Posture Management (CPM) by providing a more contextual and comprehensive understanding of the cloud environment. For example, the Azure Container Registry vulnerability assessment feature offers insights into potential security weaknesses in containerized applications, enabling CPM to prioritize and address risks based on severity and potential impact. By automating resource discovery and continuous monitoring, these features help maintain an up-to-date inventory of assets, which complements CPM's role in providing accurate and timely visibility into cloud security posture.
Attack Path Analysis:
Attack path analysis is another area that benefits significantly from the insights generated by agentless features. With the discovery of VM vulnerabilities and potential attack vectors, such features facilitate a more targeted and effective analysis.
For instance, the Agentless VM vulnerability assessment provides insights into possible attack paths that an adversary might exploit. These insights can then be used to prioritize remediation actions based on the potential impact on your environment, effectively breaking down potential attack paths and minimizing the risk of a successful breach.
Security Risk Analysis:
By leveraging agentless features, security risk analysis can also be more proactive and comprehensive. The detection of potential threats in real-time, whether they're related to data sensitivity or container vulnerabilities, enables security teams to quickly identify and mitigate risks.
Data-aware security posture, for example, helps you understand where sensitive data resides, how it's being accessed, and if there are any potential data exposure risks. These insights significantly enhance the quality and effectiveness of risk analysis, allowing for a more robust defense against data breaches.
In addition, Kubernetes discovery can provide valuable insights into the configuration of your Kubernetes environments, further aiding in identifying security risks associated with misconfigurations or outdated components.
By correlating insights generated from these agentless features, organizations can achieve a more thorough understanding of their security landscape. It's a synergistic approach that enhances the capabilities of Cloud Posture Management, attack path analysis, and security risk analysis, providing a strong foundation for building an effective and proactive cloud security strategy.
Enabling and Disabling Agentless Features
Defender CSPM Agentless components are enabled by default, and it is possible to check their status through the Defender CSPM Settings and Monitoring page. (See picture below).
Note: Although Security Admin and Subscription Contributor have the proper permissions to enable the main plan (Defender CSPM), they might not have full permissions to enable the respective Agentless component for Defender CSPM, therefore you end up with some of the components disabled. The Subscription Owner, however, has full permission to enable the plan and all the components.
Agentless scanning for machine: Either the Security Admin or an Owner or Contributor for the Subscription. Please note that this agentless component is also available for Defender for Servers P2. If you have Defender for Servers P2 already enabled and agentless scanning is turned off, you need to turn on agentless scanning manually.
Container registries vulnerability assessments and Agentless Discovery for Kubernetes: To enable it you need to have access as a Subscription Owner or have a combination of User Access Admin and Security Admin permissions for the Azure subscription used for onboarding.
Sensitive Data Discovery: Sensitive data discovery is available in the Defender CSPM and Defender for Storage plans. To enable this component from Defender CSPM you need to have the Subscription Owner permission. To enable it from Defender for Storage you need the Subscription Owner role or Storage account owner role if you decide to enable it at the Storage Account level. To view/edit data sensitivity settings you need one of these Azure Active directory roles – Global Administrator, Compliance Administrator, Compliance Data Administrator, Security Administrator, Security Operator.
The agentless features of Microsoft Defender for Cloud offer a host of benefits that collectively work towards creating a robust and efficient security infrastructure. They reinforce the idea that effective security doesn't have to be complex or resource-intensive but rather streamlined, intelligent, and proactively attuned to potential threats. By understanding and leveraging these benefits, organizations can take a step forward in solidifying their cybersecurity defenses in the cloud.
Note: This article provides an overview of the agentless features in Microsoft Defender for Cloud and their advantages. Feel free to expand your knowledge by reading the official documentation – Cloud Security Posture Management.
If you are using Attack Path and Cloud Security Explorer and want to share your feedback with the Defender for Cloud Team, please e-mail us directly from here. You can also use the resources below to learn more about these capabilities:
Yuri Diogenes, Principal PM Manager, CxE Defender for Cloud