cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM)

What is cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM)?

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) is a discipline for managing identities and privileges in cloud environments. As organizations shifted from on-premises computing and storage systems to cloud-based infrastructure accessed via the internet, IT and security teams developed this discipline -- a set of practices and processes -- for determining which users can access that cloud infrastructure and for what purposes.

CIEM enables organizations to enable and track which users have permission to access what in the organization's cloud infrastructure, regardless of whether that cloud environment is with a single cloud provider or housed in a multi-cloud environment.

The objective of entitlement management is to understand and catalog the access entitlements that exist within the cloud environment so that an organization can provide users with the seamless and secure access to the cloud infrastructure they require to perform tasks, while simultaneously preventing users from accessing infrastructure that they are not authorized to use. This is known as the principle of least privilege (POLP).

CIEM is one component of an organization's identity access management (IAM) program, and it works in conjunction with cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools.

CIEM also dovetails with the zero-trust security model and, as such, fits within the organization's security program.

CIEM tools, which are typically delivered via cloud as software as a service (SaaS), enable IT and security teams to manage user identities and enforce access entitlements. Multiple vendors sell software to support and automate an organization's entitlement management program.

CIEM software is usually integrated into a cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP), enabling IT and security teams to have a more holistic view of their security practices.

cloud infrastructure layers
A view of a typical cloud infrastructure, which includes servers, applications, clients and other components

Why CIEM is important

As enterprise IT infrastructure becomes more complex and more expansive, many organizations use a mix of on-premises and cloud-based computing software and data storage systems. Consider the current state of cloud adoption, where 89% of organizations have embraced a multi-cloud strategy, according to the "2024 State of the Cloud Report" from Flexera, which makes IT management software. Meanwhile, according to the "Cloud Security 2024: Managing Complexity" report from research firm IDC, 56% of organizations reported having a more complex multi-cloud environment than expected.

A typical organization has a growing number of cloud deployments from a lengthening list of cloud providers. Organizations today might have workloads running in one or more of the hyperscalers -- AWS, Microsoft and Google -- while likely using multiple SaaS products.

Greater use of cloud resources comes as the volume and velocity of cybersecurity threats surge. Consequences and costs associated with a data breach -- whether due to a successful attack on an organization's systems or as the result of human error -- have increased significantly. The global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million, a 15% increase over three years, according to the "Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023" from Ponemon Institute and IBM Security.

Each of those factors on its own speaks to the need for an organization to effectively manage users' access to its technology environment. And, when combined, those factors create an imperative for entitlement management to help prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data.

Of course, CIEM is only part of a larger security program, with CIEM complementing the other components. CIEM addresses the specific entitlement-management challenges that come with dynamic cloud environments with multiple providers in use.

A typical organization has thousands -- sometimes even millions -- of individual permissions granted to users, with users being not only people, but on-premises and cloud-based systems. And those users are in near-constant flux. Individual roles in the organization change, systems undergo upgrades and tasks that users must perform to get work done are refined or replaced.

CIEM enables IT and security teams to effectively oversee entitlements even as elements change, thereby making it a critical piece of an organization's security layer.

Without CIEM, organizations increase their risk of falling victim to a successful cyberattack or data breach and suffering the resulting financial, legal and reputational consequences.

Components of CIEM

A CIEM tool complements other security software, layering in capabilities that are included or as extensive as required in other tools, such as CSPM, cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs) and cloud access security brokers.

The components commonly found in CIEM products include the following:

  • Discovery. CIEM products generally have the ability to identify all cloud resources, all users -- both humans and machines -- with permissions and account activities. In other words, a CIEM tool can identify which user has entitlements to which cloud resource.
  • Analysis. A CIEM tool should give IT and security teams the ability to analyze entitlements, policies, rules and risks, enabling those teams to identify, for example, excessive permissions and to help optimize entitlement policies.
  • IAM. CIEM products offer centralized IAM across cloud resources.
  • Governance and enforcement. CIEM products also automate policy and rules enforcement, helping organizations effectively follow POLP.
  • Anomaly detection. These products generally include user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), as well as other analytics and machine learning (ML) capabilities to detect abnormal behaviors that could indicate unauthorized access attempts.
  • Management capabilities. A common feature of a CIEM product is a dashboard that delivers a centralized view into user permissions throughout the organization's cloud environment, as well as data on anomaly detection, governance and compliance.
  • Improved visibility and access control. CIEM systems increase visibility into cloud access entitlements and give IT and security teams more control over users' permissions. This helps organizations strengthen their security posture and reduce risks. It can also help organizations increase agility and speed transformation, as they have increased confidence they can effectively manage permissions while they adopt new applications as quickly as the business needs them.
cloud workload protection
The hierarchy for protection of cloud workloads

How CIEM is used

CIEM products rely on advanced analytics and ML to identify user entitlements, analyze them against an organization's rules and compliance requirements, and then align them against the organization's own policies.

That enables a CIEM product to not only identify entitlements, but to also assess each user's entitlements to determine whether that user has the appropriate level of access privileges. If it does not, the CIEM tool alerts administrators to each user with excess privileges so they can act or -- if an automated response is enabled -- the tool automatically adjusts a user's level of access.

Moreover, CIEM products can perform this analysis across multiple cloud platforms and as cloud resources change -- if an organization scales up and down, for example, or provisions and deprovisions based on needs.

Taken together, CIEM platforms enable administrators to efficiently monitor, manage and adjust permissions, even in large-scale cloud environments.

Benefits of CIEM

Developing an effective CIEM program and investing in a CIEM product bring significant benefits to an organization. Those benefits include the following:

  • Increased visibility. Better visibility into the organization's cloud entitlements lets IT and security leaders, working with their business unit partners, know that they're giving the right level of permissions to users. This means users can accomplish needed business tasks without receiving excessive permissions that might increase risks or being denied necessary access, which can slow down workflows. CIEM tools typically have an audit function, too, which further boosts visibility and accountability.
  • More intelligence. With automation, ML and analytics enable administrators to work at a scale and speed exponentially greater than manual processes enable.
  • Higher levels of consistency. A CIEM tool's automation and intelligence capabilities enable it to consistently enforce access control policies across cloud environments of all sizes.
  • Greater agility. CIEM products are designed to deliver their capabilities and benefits in dynamic cloud environments so IT, security and business teams can deploy, provision or deprovision as quickly as needed without being slowed by manual access control management processes. Automated IAM and anomaly detection and response further boost agility.
  • Improved security posture and compliance with privacy requirements. A CIEM program supported by a CIEM tool ultimately reduces risk by ensuring that entitlements are right-sized, are aligned with the organization's rules and policies, and are appropriate.


Like the cloud environment itself, practices, policies and tools developed to manage and secure the cloud have expanded significantly.

Consequently, a typical organization uses multiple approaches, including CSPM, and different technologies, such as CWPP, to bring order to and improve the security of its cloud tech stack.

The various classes of technologies have certain capabilities -- or capabilities that it delivers better than others. Even so, they also tend to have overlapping capabilities and benefits.

CIEM, CNAPP, cloud protection technology
CIEM products provide specific entitlement capabilities essential to CNAPP

That's the case with CIEM and CNAPPs.

A CIEM is specific to entitlement management, whereas CNAPPs bring together the CIEM, CSPM and CWPP capabilities to create a holistic, integrated set of security and compliance capabilities for cloud-native applications.

As such, CNAPPs deliver features that CIEM systems do not, such as capabilities to scan containers and infrastructure as code.

This was last updated in May 2024

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