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Cloud security tools can be broken down into two basic categories: cloud-native tools, which are built into cloud platforms, and third-party cloud security tools, which are compatible with cloud platforms but are developed by vendors who are different from the cloud platform providers.
Which type of cloud security tool is best? The answer, of course, depends – and in many cases, you may choose to use both cloud-native and third-party cloud security tools simultaneously. Keep reading for a breakdown of the similarities and differences between each type of tool, along with guidance on which tool to use when.
What Are Cloud-Native Security Tools?
In the context of this article, “cloud-native security tools” refers to security tools that are native to cloud platforms.
In other words, cloud-native security tools are security tools or services that are available directly from cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Each of these vendors offers various types of solutions for monitoring cloud workloads and data for security risks, and their offerings constitute cloud-native security tools.
Cloud-Native Security Tools vs. Cloud-Native Security
For context, it’s worth noting that the term “cloud-native security” can also refer to any type of tool used to secure cloud-native workloads. A cloud-native workload is one built using modern architectures and technologies, like microservices and containers. You can secure cloud-native workloads using security tools from both cloud platforms themselves and from third parties.
So, if we’re talking about cloud-native security in general, we’re not necessarily referring to security tools that are native to cloud platforms. But if you hear the term “cloud-native security tool,” it’s most likely a reference to security tools that are built into cloud platforms. This is a nuanced but important terminology distinction.
What Is Third-Party Cloud Security?
Third-party cloud security is a security solution that is developed by a vendor other than a cloud service provider.
In other words, third-party cloud security tools are tools from companies, platforms, or open source projects that are not directly linked to or owned by AWS, Azure, GCP, or other public clouds. Third-party cloud security tools typically support these cloud environments, but they are not built into them by default, and users must explicitly deploy the tools.
Cloud-Native vs. Third-Party Cloud Security: A Comparison
At a high level, cloud-native security tools and third-party cloud security tools provide the same core functionality for auditing and monitoring workloads and responding to security threats. But there are important differences between the two categories of tools that affect several specific facets of cloud security.
Vulnerability scans identify vulnerabilities inside applications that attackers could exploit to take control of the applications or their host environments, exfiltrate data, disrupt services, or cause other problems.
Cloud-native security tools, like Amazon Inspector and Web Security Scanner on GCP, can be used for this purpose. Generally speaking, however, third-party cloud security tools, like Sysdig, are better for vulnerability scanning in two main respects:
- Broader support: Cloud-native tools often support only the most common types of applications or application packaging formats – such as container images. Third-party tools tend to be compatible with a wider variety of application types, like Helm charts, in addition to the more common ones.
- Larger vulnerability databases: In general, third-party scanners draw on larger vulnerability databases. In addition to checking public databases for vulnerability data, they might draw on proprietary vulnerability reports. This means that third-party scanners are capable of detecting more vulnerabilities than cloud-native scanners.
For simple scanning needs, then, cloud-native security tools may suffice. But third-party tools are better for teams that have many different types of applications to scan and/or that need to scan for vulnerabilities beyond the most basic.
Another important limitation of cloud-native security tools is that, in general, they provide less guidance about how to manage vulnerabilities after they identify them. Cloud-native security might tell you that a vulnerability exists in an application, but it’s less likely to provide recommendations about how to remediate it or how to evaluate its level of severity.
If your team is capable of managing vulnerabilities on its own, this might not be an issue. But if you require more guidance and context about vulnerabilities, third-party security tools will most likely work better for your needs.
Cloud Data Security
Cloud-native tools and third-party security tools both support cloud data security needs. They can be used to identify and protect sensitive data in the cloud (a practice known as cloud Data Loss Prevention, or DLP). They can also scan the security and access control policies that govern cloud data and detect weaknesses that could lead to breaches.
In general, cloud-native security tools offer deeper integrations and more comprehensive data security coverage than third-party tools, as long as you use the cloud-native tools within the cloud that they are a part of. The major reason why is that cloud-native tools are developed by the cloud vendors themselves, who have access to proprietary, non-public information about how their cloud data services work, and who can use that information to build cloud data security tools that third-party vendors would not be able to implement.
However, the major limitation of cloud-native tools in this respect is that most of them don’t support third-party clouds or on-premises environments – so if you need to protect data within both AWS and Azure, for instance, you might prefer a third-party security tool that is capable of supporting both clouds. Otherwise, you’d have to juggle a different cloud-native security tool for each cloud that you use, which would be inefficient and would leave you prone to oversights and configuration mistakes.
Cloud security monitoring – which means watching workloads for anomalies that could signal a breach – is easiest to perform using cloud-native security monitoring tools like AWS CloudTrail and Azure Monitor. The reason why is that these tools are integrated with cloud platforms by default, so there is minimal setup required to start using them.
Compared to third-party security monitoring tools, however, the cloud-native solutions offer less sophisticated solutions. They are typically limited to establishing security “baselines” and detecting deviations from them. They are less useful for monitoring highly dynamic environments where it’s difficult to establish a baseline of normal activity.
Cloud-native security monitoring tools also lack multi-cloud support, which is another limitation for teams that need to manage cloud security across multiple platforms.
Benefits of Cloud-Native vs. Third-Party Security Tools
To sum up what we said above, the main advantages of cloud-native security tools include:
- Integrations: Cloud-native tools are deeply integrated with the clouds on which they operate, and they can take advantage of special access or information that third-party tools lack.
- Ease of use: Because cloud-native tools are available by default, using them requires minimal effort. You can usually simply turn them on without having to deploy any software or configure any special integrations between your cloud environment and the tool.
By comparison, the advantages of third-party cloud security tools include:
- More features: In general, third-party tools offer more features and sophistication than cloud-native tools – which makes sense, given that third-party security vendors specialize in security, whereas for cloud providers, developing security tools is not a primary focus.
- Multi-cloud support: In many cases, third-party tools are capable of supporting multiple clouds at once. They may also support on-prem or private cloud environments. This means that third-party tools provide a centralized way to manage security across multiple environments. In contrast, most cloud-native tools only work within the particular cloud to which they are native.
Which Tool to Choose When
Cloud-native and third-party cloud security tools both have their advantages and disadvantages. There’s no universal answer about which type of tool is best.
But in general, cloud-native solutions are ideal for teams that prioritize simplicity and that have only one cloud environment to support. Cloud-native security tools are easier to set up and use in most cases, and as long as your workloads don’t span multiple clouds, you’ll be able to address at least your basic security requirements using cloud-native tools.
Meanwhile, organizations that have multi-cloud strategies are likely to find more value in third-party cloud security tools due to their broader coverage. In addition, teams that face more complex threats – or that are concerned about staying up-to-date with constantly evolving vulnerabilities and attack techniques – will find more assurance in third-party cloud security tools, which offer features not available from cloud-native solutions.
Finally, while it is true that third-party cloud security tools do require a bit more effort to set up on the whole, the effort is usually not especially high. Most modern third-party tools are designed with smart default configurations, and they offer out-of-the-box integrations that allow them to connect to cloud environments quickly. Setting them up may not be quite as simple as clicking a button in your cloud console to turn them on, but it’s not likely to take days or weeks of effort.