The Complete Guide on Cloud Vulnerability Scanners

With headlines screaming about data exposures and misconfiguration incidents regularly, securing cloud environments has become paramount today. Cloud platforms like AWS, GCP and Azure underpin digital transformation efforts in most enterprises now. Migrating to the cloud allows organizations to innovate rapidly leveraging limitless scale. However, the shared responsibility model also puts the onus of properly configuring certain security aspects on the customer. As modern architectures get more complex with transient workloads and fragmented permissions, the probability of gaps increases exponentially. Studies show that over 90% of cloud breaches originate from customer missteps rather than provider vulnerabilities. Hence adopting specialized cloud vulnerability scanners is a must.

The Growing Threat Landscape for Cloud Environments

After initial enthusiasm over agility and savings potential, reality is dawning upon enterprises that cloud security requires renewed focus. The distributed model fundamentally alters risk visibility, while new attack surfaces get introduced regularly. Threat actors are highly motivated to exploit such loopholes before they get discovered and patched.

Some troubling trends concerning CISOs worldwide:

  • 222% increase in cloud services making organizations attack targets (McAfee)
  • Microsoft reports 25x more brute force access key attacks on AWS and Azure management consoles compared to pre-pandemic levels
  • 80% of enterprises suffered a cloud data breach due to misconfigurations (Oracle)
  • Sensitive customer PII and IP loss is the top cloud security risk (CSA Survey)
  • By 2025, 45% of unauthorized data exposures will be due to cloud misconfiguration errors (Gartner)

High impact incidents like the Accenture data leak and Codecov supply chain attack illustrate that cloud risks are far from theoretical. The "big game hunting" phenomena where sophisticated attackers specifically target cloud environments for data exfiltration and ransomware deployment is rising too.

Let‘s explore key cloud risk drivers and security obligations customers bear before seeing how scanners help.

Cloud Security Shared Responsibility Model

Public cloud providers like AWS, GCP and Azure offer over 200 native security services spanning network security, encryption, identity management, security monitoring and more. However, the responsibility to utilize these capabilities and secure hosted workloads is shared between the provider and tenant under the "shared responsibility model".

Generally, the cloud provider handles lower levels of the technology stack such as physical infrastructure, environmental controls and networking. The customer is accountable for elements above including:

  • Infrastructure-as-code security

    Applying configuration best practices while provisioning cloud native resources like VPCs, subnets, NACLs etc.

  • Identity and access management

    Managing permissions to cloud accounts, roles, resources aligned to least privilege principles

  • OS, network and firewall configuration

    Hardening EC2 instances, containers, serverless and enabling defense in depth

  • Application security

    Protecting custom code, open source dependencies in workloads and functions

  • Data security

    Enforcing encryption, tokenization and access controls appropriately

Plot cloud security obligations captured visually:

shared responsibility model across cloud delivery models

Examining various layers and interfaces between them is necessary for closing blindspots. This is where automated cloud vulnerability scanners significantly augment human efforts through continuous discovery and compliance checks.

Now that we‘ve set the stage, let‘s examine popular scanner capabilities in-depth.

Key Cloud Scanner Capabilities

While all vulnerability scanners analyze configurations, they can vary widely in analysis depth and accuracy across environments. Here are major capabilities to evaluate when selecting a tool:

Breadth of coverage

Number of cloud platforms supported – AWS, Azure, GCP, Kubernetes, cloud databases, SaaS apps etc.

Policy framework

Custom benchmarks aligned to regulations and internal guidelines to suit your environment

Knowledge base

Frequent updates with latest attack vectors, vulnerabilities and misuse techniques

Analysis depth

Goes beyond surface-level checks to unearth risks deep in architecture gaps


Minimizes false positives/negatives with context-aware findings balanced across coverage and precision


Detailed remediation steps for every finding to quickly secure issues based on risk levels


CI/CD tooling, IDE plugins, IT workflows including tickets, reports, notifications etc.

Flexible deployment

Agent-based, agentless, API connectors to fit with existing infrastructure

Below is a comparison of leading open-source and commercial scanners on key parameters:

table comparing popular cloud vulnerability scanners

(insert updated table)

Next, let’s explore the leading options in each category.

Top 5 Commercial Cloud Vulnerability Scanners

1. Intruder

Intruder specializes in external infrastructure tests mimicking real-world attacks to uncover risks like exposed data, takeover flaws, malware infections etc.

It conducts authenticated scanning leveraging permissions of different users to map attack paths in the cloud environment. Detailed reports then highlight priority issues allowing admins to quickly fix weaknesses.

2. Aqua

Aqua CSPM is a dedicated Cloud Security Posture Management platform providing extensive visibility and control over cloud deployments.

It supports all major cloud providers checking aspects like identity, storage, network security, platform services and host hardening. Flexible policies and role-based access aid governance.

3. Qualys

Qualys Cloud Platform delivers integrated assessments for both on-premise and multi-cloud environments.

It offers a unified view of assets and gaps helping streamline processes around cloud monitoring, compliance and security. native integrations with CI/CD tooling facilitate DevSecOps workflows.

4. Rapid7 InsightCloudSec

Rapid7 InsightCloudSec combines workload protection, cloud security posture management and cloud identity governance together on a single platform.

It leverages analytics and automation to reduce alert volumes while accelerating investigations and response. Flexible deployment options include SaaS, private cloud and air gapped installations.

5. CrowdStrike

The CrowdStrike Cloud Security solution unifies next-gen antivirus, firewall management, vulnerability assessment and compliance workflow automation capabilities to protect cloud workloads holistically.

It leverages Indicators of Attack (IOAs) fueled by crowdsourced telemetry to catch advanced threats targeting cloud assets early on.

Top 5 Open Source and Native Cloud Scanners

Let‘s discuss popular free and built-in alternatives:

6. ScoutSuite

ScoutSuite is an open source multi-cloud scanner that provides visibility into security risks across cloud provider configurations, including AWS, Azure, and GCP.

It outputs easy-to-understand reports highlighting areas that require attention. Customers can run scans using APIs or agents.

7. Prowler

Prowler is a command line tool for AWS security assessment, auditing and hardening by checking over 230 controls covering CIS, PCI and ISO compliance benchmarks.

It enables automated security checks, anomaly detection and validation of AWS account configurations through periodic scans.

8. CloudSploit

CloudSploit by Aqua provides visibility into security risks and detects misconfigurations across AWS, Azure, and GCP cloud environments.

It scans cloud infrastructure security controls and ensures compliance with standards and best practices. An intelligent prioritization algorithm focuses attention on the riskiest security gaps first.

9. CloudGuard Posture Management

Check Point CloudGuard Posture Management integrates natively with leading cloud providers to maintain secure configurations and compliance.

It is fully automated to profile environments, assess risks, enforce hardening standards and mitigate threats across hybrid assets including containers and serverless.

10. Amazon Inspector

Amazon Inspector is a vulnerability scanner provided by AWS enabling users to analyze EC2 instances for vulnerabilities and deviations from best practices.

It performs host assessment by running packaged scans built from industry guidelines by AWS security researchers.

Now that we‘ve covered the leading options, let‘s move on to usage recommendations.

Implementing Cloud Vulnerability Scanners Effectively

Follow these tips to maximize value from your cloud security scanner solution:

Establish central visibility
Onboard new cloud assets, accounts and regions automatically

Schedule recurring scans
Run assessments across production and lower environments frequently

Create risk-based scan policies
Ensure compliance needs and internal security guidelines are captured

Triage findings efficiently
Review dashboard, leverage quick fixes and submit high severity ones to IT teams

Customize policy checks
Balance coverage and noise reduction based on your environment

Embed into workflows
Integrate scanner into CI/CD pipelines, cloud provisioning processes

Share posture metrics widely
Increase exposure on progress for security awareness across business and application owners

Cloud Scanning vs Pen Testing: What‘s the Difference?

While scanners automatically check for known risks and misconfigurations, a penetration test employs ethical hackers to actively exploit vulnerabilities by simulating real attacks.

Cloud vulnerability scanners codify security best practices into policies and run checks around the clock to catch issues early.

Penetration testing provides an outside-in perspective on system weaknesses by attempting actual breaches creatively – just like a criminal hacker would but in a safe, controlled way.

Gartner recommends periodic penetration testing complementing regular cloud security posture checks for balanced pre-production testing and ongoing production readiness.

The Future of Cloud Security Scanners

As threats get more advanced, security tools must step up their game too. Some innovations likely from leading CSPM solutions:

Holistic protection – Unify workload, network, data security – e.g. integrated CASB and CSPM

Risk analytics – ML algorithms that detect anomalies and suspicious user activity

Supply chain focus – Catch risks in function dependencies, containers pulled from untrusted repositories

Predictive prioritization – Remediate misconfigs likely to get exploited fastest based on emerging attacker activity

IaC assessments – Scan infrastructure-as-code templates and CI/CD pipelines for flaws

API security – Analyze identity trust levels, authentication enforcement and data flows involving cloud service APIs

Key Considerations for CISOs

For security leadership teams embarking on this journey, keep the following recommendations in mind:

  • Define your cloud security shared responsibility matrix clearly outlining required capabilities

  • Start with an inventory of sanctioned and shadow cloud assets using a Cloud Service Management Database

  • Evaluate CSPM tools not just on technical factors but readiness to address your compliance drivers

  • Published benchmarks for CSPM accuracy reveal variance across vendors in detection rates, false positives and speed

  • Implement controls first focusing on quick wins like unused credentials expiration, bucket permission tightening

  • Define policies balancing business agility needs with security – iterate based on learnings

  • Integrate scanner into your CI/CD toolchain for preventive security earlier in application lifecycle

  • Feed CSPM vulnerability metrics into existing risk registers and metrics frameworks


To sum up, migrating systems to the cloud comes with new obligations around properly setting up and governing hosted resources securely. Cloud security scanners empower administrators to take back control through continuous assessments and policy-driven monitoring for risks as well as compliance violations.

CSPM solutions produce actionable findings across cloud platforms, workloads and identities – enabling overworked security teams to focus energy on fixing rather than hunting for pressing issues manually.

As modern architectures get more ephemeral, interconnected and complex, scanning will only grow more critical to ensure security keeps pace with business velocity. The time for action is now.