“As large organizations deploy more applications and assets in the cloud, the speed and scale of technology operations and deployments increase significantly,” said Sorenson Ventures Partner Ken Elefant. “Unfortunately, cloud security and configuration management technologies haven’t been able to keep pace.”

In many enterprises, employees, partners, and users with advanced cloud systems management and security knowledge can easily gain access to sensitive corporate cloud-based customer accounts and company data to which they shouldn’t have permission. It’s become increasingly difficult to manage and administer security and access privileges for fast-paced, large-scale businesses, especially for those organizations operating in complex, multi-cloud and hybrid environments.

The 2019 CapitalOne breach was an unfortunate example of this trend. An unauthorized former Amazon engineer gained access to misconfigured CapitalOne cloud storage servers by taking advantage of system scanning technology and configuration knowledge that she developed while working at AWS. She was able to download personally identifiable information of more than one-hundred million bank customers, including approximately 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers. Although none of the stolen data was ultimately used for fraud or malicious activity, CapitalOne was fined $80 million and had to pay affected customers a settlement of $190 million. That’s more than a quarter billion dollars the bank paid due to misconfigured cloud systems.

CloudKnox was founded to prevent repeat occurrences of this type of incident. The Sunnyvale, CA-based company developed a cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) product to provide comprehensive permissions visibility and control for enterprise Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) deployments.

Ken Elefant explained, “We expected that traditional configuration products wouldn’t be able to handle rapidly changing security requirements presented by the transition to the cloud and adoption of DevOps. Our network of enterprise CISOs confirmed the urgency and scale of the problem, and we quickly began to see an increase in the number and severity of security incidents that result from overprovisioning and misconfiguration.”

Led by CEO and Co-Founder Balaji Parimi, a former VMware cloud systems and performance and management expert, CloudKnox provided enterprises with a consistent way to implement security policies across cloud infrastructure, while providing complete visibility into which identities were accessing what cloud resources. In addition, CloudKnox automated the principle of least privilege access to ensure that enterprise permissions always align with user roles and responsibilities for all resources across cloud deployments, regardless of vendor.

 “What attracted us to CloudKnox was their just-in-time permissioning approach that aligned with the rapid enterprise transition to the cloud,” said Elefant. “CloudKnox gave large organizations a way to dynamically provision access at scale, while adhering to a least privilege access philosophy that reduced attack surface areas and mitigated insider risks in complex cloud environments.”

In December 2019, Sorenson led a $12m investment round into CloudKnox. The funding helped support the startup’s new product development and go-to-market expansion just as enterprise cloud migrations started to take off. Cloudknox revenue more than tripled in 2019, and then tripled again in 2020. CloudKnox’s CIEM products rapidly gained Global 2000 market traction, as large organizations sought out new ways to address cloud vulnerabilities left unattended by traditional cybersecurity vendors’ products.

“We appreciated that Sorenson Ventures had done their homework before we even talked. The first time we met, Ken Elefant and the Sorenson investment team already knew exactly what we were doing and how it solved our target customer problem,” said Balaji Parimi, CEO and Co-Founder of CloudKnox. “Once Sorenson Ventures invested, they pushed us to think about the possibilities and where our business could go. They helped us improve business operations and modeling capabilities, especially with forecasting and financial planning. These became plug-and-play processes which were much faster and easier to handle. They helped prepare us for the future in an industry that was on the verge of taking off.”

In July 2021, Microsoft acquired CloudKnox to help strengthen its Zero Trust security and least privilege principle capabilities. In its article announcing the acquisition, Microsoft said CloudKnox’s technology will serve a critical role in enhancing the comprehensive security framework that the software giant has developed to protect users and resources across multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments.