Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) enables users to access cloud-based apps over the Internet. SaaS providers manage these on-demand services’ hosting, updates, security, and billing.
However, while convenient, SaaS also introduces significant SaaS security challenges. Applications contain sensitive customer data, financial records, and confidential business information. Without robust security, this data is vulnerable to cyberattacks.
This article explores SaaS providers’ key practices to secure applications and build trust. As SaaS adoption grows, SaaS security is crucial for mitigating security threats in the cloud.
Why is SaaS Security Important?
SaaS offers advantages like scalability and cost-efficiency. So businesses increasingly use it to store, process, and share sensitive data like customer information, financial records, and intellectual property.
But without strong SaaS security, this confidential data is vulnerable. Breaches can expose corporate data to cyber threats, unauthorized access, and theft.
The impacts of poor SaaS security can be severe:
- Financial losses from data breaches
- Reputational damage that hurts customer trust
- Legal liabilities for compromised data
Robust security measures protect sensitive data and build customer trust in a SaaS environment. As adoption grows, prioritizing SaaS security is key to safely migrating business functions to the cloud.
Understanding SaaS Security
Key Components of SaaS Security
Several key components play a crucial role in the SaaS security system. These components are fundamental to safeguarding business-critical data:
Authentication and Access Control
Authentication is like a digital lock – it verifies users are who they claim to be before granting access. SaaS providers use username/password login, multi-factor authentication, biometrics, and other methods to authenticate users.
Authorization sets permissions on what authenticated users can access and do within a SaaS application. By limiting authority through roles and rules, access to sensitive data is tightly controlled.
Together, robust authentication and granular authorization prevent unauthorized users from accessing the system while allowing legitimate users only appropriate access. These access controls form a critical barrier against data breaches and misuse in SaaS environments. They ensure users only see and interact with the data and functions they need to do their jobs.
Data Encryption and Privacy
Data encryption is another security measure to protect data from unauthorized parties. This method converts data into a secret code so unauthorized users may not read it. The benefit of data encryption is that even if someone successfully intercepts the data, he cannot make sense of it.
On the other hand, privacy measures also play a crucial role in maintaining the confidentiality of users’ information. These measures focus on safeguarding user privacy and complying with standard regulations.
Good security practices such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and regular monitoring help protect the network and infrastructure of SaaS providers from possible attacks. These measures form a strong defense against cyber threats and keep the SaaS platforms running smoothly and securely.
Vulnerability Management and Patching
Like every other software, SaaS applications are vulnerable too. To eliminate these vulnerabilities, SaaS providers must regularly assess their systems for potential weaknesses and apply patches and updates to fix any identified vulnerabilities. Through the timely identification and patching of these vulnerabilities, providers can keep their applications secure from any possible threat.
Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS Security
Neither the saas service provider nor the customer is solely responsible for the security of the SaaS application; rather, both share this responsibility equally in the SaaS security system.
Responsibilities of SaaS Provider
The SaaS provider is responsible for ensuring the overall security and availability of the application. His responsibilities include implementing strong security measures, assessing software vulnerabilities and regularly updating and patching them, and securing the infrastructure where the application is hosted. The provider should seek advice from security professionals to comply with the data protection regulation and security policies.
Responsibilities of the SaaS Customer
Being a SaaS customer, it is vital to understand public cloud services. Customers must use unique and strong passwords, manage access control for their users, and be cautious about sharing sensitive information. They should stay updated about the network security and settings the SaaS application provides.
SaaS Security Risks & Challenges
The SaaS model introduces security risks for customers, given the reliance on vendors coupled with less visibility and control. These inherent risks highlight the need for transparency and collaboration between providers and customers.
We will dive deeper into the major security challenges and risks to be aware of in a SaaS environment. Understanding these threats is the first step toward building a robust security strategy.
Limited or No Control Over the Data
Customers are more concerned about their stored data while using SaaS. Applications hosted on the distribution model face more threats and ransom attacks, unintentional data deletion, or leakage. There is also a chance of permanently losing confidential data, damaging the enterprise’s reputation, or causing financial loss.
Unauthorized Access Management
Hackers are constantly looking for ways to gain unauthorized entry into SaaS systems. Tactics like phishing, social engineering, SQL injection, and API exploits help them bypass security measures and access valuable customer data.
Once inside, intruders can destroy records, encrypt data for ransom, and exfiltrate sensitive information for other criminal uses. Studies show over 50% of ransomware attacks succeed against SaaS providers.
The cloud-based nature of SaaS enables remote hacking from anywhere in the world. This makes perimeter defenses ineffective against modern threats.
Instead, SaaS providers need layered internal security like multifactor authentication, single sign-on, access controls, and code hardening. Ongoing personnel training is also key to recognizing phishing and social engineering.
Third-party vendors like contractors, suppliers, and partners often need access to SaaS environments. But their security practices can introduce risks.
Third parties become a backdoor for attackers if their permissions are overly broad or security insufficient. Hackers can enter the SaaS environment and access customer data by compromising a third party’s credentials or systems.
Major companies like OKTA, Toyota, and Cisco have been breached via third parties. To prevent this, SaaS providers need third-party risk assessment models. These continually analyze vendor security and limit privileged access to only essential information.
Supply Chain Attacks
Supply chain attacks happen when hackers go after a SaaS vendor’s partners and suppliers to break into the main application. They exploit weak links in the supply chain.
For example, they may steal a vendor’s credentials to infiltrate their systems. Or they could insert malware into a supplier’s code updates.
Once in, hackers can change source code, add malware, or manipulate operational processes. This lets them distribute attacks across all the vendor’s customers.
Supply chain attacks target things like:
- Unsecured infrastructure at vendors
- Poor coding practices by suppliers
- Weak security protocols across the supply chain
Hackers can quietly sneak in and wreak havoc by finding the weakest point. SaaS vendors must ensure security across their whole supply chain, not just their systems. Tight partnerships and audits help, but gaps persist in many SaaS supply chains.
Shadow IT refers to employees using unauthorized apps, software, and services without official IT department approval. This poses security risks for company data.
For instance, collaboration tools like Slack, Trello, WhatsApp, and Dropbox may seem harmless. But IT oversight is necessary for confidential data to end up in these systems, creating compliance issues. There also needs to be visibility into how secure these external services are.
Likewise, if employees access unauthorized cloud services like personal Gmail accounts for work, critical information exists outside the control of enterprise security measures.
Well-meaning users who bring unsanctioned apps and services open holes in SaaS data security. Without standards, governance, and visibility enforced by IT teams, shadow IT makes data breaches, leaks, and loss of regulatory compliance easy.
Zero-day vulnerabilities are software flaws that hackers discover before vendors know about them or can issue patches. With no time to fix them, these unknown holes are prime targets.
Attackers develop and deploy exploits to exploit the flaws before becoming public. They often spread malware through phishing emails to compromise users.
Once inside a system, hackers can exfiltrate sensitive data to sell on the dark web or hold ransom.
A series of zero-day vulnerabilities attacked tech giants, including AWS, Google Cloud, IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco, in 2021. Hackers found the Log4j vulnerability in an open-source logging library to create and embed malware.
Cloud misconfigurations like excessive permissions and unpatched systems are a top cause of data breaches. They create gaps that allow attacks like ransomware, phishing, and cloud leaks.
SaaS providers must rigorously protect public cloud environments used for their applications. Regular audits, access reviews, hardening, and staff training help avoid costly errors.
With complex cloud security, even small missteps can expose data. Providers need proactive validation and threat modeling to prevent oversights and protect SaaS users.
Hosting applications on a SaaS platform means you are always connected to third-party tools, and each connection point also enforces a security and data breach. No matter how much regulatory compliance and certification your organization follows, your organization is still at risk if your SaaS vendor needs to be compliant.
Non-compliance means providers may need more critical security protocols, auditing, access controls, etc. This exposes customer data to potential breaches.
That’s why choosing compliant SaaS vendors is so important. Organizations must verify providers have air-tight regulatory compliance and security foundations before trusting them with data. Rigorous audits and certifications become the cost of entry.
Identity Management Challenges
Identity management and other access management controls allow security teams to secure SaaS services properly. You can determine who’s entering, who’s leaving, and who controls your data. These controls provide a complete overview of incoming and outgoing requests to improve SaaS security.
Disaster can hit the SaaS provider at any time. SaaS companies should implement resilient disaster recovery plans to tackle disaster situations.
How to Mitigate SaaS Security Risks?
To mitigate the SaaS security risks, you need to understand SaaS security concerns and challenges. Adopt proper security solutions and best practices and use a SaaS security checklist to build a robust SaaS environment.
Use Strong Access Controls
The first and foremost step to reduce SaaS security risk is to enforce robust access controls. These controls enable enterprises to limit access to data, resources, confidential information, and other legitimate details. For example,
- Password Policies: Enforcing employees to use a strong password of upper and lower letters and numeric characters.
- Session Timeouts: Setting different session timeouts for users depending on their organizational roles.
- Role-based Access Controls (RBAC): It assigns permission to employees based on their role working in an organization. Admins limit access to some users among the team to improve SaaS security.
- Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): MFA adds another layer of security to protect SaaS usage from unauthorized access. MFA requires two or more levels of authentication when a user wants to enter into the system.
Risk Assessment Program
Implement risk assessment to protect the applications hosted on the SaaS platform. It involves the identification, analysis, and mitigation of security risks. It permits you to measure and quantify risks. Organization can discover the type of risk it faces and determine the influence of these risks on security posture.
In SaaS environments, all applications are linked to each other as all are the assets of a single enterprise. If one becomes a cyberattack victim, the other applications will also face a similar incident.
The best approach is to use a risk matrix to categorize the risks based on their probability and impact. With this assessment, organizations can find a feasible solution to fight against SaaS risks.
Installation of data encryption techniques lets you and your SaaS provider translate plaintext into ciphertext. Only those users can encrypt/decrypt data who have encrypting and decrypting keys.
As organizations use many SaaS applications, it is, therefore, mandatory to implement an encryption mechanism to protect all the stored data.
Continuous Monitoring and Audit of User Activities
By regular monitoring and auditing individual activities, enterprises can detect SaaS security risks and prevent unauthorized access, malware operations, and suspicious activities.
It is recommended to use SaaS security posture management that automatically detects security risks in SaaS applications.
Installation of Cloud Access Security Brokers
Cloud access security brokers (CASB) is present between an organization’s on-premises infrastructure and a cloud service provider. It can be cloud-hosted software, hardware device, or on-premises software. The job of cloud access security brokers is to protect company cloud data, financial information, and other assets from breaches.
CEOs and IT leaders need to know which SaaS tool has been purchased, who has been using it, and how that tool is driving growth.
SaaS discovery helps your organization to automatically detect when an employee enters or leaves a SaaS application. Security teams can detect who’s exploiting the SaaS license and how through SaaS discovery.
Data Backup & Disaster Recovery Plan
A disaster recovery (DR) plan is essential for reestablishing access to systems and data when outages or breaches occur. Even temporary downtime may damage professional reputation.
Effective DR requires:
- Identifying potential disaster scenarios
- Setting recovery time objectives
- Developing response strategies and processes
- Establishing communication protocols
- Regular testing, monitoring, and plan updating
Likewise, comprehensive data backups are critical. Backups enable the recovery of corrupted or lost data. Storing backups offline protects against malware or ransomware.
Robust security tools and policies only go so far if personnel lack awareness. Employees are a leading cause of breaches through phishing, misconfigurations, and accidental data exposure.
That’s why comprehensive security training is essential before rolling out SaaS apps. Users must learn how to spot phishing attempts, use strong passwords, follow access policies, and handle data securely.
Ongoing education through simulations, workshops, and reminders is key. This embeds security best practices into employee behavior. Well-trained staff serve as a human firewall against cyber threats.
While technology provides important protections, informed users are the last line of defense. SaaS providers cannot rely solely on tools without building a culture of vigilance. Security-first behaviors keep organizations secure in the cloud.
Robust SaaS security is vital today as businesses increasingly rely on cloud applications to manage sensitive data and critical operations.
SaaS providers must implement strong defenses like encryption, access controls, and multifactor authentication to safeguard against data breaches. They must also comply with data protection regulations and follow security best practices.
Likewise, SaaS customers must choose vendors that prioritize security and regulatory compliance. By working together to close gaps, both sides can ensure data remains protected even as more workloads migrate to the cloud.
In the digital world, all organizations have a shared responsibility to implement and demand strong SaaS security.
Share this post
Will Zhao is a seasoned technology expert and entrepreneur and has spent over a decade working at leading tech companies like Facebook and Airbnb. His expertise spans various domains in the tech industry, including product development and growth, machine learning / AI, and cloud infrastructure. Inspired by his passion for empowering individuals and businesses, Will founded SoftGist to provide expert insights that help people navigate the complexities of technology and succeed in the tech and business world. Will holds a Master of Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University.