Software as a Service (SaaS) security, at its core, describes the implementation of measures that protect applications and their underlying data. The unique complexities of the cloud have allowed some unscrupulous SaaS providers to take shortcuts, at great expense to the end-user. SaaS security measures include adaptable authentication, data encryption, and network security. The goal is to reduce the SaaS organization’s attack surface via a multi-faceted, interlocking lattice of security checks and mechanisms.
The sheer quantity of data being handled by SaaS companies on a daily basis exposes them to staggering levels of risk – this sensitive data is worth a lot of money in the wrong hands. Customers are now keenly aware of the importance of responsible data handling, with 44% of UK consumers stating that they would cease spending with a company post-security breach.
The ramifications aren’t limited to shortly after a breach takes place: the long-term impacts of sub-par SaaS security severely disrupt profit margins and brand image. It also maps out a continued pattern of future attacks: 80% of ransomware victims that pay off their ransom become victims later down the line. Compare this with organizations that take a proactive approach to their security – the severe consequences surrounding each individual breach are minimized – or outright eliminated.
Immense legal ramifications, damage to brand image, and severe drop in productivity are all factors that a breached organization must handle. This can define major shifts within certain industries, as customers make a mass exodus to better-protected brands. Alongside financial and competitive benefits, SaaS security also aids in regulatory compliance, increasing the suitability of the product. Ultimately, the importance of SaaS security has never been greater.
The foundation of SaaS security is universal: safeguarding user data is always helpful in engaging and retaining customers. The hyper-competitive markets that rule today’s DevOps landscape leave almost no margin of error, with a single data breach threatening years of growth. Any cloud-adjacent organization that faces some element of risk – whether it’s through client-side environments or internal changes – needs to keep a tight fist on their SaaS security.
While every organization is required to treat their user data with the utmost responsibility, the size and complexity of each organization defines each specific approach. For instance, an established organization facing the challenge of migrating legacy systems over to scalable cloud infrastructure will have to prioritize data encryption throughout the entire process. On the other hand, a cloud-native startup may be experiencing a time of rapid growth and product development – their SaaS security focus may be on streamlining and enforcing the integrity of all third party integrations.
Defining each organization’s unique approach first requires a thorough analysis of infrastructural risk.
SaaS applications represent a unique spread of challenges, particularly when compared with traditional on-site architecture. First and foremost is SaaS’ reliance on virtualization. Cloud computing offers such accessible architecture thanks to the ability of cloud providers to pool resources. By splitting these resources into a number of virtual servers, each SaaS organization can pay for any number of their own accounts. While fantastic for removing DevOps’ traditional barrier of entry, and essentially outsourcing cost- and space-consuming server stacks, a major downside is security risk. If even a single cloud server becomes compromised, then multiple stakeholders face a potential data breach.
The level of risk faced by SaaS applications runs deeper than just the core architecture, however. The accessibility boasted by authentication processes like Single Sign-on (SSO) allows for employees to access slews of company apps without having to constantly login. This may be a blessing for rapid login, but this ability greatly increases the blast radius of many attacks such as account takeover and privilege escalation. At the same time, the rapidly-expanding stack of apps faced by each employee has become incredibly complex to manage securely. SSO isn’t the only security risk faced by SaaS apps: another major appeal is the ability to be accessed from anywhere. However, incidents involving infected mobile devices and hijacked VPN accounts have already displayed a severe point of potential compromise for global organizations.
SaaS applications face a slew of unique challenges, largely as a result of the piecemeal systems that support their continuous development:
Lack of Control
As SaaS providers almost always host their applications in the cloud, customer data is likewise often held and monitored by various cloud providers. The storage and transfer of such data between customers and third-party services make it much more difficult for customers to monitor their security effectively.
Requiring users to login and authenticate their own identity is one of the oldest forms of cybersecurity. However, in the cloud, it can become highly complex to manage user access – particularly if a cloud provider is hosting applications for more than a few customers, each of which demands their own unique access requirements.
While data privacy regulations may apparently offer a snapshot into the legitimacy of a SaaS provider, it’s worth keeping in mind that the specific regulatory requirements often vary by jurisdiction. If the provider hosts and manages data for customers across multiple countries, it can be extraordinarily challenging to ensure full compliance with all regulations.
Another benefit of cloud-based applications that comes with great risk is the ability to integrate with third party services. While essential for many productivity and ecommerce solutions, the implementation of APIs allows for vulnerabilities to be replicated across millions of devices, potentially affecting entire systems that are otherwise secured.
With the always-on flexibility boasted by cloud-based apps comes the demand of continuous monitoring. Because of the rapidly-evolving pace of cyberattacks (and the ability for vulnerabilities to crop up out of every new update), SaaS providers need to be continuously monitoring their entire active tech stack. The resources and expertise demanded by this process is substantial yet necessary for effective handling of security incidents.
Given the sheer quantity of potential oversights, it’s a relief that a number of key best practices can help define security across an organization’s entire spectrum of SaaS-based tools:
Authenticate Across the Organization
The variety of ways that different cloud providers handle authentication can be a headache for even experienced security teams. Figuring out how users should be provided access to sensitive resources can sometimes be streamlined via Active Directory, but not always. At the same time, some vendors can support multi-factor authentication – the patchy and inconsistent way of ensuring enhanced authentication is one of the hardest challenges to organization-wide security.
It is essential that your organization’s security team knows the intricacies of each service, and which authentication method is supported by each service. This contextual knowledge allows the right authentication methods to be chosen, according to the company’s requirements.
Encrypt All Data
Data encryption is another cybersecurity staple that faces severe complications within a wider business setting. Channels that communicate with SaaS services almost always use Transport Layer Security, which protects data in transit. Some SaaS providers protect data at rest, however, which is a feature that can sometimes be default – and sometimes needs to be enabled.
Your security team needs to know the encryption methods offered by each SaaS application. If greater levels of encryption are possible, these need to be implemented. This can often be the final barrier that prevents illicit access becoming a full-blown data breach, making it crucially important.
Demand Thorough Oversight
The process of vetting a potential SaaS service needs to occur every few years. Some systems are retained far longer than they should be – sometimes due to budgetary reasons – but understanding the drawbacks and positives of the security offered by each SaaS provider lends much deeper scope into how protected your organization truly is.
Utilize Discovery and Inventory
By tracking SaaS usage, it becomes possible to map out usage patterns of employees. This is particularly useful in instances where applications are rapidly deployed. With a solid baseline established, it becomes possible to identify unexpected changes and act quickly in the case of potential malicious activity.
Use SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM)
SSPM helps to monitor your SaaS tech stack and ensure they’re configured in an airtight fashion. By continuously comparing stated security policies and on-the-ground security posture, security oversight can be found and fixed before exploitation.
LayerX offers the first solution that unilaterally offers visibility and protection across an enterprise’s entire tech stack. By sitting at the application layer, your security stance benefits from granular access to every SaaS-related event, interaction and data submission.Full behavioral visibility is only the first step toward credential stuffing mitigation: these browsing events are then analyzed by the solution’s Plexus engine. This AI-based session protection allows for deeper contextual understanding, making it possible to identify suspicious login activity within an application. Finally, upon the identification of a suspected attack, LayerX’s enforcement protocol terminates any suspicious request and alerts the security team. This hyper-granular protection is afforded to all SaaS apps within the enterprise’s stack, regardless of their sanctioned or fully unsanctioned status. , LayerX’s protection goes deeper than the log-in level too: enforcement capabilities allow for policies to dictate where data is transferred to and from, eradicating the threat of data theft and malicious app interactions. Across all apps, your environment can now be secured ‘as is’, no longer requiring lengthy infrastructural changes or reconfigurations.
With granular behavioral profiles compiled into auditing reports and adaptive activity policies, SaaS security is transformed from a complex headache of overlapping software to a streamlined and cohesive whole.