SaaS Security

Many organizations choose to implement Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to achieve benefits like efficiency, scalability, and flexibility. However, with these benefits comes a new concern: SaaS security.

Amit Sheps
November 28, 2023

What Is SaaS Security?

SaaS security is a set of strategies and measures designed to protect SaaS applications and the data and user identities they hold. These strategies involve securing data transmission, managing access, ensuring data privacy, and maintaining compliance with various regulations. SaaS security ensures that your SaaS-based business processes are safe, regardless of where data is stored or how they are accessed.

Contrary to common misconception, SaaS security is not the sole responsibility of the service provider. As a user, you also play a significant role in safeguarding your data. While the provider is responsible for securing the infrastructure and application, you are responsible for how you use the service, including managing access controls and data handling procedures.

This is part of a series of articles about application security.

In this article:

Challenges in SaaS Applications Security

Data Security

Data security is a significant concern in SaaS applications. More so than in traditional, on-premise applications, there is a threat of data breaches, either from external hackers or internal threats. Additionally, data transmission between your local network and the SaaS application can be intercepted, leading to data exposure.

Data Ownership and Control

With SaaS, your data is stored in the provider’s servers. This situation can lead to uncertainties over data ownership and control. Who has access to your data? Can the provider manipulate it? Organizations using SaaS applications must conduct due diligence to get answers to these questions and plan their security strategy accordingly.

Integration Issues

Most businesses use multiple SaaS applications, each with their security protocols and standards. In parallel, there are also on-premise applications and legacy systems. Integrating these disparate systems can be complex and may lead to security gaps if not done correctly. Significantly, many organizations lack visibility over SaaS applications and their data flows.

Compliance and Regulatory Concerns

Compliance with data protection regulations and industry standards is a critical concern for companies in almost every industry. It is important to verify that SaaS providers comply with the relevant regulations and standards. Even if they are, organizations using SaaS applications must determine and carry out their own compliance obligations.

Vendor Lock-in

Vendor lock-in refers to the difficulty of migrating from one SaaS provider to another. If you decide to switch providers, you may face challenges in migrating your data. Inability to migrate data creates a range of business risks, and even if migration is possible, the migration process itself can expose your data to attacks.

Downtime and Service Interruptions

Lastly, downtime and service interruptions can affect the availability of your data and services. This can lead to productivity losses and customer dissatisfaction. In some cases, SaaS provider malfunctions and service issues could result in data loss or exposure to security vulnerabilities. 

5 Pillars of SaaS Cyber Security

To address the above challenges, organizations must have a sound SaaS security strategy in place. The following pillars are essential components of SaaS security.

1. API Security

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are the bridges that allow your SaaS applications to communicate with other software. As such, they are a critical aspect of SaaS security. Secure APIs ensure that only authorized entities and applications can access your data, preventing unauthorized data exposure.

2. Data Encryption

Data encryption involves converting your data into a code that can only be deciphered with a decryption key. This measure ensures that even if your data is intercepted during transmission or stolen from the provider’s servers, it cannot be read by unauthorized individuals. In SaaS applications, which are accessed remotely, it is especially important to encrypt data in transit to ensure it cannot be intercepted by attackers or unauthorized parties.

3. Data Access

Organizations using SaaS applications must put data access policies in place. These are rules that govern who can access data and what they can do with it. A robust data access policy should specify user roles, permissions, and authentication procedures. It should also outline the processes for granting, modifying, and revoking access rights.

Moreover, it’s vital to regularly review and update your data access policies to keep pace with changing business needs and technological advancements. This proactive approach helps mitigate potential security risks and ensure ongoing data protection.

4. Compliance Management

Compliance management is a critical component of SaaS security. Compliance management tools can help organizations comply with standards and regulations across their entire portfolio of SaaS applications. They provide functionality like audit trails, real-time monitoring, and automated reporting, which simplify the compliance process and reduce the risk of fines and penalties.

5. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Disaster recovery and business continuity planning strategies ensure that a business can swiftly recover and resume operations following a cyber incident or any disruptive event:

  • A disaster recovery plan details the steps to restore your systems and data after an incident. This includes identifying critical applications, establishing recovery objectives, and defining roles and responsibilities. 
  • A business continuity plan focuses on maintaining or quickly resuming mission-critical functions during and after a disaster. It involves aspects like crisis communication, business process management, and workforce mobilization.

Essential SaaS Security Best Practices

Once the five pillars are in place, the following best practices can help improve the security posture of your SaaS applications and reduce the risk to business operations.

Use Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA requires users to provide at least two forms of identification before granting access to your SaaS applications. This could be something they know (like a password), something they have (like a mobile device), or something they are (like a fingerprint).

MFA provides an extra layer of security, making it harder for unauthorized users to gain access even if they crack one authentication factor. It’s particularly beneficial for protecting sensitive data and high-risk operations.

However, while implementing MFA, it’s crucial to balance security and user experience. Overly complex MFA processes can frustrate users and hinder productivity, so choose an approach that offers robust protection without compromising usability.

Regularly Review Security Measures of SaaS Vendors

Your SaaS security is only as strong as the weakest link in your supply chain. Therefore, it’s essential to regularly review the security policies and measures of your SaaS vendors. This involves assessing their data protection capabilities, incident response procedures, and compliance status.

To facilitate this process, consider starting a vendor risk management program. This can help you identify potential vulnerabilities, prioritize risks, and implement appropriate mitigation measures.

Provide Ongoing Security Training

Human error and lack of security awareness are among the most common causes of security breaches. This means ongoing training to your employees is a critical SaaS security best practice.

This training should educate your team on the latest cyber threats, safe online behaviors, and your organization’s security policies and procedures. It should also underscore the importance of their role in maintaining SaaS security and encourage them to report any suspicious activities.

Use Tools to Monitor User Activity

Monitoring user activity on your SaaS applications is another effective way to bolster your security. This involves tracking and analyzing actions like logins, data modifications, and file downloads.

User activity monitoring tools can provide insights into unusual behaviors, potential security incidents, and compliance violations. They can also help identify productivity bottlenecks and improve user experience.

Adopt a Zero Trust Security Model

Finally, consider adopting the zero trust model for your SaaS security. This approach assumes that any user or device, whether inside or outside your network, could be a potential threat. It therefore requires strict identity verification for every person and device trying to access your systems, regardless of their location.

The zero trust model can provide robust protection against various cyber threats, including insider attacks and advanced persistent threats. It can also facilitate data protection in the cloud and support compliance with data privacy regulations.

Amit Sheps
Amit is the Director of Technical Product Marketing at Aqua. With an illustrious career spanning renowned companies such as CyberX (acquired by Microsoft) and F5, he has played an instrumental role in fortifying manufacturing floors and telecom networks. Focused on product management and marketing, Amit's expertise lies in the art of transforming applications into cloud-native powerhouses. Amit is an avid runner who relishes the tranquility of early morning runs. You may very well spot him traversing the urban landscape, reveling in the quietude of the city streets before the world awakes.