Key takeaways:

  • As SaaS usage and adoption continues to grow, SaaS security concerns grow along with them.
  • Misconfigurations, access management, regulatory compliance, data storage, data retention, privacy and data breaches, and disaster recovery are the top seven SaaS security risks.
  • As SaaS platforms continue to evolve, organizations need to keep their security policies flexible enough to keep up with the changing environment.
  • Risk assessment, security awareness, a SaaS security checklist, end-user training, policies and standards, third-party risk management, a disaster recovery plan, and identity access management are the eight security measures that help avoid the top SaaS security risks. 

SaaS is not only creating a revolution in the cloud service model, but it is also bringing up new security requirements and challenges. As the most dominant service delivery model today, it has the most critical need for security practices and oversight.

SaaS security has stirred up quite a bit of debate in the software-as-a-service circle. All debates revolve around the same question: Who is responsible for security? The supplier or the customer? Well, the recent SaaS security survey report answers this question. Fifty-two percent of respondents believe that SaaS providers are responsible for checking and maintaining cloud security.

The survey aside, just like on-premises solutions, businesses will need to research their SaaS service provider’s policies on data security and compliance before signing up for their applications. This blog covers some common SaaS security challenges and proposed solutions to protect mission-critical business applications in the cloud.

7 security risks to discuss with your SaaS supplier


SaaS security: hacker using 2 computers

Privacy advocates, like information security (infosec) analysts and IT departments, raise many concerns about SaaS purchasing and usage, and these concerns typically revolve around cybersecurity and privacy. Listed below are seven perceived security risks to discuss with a SaaS vendor during the evaluation stage. 

1. Access management

Access management is critical for every SaaS application due to the presence of sensitive data. SaaS customers need to know whether the single point of access into the public cloud can expose confidential information. It is also worthwhile to ask questions about the design of access control systems and identify whether there are any chances for network security issues, like deficient patching and lack of monitoring.

2. Misconfigurations

Most SaaS products add more layers of complexity into their system, thus increasing the chances for misconfigurations to arise. Even small configuration mistakes can affect the availability of the cloud infrastructure. 

One of the most well-known misconfiguration mistakes occurred in February 2008 when Pakistan Telecom tried to block YouTube within Pakistan due to some supposedly blasphemous videos. Their attempt to create a dummy route for YouTube made the platform globally unavailable for two hours.

3. Regulatory compliance

When you are ensuring that your suppliers have strong endpoint security measures in place, ask these questions:

  • What is the relevant jurisdiction that governs customer data, and how is it determined?
  • Do your cloud applications comply with regulatory, privacy, and data protection requirements like GDPR, HIPAA, SOX, and more?
  • Are your cloud providers ready to undergo external security audits?
  • Does your cloud service provider hold any security certifications like ISO, ITIL, and more?

4. Storage

Before you purchase new software, it is important to check where all the data is stored. SaaS users can ask the following questions to cross-check data storage policies:

  • Does your SaaS provider allow you to have any control over the location of data stored?
  • Is data stored with the help of a secure cloud service provider like AWS or Microsoft, or is it stored in a private data center?
  • Are security solutions like data encryption available in all stages of data storage?
  • Can end users share files and objects with other users within and outside their domain?

5. Retention

You need to check how long the SaaS environment retains the sensitive information you enter into the system. It is recommended to check who owns the data available in the cloud: the SaaS provider or the user? What is the cloud data retention policy, who enforces it, and are there any exceptions to this?

6. Disaster recovery

Disasters can happen out of the blue and have the capacity to shake the foundations of your business. You need to ask these questions to get yourself ready to face any impending disasters.

What happens to the cloud application and all your data stored in it during a natural disaster? Does the force majeure clause in your master service agreement come into play? Does your service provider promise a complete restoration? If yes, check how long that will take and its procedures. 

7. Privacy and data breaches

Security and data breaches are a common security threat that organizations face every day. Ask these questions to know how well your supplier can mitigate and overcome privacy and data breaches. 

What measures does your cloud application provider have in place to prevent security breaches? Is their security team equipped to handle a direct attack of ransomware or malware? 

If a breach occurs, how does your supplier identify that? Do they have the capacity to investigate any illegal activity or intrusions? Can your contract enforce liability on the other party if the breach is caused by sheer negligence of your service provider's security services?

Solutions to help you overcome security risks


Technical controller working

To address the security issues listed above, SaaS buyers should enhance their existing security practices and develop new ones as the SaaS environment evolves. 

The presence of firewalls and other security tools can do only so much; there is a lot more left in the hands of the SaaS users, especially end users. There is a dire need for changes in the SaaS users' security practices, and the seven steps listed below can help.

1. Risk assessment

Effective risk assessment includes everything from identifying the right technology assets and data to recognizing where the data is stored and how it links with business processes and other internal applications. Conduct security audits regularly and address any security risks that you find identified. 

If one application in your SaaS stack exposes you to cyber risk, then all other applications connected to it will fall like a stack of dominoes. That’s precisely why you need to assess the risk of every SaaS application that you use. You need to check everything from risk configuration of an application to their compliance with standard security standards and monitor access credentials for any unnatural behavior.

2. Security awareness

You will need to organize and launch security awareness campaigns for users in your organization to prevent security mishaps. If end users are not provided with the proper awareness about security mishaps in the cloud, they may become the point of entry for security threats and act as a risk magnet.

The absence of a formal security awareness program for all users of a SaaS application can result in an instance where your data is exposed to a ton of security risks, like social engineering attacks, phishing scams, inadvertent leaks of confidential data, and more.

As opposed to waiting for SaaS providers to offer security training sessions, your organization should take charge of end-user training in cloud security. Your internal security team must provide baseline training for everyone before they start using the application. This fundamental security training should cover everything from data privacy measures to cybersecurity attacks.

3. SaaS security checklist

Having a solid SaaS security checklist will help you determine whether or not your cloud service provider can be trusted. It inserts a security checkpoint in the SaaS buying process, helping you to assess your company's security needs and identify whether the supplier can fulfill expectations properly. This checkpoint prevents any future surprises as you review cloud service providers thoroughly before using the system itself.

4. Policies and standards

Today, there are many resources available to help SaaS users create information security policies and guidelines. Even if you do not have a dedicated cloud security team in place, you need to develop basic policies and supporting standards to guide your users when they use a SaaS application. 

Rather than taking a one-and-done approach to policies and standards, business units need to keep revising and updating their policies so that they don't become redundant or outdated.

5. Third-party risk management

Third-party risk management is a crucial element of your security plan. If people are given a free pass to connect to any tool of their choice through APIs, then it will result in a security nightmare. 

There should be processes in place to regulate API connections with SaaS products. Additionally, it is better to offer such API access and connection permissions to a selected few who know how to perform necessary due diligence on third-party suppliers before connecting to them.

Here is where you can deploy cloud access security brokers (CASBs). CASBs can help you spot unauthorized SaaS products that are being used across your organizations. You can use this data to review those applications and decide whether you want to keep using them or look for a better alternative. According to Gartner, CASBs can act as a single control point to set policy, monitor behavior, and manage risk across your SaaS stack regardless of users or devices. 

6. Identity access management

Identity access management (IAM) covers aspects like authentication, authorization, and auditing. Authentication has long passed beyond traditional password-only authentication, and now, it must include steps like enabling multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication demands users to submit at least two pieces of evidence that verify their identity. 

If users find multi-factor authentication too hard to maneuver, organizations can enable single sign-on. Single sign-on enables users to authorize multiple applications with a single set of credentials. Once the user is verified, they need to be authorized with unique privileges and permissions to perform operations in the system. Auditing is the process of reviewing authentication and authorization records to determine whether the IAM functionality is up to the mark or not.

7. Disaster recovery plan

A disaster recovery plan is a subset of the business continuity plan, a must-have tool in every organization's arsenal. It involves creating processes, policies, and procedures that will prepare an organization to recover the usage of its tech infrastructure in the event of a natural or human-induced disaster. 

Stay clear of SaaS security and compliance risks

As the SaaS stack promises to be ever-growing, businesses need to take a special interest in their security measures to prevent expensive infosec blunders. You can have awesome SaaS security checklists, impressive risk assessment processes, and enlightened end users. Still, if you fail to adapt to the ever-changing security landscapes, all your hard work will go down the drain.

Stay on top of your SaaS security game by signing up for Vendr today. See how easy it is to manage and ensure the security of your SaaS stack.

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