Skip to content

How to Ensure Robust SaaS Security for Your Business

    How to Ensure Robust SaaS Security for Your Business -

    Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions have become ubiquitous in the modern business world. The convenience and cost-effectiveness of cloud-based apps like Salesforce, Office 365, and G Suite drive adoption across organizations of all sizes and industries. However, handing over your data and processes to external providers also has risks that must be carefully managed. SaaS security is an increasingly high priority for IT leaders and business owners alike.

    This guide explores the key considerations around SaaS security issues environments. It provides actionable recommendations on reducing vulnerabilities, protecting sensitive information, and ensuring continuity across critical SaaS apps. Read on to learn best practices and real-world strategies for fortifying your SaaS security posture.

    Why SaaS Security Matters?

    Why SaaS Security Matters -

    Migrating services to the cloud unlocks numerous advantages, from greater flexibility and mobility to reduced IT overhead. However, it also leads to new threat vectors that do not exist with on-premises solutions. Some factors that increase SaaS security risks include:

    • Loss of direct control: The provider manages everything from infrastructure to configurations and data storage with SaaS apps. Users must relinquish some control to realize SaaS benefits.
    • Access from anywhere: SaaS apps can be accessed from any device with an Internet connection, increasing attack surfaces.
    • Data merging: Customers typically share compute resources and databases in multi-tenant SaaS environments, so threats to one user can impact many.
    • Limited visibility: Traditional security tools like firewalls usually do not extend to the SaaS ecosystem, so attackers can more easily hide malicious activities.
    • Reliance on vendors: Customers depend on vendors for uptime, performance, and for robust security, which requires significant trust in providers.
    • Evolving threats: Hackers relentlessly probe cloud apps for vulnerabilities. Providers must constantly assess and improve defenses.

    Compromises in SaaS environments can lead to stolen credentials, leaked proprietary data, hijacked accounts, compliance violations, and damaged reputation. As more business activities move online, the imperative to lock down SaaS attack surfaces grows.

    The Rise of SaaS Creates New Security Challenges

    The SaaS model provides undeniable advantages, which explains its exploding popularity. Research shows that the SaaS market has grown astonishingly over 20% annually for the past five years. This rapid adoption is driven by factors like:

    • Cost savings – No need to purchase, install, and maintain software and hardware onsite.
    • Flexibility – Access applications anytime, anywhere, on any device.
    • Scalability – The service provider handles scaling to support usage spikes.
    • Regular updates – No need to manually patch and upgrade software.
    • Collaboration – SaaS facilitates real-time collaboration and sharing.

    However, handing over control of software and data to external providers also introduces new security, privacy, and compliance risks. Some key challenges include:

    Lack of Visibility and Control

    With on-premises software, organizations have full visibility into and control over the entire technology stack. With SaaS, the service provider manages everything in the background. This lack of transparency makes monitoring security configurations, data access, regulatory compliance, and more harder.

    Data Security Vulnerabilities

    Storing organizational data within third-party SaaS environments raises data security concerns. Sensitive customer, employee and business data must be properly secured against threats like data breaches, leaks, theft, and loss.

    Increased Attack Surfaces

    SaaS requires Internet access to provider environments. This results in larger and more distributed attack surfaces, which are harder to defend. Threat actors can exploit vulnerabilities in SaaS platforms or attack their connections.

    Compliance and Privacy Risks

    Using SaaS may conflict with industry and regional regulations governing data privacy, residency of data at rest, and export controls. Organizations can also lose oversight of how SaaS vendors use, share, mine, and monetize their data.

    Account Hijacking and Abuse

    Compromised SaaS accounts are routinely abused for cybercrime. Stolen credentials allow malicious actors to access data and applications directly while evading security defenses. The lack of visibility into account activity and configurations makes detection difficult.

    See also  SaaS Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tools

    Prioritizing SaaS Security is a Business Necessity

    Prioritizing SaaS Security is a Business Necessity -

    The risks outlined above demonstrate that the growing SaaS footprint requires a corresponding increase in security measures. However, research shows security is often still an afterthought in cloud transitions:

    • 63% of organizations admit to not having adequate staff to secure SaaS environments.
    • 55% do not perform security assessments before SaaS deployment.
    • 44% say data protection capabilities are lacking after SaaS adoption.

    This lack of emphasis on security has a real business impact. According to IBM???s annual Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost of a data breach is close to $4 million. For incidents caused by cloud misconfigurations, the cost balloons to $4.8 million.

    Beyond direct financial losses, SaaS-related security incidents can inflict other types of damage:

    • Reputational harm – Data breaches often erode consumer and investor confidence.
    • Productivity losses – Incidents disrupt operations and workforce efficiency.
    • Compliance violations – Security failures can lead to heavy regulatory fines and penalties.
    • Loss of intellectual property – Breaches expose proprietary data like source code and trade secrets.
    • Increase in insurance premiums – Premiums rise following incidents.

    The stakes are too high to neglect SaaS security. Organizations must make it a key strategic priority to avoid preventable incidents in the future.

    Securing SaaS with a Shared Responsibility Model

    SaaS security requires collaboration between providers and customers based on their respective roles and capabilities. Most vendors adopt a shared responsibility model that divides duties as follows:

    Provider Responsibilities

    • Physical infrastructure security
    • Network protections like firewalls
    • Software resilience and patching
    • Access controls for underlying infrastructure
    • Data encryption, both in transit and at rest
    • Incident response processes
    • Compliance with regulations

    Customer Responsibilities

    • User access provisioning and de-provisioning
    • Password policies and multi-factor authentication
    • Administrative configurations within the SaaS platform
    • Data classification, retention, and monitoring
    • End-user security training
    • Securing integrations with other apps/APIs
    • Encrypting data before upload if needed

    While providers handle foundational security, customers must actively lock down the elements they control. Failing to enable basic protections like MFA or proactively managing user accounts leaves major gaps attackers can exploit.

    Enterprises can achieve robust security across their SaaS environments through close coordination guided by the shared responsibility model.

    Core Elements of a SaaS Security Strategy

    Constructing an effective SaaS security strategy requires addressing risks at multiple levels:

    User Access Controls

    Stolen user credentials provide the initial foothold for many of the most damaging SaaS breaches. Your access control strategy should focus on:

    • Strict provisioning/deprovisioning: Remove ex-employee accounts immediately upon termination. Regularly audit access.
    • Strong password policies: Enforce complexity, rotation, and multifactor authentication (MFA).
    • Least privilege: Only grant the minimum permissions users need to do their jobs.
    • Anomaly detection: Monitor logins for signs of compromised credentials or accounts.

    Data Security

    Although providers encrypt SaaS data, customers retain responsibility for proper classification, monitoring, and in some cases, extra encryption of sensitive assets. Core data security elements include:

    • Classification: Define clear policies for which data is confidential.
    • Data loss prevention: Use SaaS-integrated DLP to detect risky external sharing.
    • Audit trails: Closely monitor data access, downloads, deletions etc.
    • External encryption: Encrypt before uploading highly sensitive data. Store keys separately.

    Application Security

    Properly configuring SaaS platforms is critical to reducing vulnerabilities. Focus on:

    • Admin role restrictions: Limit admin powers to essential personnel. Separate duties.
    • Legacy auth phase out: Disable insecure protocols like SMTP, basic auth, etc.
    • Hardened configurations: Activate all recommended security features and policies.
    • Minimal integrations: Only permit essential third-party integrations. Vet them thoroughly.

    Operational Security

    Broader security processes and controls also support SaaS protection, including:

    • Vendor risk assessments: Review provider security posture and practices annually.
    • Business continuity planning: Document how essential SaaS apps can be restored after incidents.
    • Strong vendor contracts: Demand appropriate SaaS security commitments in writing.
    • Ongoing training: Educate all end users on secure SaaS usage policies. Enforce with testing.
    • Incident response planning: Develop processes to isolate and investigate SaaS compromises quickly.

    A comprehensive SaaS security strategy combines access governance, data protection, software hardening, and supporting processes.

    Five Pillars for a Comprehensive SaaS Security Program

    Five Pillars for a Comprehensive SaaS Security Program -

    With the right foundation, organizations can build out a structured SaaS security program across five key pillars:

    1. Governance

    Governance establishes accountabilities, policies, and processes for security across distributed SaaS environments. Key activities include:

    • Maintain a catalog of sanctioned SaaS apps used within the organization.
    • Develop a SaaS security policy addressing acceptable use, data protection, access controls, regulatory compliance, threat response, and user training.
    • Conduct SaaS risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and improvement opportunities.
    • Install SaaS security review and sign-off procedures during onboarding and procurement.
    • Standardize SaaS configuration templates that align with security best practices.
    • Continuously optimize processes as the SaaS footprint evolves.
    See also  A Comprehensive Ecosystem Of Open-source Software For Big Data Management

    2. Visibility

    Comprehensive visibility is necessary to analyze risks and enforce security policies across SaaS deployments. Key capabilities include:

    • User monitoring – Visibility into user authentication patterns and access behaviors to spot compromised accounts.
    • Entitlement management – Inventory of user privileges across SaaS platforms to right-size permissions and lock down access.
    • Configuration monitoring – Ongoing audits of SaaS application settings to detect misconfigurations that undermine security.
    • Anomaly detection – Analytics to detect unusual data access patterns, downloads, and API calls indicative of threats.
    • Activity logging – Detailed recordings of critical user, data, and system events within SaaS platforms.

    3. Data Security

    Robust data security controls are imperative since SaaS involves relinquishing direct control over sensitive data:

    • Encryption – Encryption safeguards sensitive data at rest, in motion, and in use within SaaS apps.
    • Tokenization – Tokens replace actual data elements with randomized surrogates to minimize exposure.
    • Data loss prevention – Controls like watermarking and rights management help prevent unauthorized use or exfiltration of data.
    • Backup and recovery – Policies and infrastructure to backup critical SaaS data with ability to rapidly restore following incidents.

    4. Threat Prevention

    SaaS threat prevention focuses on securing the two primary entry points for attackers – user accounts and application APIs:

    • Multi-factor authentication – Adds an extra layer of security assurance when users authenticate into SaaS platforms.
    • User behavior analytics – Detects anomalous account usage that could indicate compromised credentials.
    • Session management – Monitoring and controls for inactive SaaS user sessions vulnerable to hijacking.
    • API security – Securing interfaces via API keys, rate limiting, input validation and other methods.
    • IP allowlisting – Only allowing SaaS access from trusted IP address ranges to block unknown threats.

    5. Incident Response

    Preparing for swift detection and containment of SaaS incidents is crucial for minimizing impact:

    • Compromised account containment – Ability to selectively disable or restrict accounts during investigation.
    • Regulatory notification procedures – Process for timely notification of authorities following a qualifying incident.
    • Incident support contracts – Agreements with vendors to provide timely incident response support if needed.
    • Forensics capabilities – Access to activity logs and technical data to rapidly investigate incidents.
    • Backup restoration – Ability to swiftly restore data from clean backups following corruption or loss.

    Organizations can materially strengthen SaaS risk postures by implementing strong foundational security controls in each of these pillars.

    Assessing and Selecting Secure SaaS Vendors

    Assessing and Selecting Secure SaaS Vendors -

    Not all SaaS platforms are created equal when it comes to security. The vendor you choose impacts the baseline protections your organization will benefit from. Use the following criteria when evaluating providers:

    • Track record: Look for established vendors with a solid history securing their SaaS offerings. Avoid unproven solutions.
    • Enterprise-grade capabilities: Require critical features like granular permissions, role-based access controls, comprehensive logging/monitoring, and built-in data protections.
    • Compliance coverage: Ensure the SaaS app can support compliance with HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR regulations that apply to your organization.
    • Transparency: Vendors should provide detailed info on their technical, physical, and administrative safeguards. Beware ones that make vague claims.
    • 3rd party validation: Look for SOC2 audits, ISO 27001 certification, FedRAMP authorization, and other independent security verifications.
    • Security roadmap: Choose vendors with a clear commitment to the continual advancement of their SaaS protection capabilities.

    Vet potential providers thoroughly across these areas. For vendors lacking sufficient security maturity, consider whether their SaaS platforms allow the deployment of 3rd party security tools (like cloud access security brokers) to bridge gaps.

    Key SaaS Security Capabilities to Prioritize

    Hundreds of tools and services promise to improve cloud security. For SaaS environments, several capabilities stand out as providing substantial protection value if implemented effectively:

    Single Sign-On (SSO)

    SSO streamlines secure employee access to authorized SaaS apps via a single identity provider. This enhances security by:

    • Removing the need for separate credentials per SaaS platform
    • Enabling advanced authentication through the SSO provider
    • Providing visibility into SaaS usage across the organization
    • Automating provisioning/de-provisioning based on centralized directories

    Top SSO solutions like Okta and Microsoft Azure AD integrate with most major SaaS platforms.

    Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

    MFA prevents compromised passwords from granting access by requiring a secondary form of identity verification. Options include codes sent via text/email/authenticator apps, biometrics, hardware tokens, etc.

    SSO solutions make it easy to implement universal MFA. Enabling this second layer of authentication is one of the most impactful steps for securing SaaS.

    Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs)

    Through proxies between users and cloud apps, CASBs apply extra visibility, access controls, and threat prevention for SaaS. Core CASB capabilities include:

    • Blocking risky logins and high-risk file downloads
    • Preventing compromised account hijacking
    • Securing BYOD access to corporate SaaS apps
    • Automating anomaly detection and alerts
    • Encrypting sensitive SaaS data at rest
    See also  Concur: The Ultimate Solution for Travel and Expense Management

    Examples of CASB vendors include Netskope, Bitglass, and McAfee.

    User Activity Monitoring

    Robust logging and analytics provide vital visibility into the use and misuse of SaaS environments. Look for tools that capture details like:

    • Login/logout times, IP addresses, devices
    • Files viewed, modified, deleted
    • Administrative configuration changes
    • Permission changes
    • Integration usage

    This data powers access audits, activity reviews, and investigation workflows.

    Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

    DLP tools detect and block potential data exfiltration pathways. SaaS focuses on risky file downloads, suspicious emailing, or retention policy violations. Native SaaS DLP capabilities are recommended, but third-party DLP can provide value.

    Critical Capabilities for a SaaS Security Platform

    Critical Capabilities for a SaaS Security Platform -

    As the volume and diversity of SaaS applications grow, IT teams consistently struggle to enforce security policies via fragmented, native SaaS tools. A unified SaaS security platform is essential for centralized visibility, control, and threat detection across SaaS, IaaS, and on-premises environments.

    According to Gartner, critical capabilities of a SaaS security platform include:

    Discovery and Inventory

    Discover sanctioned and unsanctioned SaaS apps, map data flows, classify sensitive data, and catalog identities and access levels across SaaS, IaaS and on-premises. This foundation enables policies to be consistently enforced.

    Data Security

    Apply integrated data security controls, including data loss prevention, encryption, rights management, and tokenization, to protect sensitive data consistently across SaaS apps.

    Threat Protection

    Leverage integrated threat detection and response capabilities like managed threat detection, compromised account containment, and user behavior analytics.

    SaaS Configuration Management

    Continuously monitor SaaS app configurations against security benchmarks to detect misconfigurations. Remediate violations at scale across apps and tenants.

    Unified Policy Engine

    Centrally create and enforce context-aware security, access, and data use policies across cloud and on-premises environments from a single interface.

    By leveraging a platform-based approach, resource-constrained security teams can scale security oversight across the entire SaaS environment.

    Real-World Examples of SaaS Security Failures

    SaaS data breaches routinely stem from customers neglecting basic security measures. Common oversights include:

    • Weak SaaS passwords reused elsewhere: Attackers compromise other apps sharing credentials and access SaaS accounts. MFA would prevent this.
    • Unrevoked ex-employee accounts: Former workers log in and steal data after termination. Proactive de-provisioning is essential.
    • Overprivileged power users: Admins who don’t need total access abuse elevated permissions. Least privilege controls mitigate this.
    • Unsecured public file shares: Sensitive documents can be exposed via anonymous sharing links. DLP tools detect and close these backdoors.
    • Unauthorized third-party apps: Shady adds SIPHON data once access is granted. Vetting integrations prevent this avenue.
    • Phished admin accounts: One compromised operator account lets intruders extract tons of data. MFA and activity monitoring help flag phishing.

    Every major SaaS platform has seen breaches linked to these basic customer security gaps. Forcing Salesforce or Microsoft to protect sloppy SaaS practices is unrealistic – customers must take responsibility.

    Key Steps to Start Securing SaaS Environments

    Improving SaaS security across an organization takes time, but getting started is straightforward:

    Take Inventory

    Document all SaaS apps used, data handled, accounts, and permissions. This builds an understanding of risks and priorities.

    Review Provider Security Posture

    Gather details on the vendor’s security architecture, controls, and third-party audits for each app and flag any high-risk platforms.

    Formalize Internal Policies

    Draft policies for access governance, data protection, third-party apps, and other areas based on business needs and regulations.

    Enable SSO

    Plan rollout of SSO tied to central user directory. Prepare to enforce consistent access controls across SaaS apps.

    Activate MFA

    Configure multifactor authentication through SSO server to block stolen credential attacks. Support all users with training.

    Invest in CASB and DLP

    Evaluate CASB and DLP options that align with tech stack. Pilot tools with high-value SaaS apps first.

    Monitor and Audit

    Expand activity monitoring and access auditing to establish security baselines and catch issues early.

    SaaS Security Best Practices and Tips

    Beyond core security priorities, countless smaller steps also help strengthen SaaS protections. Here are some quick best practices:

    • Classify data so you know what matters most
    • Encrypt highly confidential data before uploading
    • Only permit corporate-owned devices for SaaS access
    • Block risky countries via access policies if possible
    • Whitelist allowed IP ranges for admin accounts
    • Rapidly patch vulnerability and misconfiguration issues
    • Test security of configurations via “ethical hacking”
    • Continuously train employees on secure practices
    • Segment highly privileged roles and enforce separation of duties
    • Demand vendor security commitments in writing
    • Build plans to restore SaaS operations if account access is lost

    View SaaS security as an ongoing journey of incremental improvements, not a one-and-done project. Persistently chip away at vulnerabilities via technology, process controls, and user education.


    SaaS platforms deliver game-changing advantages but also introduce new security concerns that organizations cannot ignore. This requires proactive measures to lock down SaaS access, data, configurations, and integrations based on a shared responsibility model with vendors.

    Companies can achieve a mature SaaS security posture by implementing robust identity and access management, cloud-native monitoring and controls, and supportive processes. Failing to take ownership of these areas opens the door to breaches impacting proprietary information, customer trust and regulatory compliance.

    With proper planning and execution, SaaS security can accelerate business without introducing unacceptable risks. Organizations strategically addressing SaaS protection will maximize their return from cloud technologies while staying secure. Those who neglect it put their most important assets in jeopardy.