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SaaS Security — Best Practices and Challenges

What is SaaS?

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a model of providing a service through the cloud or the internet, without the need for a physical product. It is often referred to as “on-demand software.” Instead of downloading a software to run locally on endpoints, the program remains on third-party providers and is accessed by the internet, normally purchased through monthly or yearly subscriptions.

SaaS has several advantages that have made it popular recently including quick updates, no additional hardware needed, less costs, quick deployment of new software, and accessibility (with internet access – you’re in). Although, some disadvantages include data security, version control, no functionality without the internet, and issues integrating with other programs.

Businesses use SaaS applications for:

Project management (Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Smartsheet), customer relationship management software (Salesforce), customer support (Zendesk), communication and collaboration, (Zoom, Stride, Slack, Office 365, G Suite) payroll and HR (Gusto, QuickBooks, Paycom, Zenefits) accounting, record keeping, and much more.

Businesses choose to adopt this software because it improves processes, efficiency, and automates tasks that were originally manual and time consuming. Salesforce, a leader in SaaS applications and CRM software, is known for helping companies compile, organize, and display customer data. According to Salesforce, the use of its technology increases leads and customer retention by 44% and 45% respectively. Slack, a cloud-based collaboration tool, is known as one of the fastest growing B2B SaaS offerings to ever exist. It’s instant messaging and storage capabilities have revolutionized the way employees connect at work.

What is SaaS security?

SaaS security is the protection of your business and its data when utilizing Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. It’s no secret that SaaS applications are making waves in the tech industry and beyond. Many developers are choosing SaaS for the delivery of their software and service offerings to businesses. And with that, it has become a staple for many businesses that are committed to keeping up with the latest tech.

The adoption of SaaS has caused a shift in data storage. Data is frequently being stored in the cloud now, as opposed to a server in-house. And the typical SaaS environment is invisible to network admins — making it difficult to protect these applications or prevent data leakage.

According to a study by Blissfully, the average small to medium business (SMB) utilizes approximately 54 SaaS products, with over 15K in monthly spending including 20+ paid subscriptions and around 34 free products. This spending is forecasted to multiply by four in the next two years as more and more SaaS products hit the market.

When it comes to securing this many applications, it’s key to have strong security systems, practices, and policies to cover human error and detect malicious activity.

Many organizations handle SaaS security reactively — which means they fail to think about it until after a breach or data leak has happened. This way of thinking leads to increased vulnerabilities and attack surfaces. Another common practice is organizations creating security policies and requirements that are not user-friendly or focused on actual business operations, which leads to avoidance and disconnect. So, how do businesses keep their network safe while utilizing SaaS applications?

Essentials for your business’ SaaS security strategy:

Visibility — Ensuring complete, transparent visibility across all activity and data collection by the SaaS provider. This could involve reviewing any contracts with information about data collection or the use of data. Collecting deep analytics into day-to-day usage that allow you to quickly determine if there are any data risks or compliance-related policy violations.

Data encryption — Protection for data that is stored in your own cloud and data that is in transit. This secures sensitive information using encryption codes that attackers don’t have access to.

Data loss prevention (DLP) — Mechanisms and procedures for detecting when sensitive data has been leaked to an unauthorized party. If an incident occurs, admins are notified and security policies are in place to determine next steps.

Security alerts and monitoring — Alerts when a user requests access to an unauthorized function, uploads or downloads unusual data, or connects from two geographical locations within an unrealistic time frame.

Advanced threat protection — Antivirus software blocks known threats including malware, ransomware, and hacking attempts.

Patched software — It’s extremely important to keep SaaS applications updated to the latest version to prevent vulnerabilities from outdated software. Patch management tools help automate updates across all business devices.

Real-time threat intelligence — Prevents new SaaS-based entry points by tracking and detecting new threats based on globally dispersed threat feeds.

Multi-factor authentication — Enabling this function for all SaaS applications that support it, especially email and collaboration platforms like Slack or G Suite reduces the chances of an attacker gaining access to business data.

Regardless of which type of SaaS application your business is using, the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) recommends that:

  • the SaaS offering should be centrally managed and users given the correct level of access
  • the SaaS offering should be accessed using up-to-date and regularly patched software
  • devices accessing the SaaS offering should be configured in line with the NCSC EUD Guidance
  • users should be made aware of the appropriate use of the service prior to receiving their credentials
  • user accounts on the service should be suspended when no longer required
  • audit logs should be monitored and any suspicious activity investigated
  • SaaS providers publish their security claims in a publicly accessible and easy-to-find location

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