A Guide to Effective SaaS Security for Business Managers
September 16, 2021 / Katarina Rudela
Reading Time: 12 minutes
Software as a service (SaaS) is a model that offers a broad range of advantages, providing companies with the ability to procure high-end software solutions without needing to build those solutions themselves or purchase them outright. However, SaaS is also a model that presents its own unique security risks. While the benefits of SaaS tend to far outweigh any risks that it might pose, it is nonetheless vital for business managers to carefully consider the risks involved with relying on a SaaS solution and develop a thorough strategy for mitigating those risks. In this article, we will explore the security risks that are present in the SaaS model as well as the steps that business managers can take in order to ensure that the SaaS solutions that they employ are as secure as possible.
Security Risks of the SaaS Model
Reliance on SaaS solutions has been steadily growing for several years now. However, as indicated by the graph below, the demand for numerous SaaS applications saw an especially prominent increase during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid rise in remote work that the pandemic necessitated has created a significant need for remote communications and project management applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Zscaler, and more.
This growth in reliance on various SaaS applications has also led to an increased trust in the security capabilities of the SaaS model. Nevertheless, there are a variety of risks associated with SaaS solutions that business managers will need to evaluate and prepare for.
This includes risks such as:
Data Theft From Outside Threats
Anytime sensitive data is stored on the cloud there is an increased risk of a breach that exposes that data to theft from cybercriminals. In 2020 alone, there were a total of 1001 data breaches in the United States. This actually marks a decrease from the previous year's total, but suffice it to say that the number of data breaches is trending up. While the reasons for this upward trend in data breaches are multi-faceted, an increased reliance on cloud-based and SaaS solutions by companies of all sizes certainly plays a role in the growing rate of data breaches.
Inadequate Control Over Who Can Access Sensitive Data
Threats to a company's cloud-based data doesn't always come from outside sources. With SaaS solutions, it can be difficult to control which and how many employees within your company are able to access sensitive data. This is especially true if employees are prone to sharing cloud credentials.
Business Interruption Due to Vendor Failure
If your business relies on a SaaS vendor for a mission-critical service, the failure of that vendor to continuously provide their service could lead to costly downtime for your company. There are plenty of reasons why SaaS vendors are sometimes unable to avoid a disruption of service whether it be from natural disasters, bankruptcy, to malicious cyberattacks such as ransomware attacks that compromise the functionality of the vendor's IT infrastructure. For this reason, choosing a reputable and reliable vendor for your SaaS solutions is an essential part of keeping your business guarded against the threat of service disruption.
Inability to Monitor the Movement of Data
Most SaaS solutions do not provide you with the ability to monitor the movement of data to and from the cloud-based application to specific devices. This can make it especially difficult to pinpoint when an instance of unauthorized access has occurred.
This list of potential threats posed by the SaaS model includes some of the more considerable risks but is by no means comprehensive. Other potential SaaS security issues include:
Difficulty maintaining regulatory compliance
An inability to assess the security standards of the vendor supplying the SaaS application
Businesses employing SaaS solutions without a staff that is capable of managing security for cloud applications
A lack of visibility in regard to what data is being stored within an SaaS application
The potential for shadow IT, defined as the use of cloud applications that are provisioned without explicit IT department approval
SaaS Security Checklist
Despite the various security issues that the SaaS model creates, there's no turning back now for most companies. The advantages that SaaS provides are simply too substantial to ignore for any company that wants to remain competitive, and a reliance on a wide range of SaaS solutions is becoming increasingly prevalent among companies of all sizes and in all industries. Just because the benefits of the SaaS model outweigh the risks, though, doesn't mean that the risks should be overlooked. Business managers in charge of procuring and implementing SaaS solutions should take every precaution possible in order to keep their company's data secure. In order to help with this all-important objective, we've compiled a comprehensive SaaS security checklist that business managers can use to mitigate the risks posed by the SaaS model.
1) Check Recommendations From National or Regional Authorities
National and regional organizations in charge of promoting effective cybersecurity among the businesses within their jurisdiction regularly issue guidance on SaaS security. This sometimes includes reviews of popular SaaS applications as well as more basic SaaS security guidelines. While any company trying to develop a thorough approach to SaaS security should certainly research deeper than the information that these organizations provide, their overviews can certainly be a good foundation to build upon.
2) Review Security Information Published By Your SaaS Vendor
While one of the drawbacks of SaaS solutions is the fact that it can be difficult to assess the security standards of the vendor providing the application, it isn't outright impossible to form at least a basic understanding of the level of security that a SaaS vendor provides. Before you commit to any particular vendor or application, it is essential to review any and all security information that the vendor has made available. Important questions to consider as you review this information include questions such as:
Will the vendor have access to the data stored on their systems? - Ideally, the vendor providing an SaaS application should not be able to directly access the data that you decide to store on their systems. It goes beyond a simple matter of trust; the more points of access to your data that exist, the more vulnerabilities you have to contend with.
Is the vendor transparent about the steps they take to secure your data? - A good SaaS vendor should be transparent about both the tools and procedures they use to secure the data that is stored within their application. At the very least, they should be willing to provide further information regarding their security protocols if this information is not already made available.
Does the vendor offer end-to-end encryption? - End-to-end encryption does not absolutely guarantee that your data is protected from breaches, but it does provide a strong degree of security. Not all SaaS vendors offer end-to-end encryption, but those that do should certainly be prioritized when it comes time to decide which vendor you will choose.
Who will the vendor share your data with? - Really, the only adequate answer to this question is "no one". Once again, your vendor shouldn't even be able to access your data themselves - and they certainly should not be providing access to outside parties. This brings up yet another advantage of end-to-end encryption since it ensures that your company is the only entity capable of accessing the data that is stored on a SaaS application.
What kind of data will you send to the vendor's servers? - It is important to consider your company's exact usage of an SaaS application and what data that usage will require you to send to the vendor's servers. Keep in mind that data processing regulations may also limit what data you are able to transfer to a cloud-based application.
What is the vendor's security track record? - Has the vendor you are considering had any issues with data privacy or security in the past? In an ideal scenario, the answer to this question will be "no". If there have been issues in the past, it's important to ensure that any vulnerabilities that created those issues have been thoroughly addressed.
3) Explore the Vendor's Authentication Practices
In addition to examining how well a vendor is able to protect your data from outside breaches, it is also a good idea to explore the vendor's authentication practices. These practices can vary significantly from vendor to vendor, but enhanced authentication standards are something worth prioritizing. This could include vendors that provide the option to integrate their service with third-party identity authentication providers as well as vendors who provide the option to enable multi-factor authentication.
4) Create a System for Tracking Unauthorized Usage
One of the biggest benefits of the SaaS model is the ability to quickly deploy new applications within a SaaS solution. As we've already discussed, though, this benefit also generates the potential for shadow IT, where employees within an organization may deploy new applications that have not received proper authorization. In order to mitigate the various security and compliance issues that shadow IT can create, it's a good idea to develop a system that will enable you to track the usage of an SaaS application and maintain an inventory of any new application that is deployed, who deployed it, and when they did so. This system will ideally include manual data gathering and analysis methods as well as automated tools designed to track the usage of an SaaS application.
5) Ensure Compliance With Data Protection Regulations By Conducting a Legal Review
Many countries have created strict data protection regulations that include regulations regarding the use of SaaS applications - and failing to comply with these regulations can lead to harsh penalties. Before you adopt any new SaaS solution, you should conduct a thorough legal review with your company's legal team in order to ensure that the application is compliant with any data protection regulations that might apply to your company.
6) Provide Adequate Training to Employees Using the SaaS Application
Improper practices by employees who have access to a SaaS application is one of the primary factors that can lead to security breaches. Falling prey to phishing scams, impropriate sharing of cloud credentials, and improper management of documents and files within the SaaS application are just a few of the potential problems that arise when the employees who have access to a SaaS application are not provided with thorough training regarding security practices. Once you have decided on the SaaS application that you would like to employ, meet with your IT department in order to form a training initiative that will inform all relevant employees on the security practices that they need to be following.
7) Develop an Emergency Response Plan
Preventive measures are by far the best way to mitigate the risks posed by potential SaaS security issues, but sometimes even the most thorough measures fall short. While you should always do everything you can to prevent the worst from happening, it's also important to be prepared. Create an emergency response plan that will dictate your company's response to various disaster scenarios regarding its SaaS applications. For example, creating a plan for how your company will respond in the event of a service disruption that denies you access to a mission-critical application ensures that you aren't left scrambling for solutions at a time when every hour of downtime is costing your company money. It's also a good idea to develop an emergency response plan that details the measures your company will take in the event that the sensitive data stored on an SaaS application is compromised.
Ensure Effective SaaS Security With Help From Baytech Consulting
At Baytech Consulting, we are experts at helping companies in all industries create and implement the custom software solutions they need to thrive in today's technology-driven market. Our team of experienced developers, architects, and project managers are able to build custom SaaS applications that are perfectly suited for your company's needs. Moreover, Baytech Consulting guides you through the implementation of these solutions in order to ensure that they are employed in the most beneficial and effective way possible. Most importantly, our commitment to outstanding cybersecurity is unmatched in the SaaS industry. We at Baytech Consulting are firm believers in the importance of transparency when it comes to the extraordinary measures we take to keep your sensitive data secure, and we are more than happy to demonstrate the great lengths we go to in order to provide the most secure SaaS applications on the market today.
To learn more about the industry-leading custom software development services that we offer at Baytech Consulting, be sure to browse through our list of services. Or, feel free to contact us today with any questions you may have.