The SaaS Security Guide: Best Practices for Securing SaaS

Software as a service (SaaS) is a popular type of cloud-based application and one of the most important technologies in business success today. SaaS applications offer companies fast, reliable, flexible and affordable solutions that can help them throughout business processes. Common SaaS applications modernize processes such as:

  • Customer relationship management
  • Sales and marketing management
  • Communication
  • Software development
  • Many more processes

Over the past few years, the growth of the SaaS model has accelerated, especially with the rise of remote working, where companies seek more straightforward and effective ways to operate.

However, the increased popularity has magnified the security threats that companies have to deal with. SaaS applications face a series of security risks that cybercriminals seek to exploit and gain from. These security risks could cause significant problems that could impact the whole organization — and your reputation.  

In this article, you'll learn what SaaS security is all about. You'll find out the most common threats you need to know. Finally, you'll see some of the best practices you can implement to secure a SaaS application effectively.

How SaaS works

SaaS is one of the three main categories of cloud computing, with infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) being the other two. Third-party companies provide SaaS solutions, and the "as a service" aspect means that the product is delivered exclusively over the internet – no more installs from physical CD-ROMs.

IT professionals and businesses mainly use SaaS applications, but many products are widely used by individual users as well.

SaaS applications can help you reduce costs as you're not required to invest in additional hardware. Compared to traditional software solutions, you don't have to worry about installing the application, maintaining it, and updating it. These are all responsibilities of your service provider. The SaaS model is subscription-based, which means users only pay for as long as they use the product. Furthermore, SaaS applications offer accessibility, are highly flexible and customizable, and can scale to match the operational needs of a business.

What is SaaS security?

Cloud security is a concern for all SaaS applications. As SaaS apps become business critical software, businesses must develop security strategies. Cloud services undoubtedly have many benefits, but one of their characteristics is that you don't have control over security. SaaS providers are responsible, and since they have control over your business data, every security threat they might face — like malware and phishing attacks — affects you as well.

Essentially, SaaS security is a set of best practices that keeps the critical data these applications manage from falling into the wrong hands. A holistic approach to SaaS Security will help you to:

  • Increase visibility
  • Reduce the costs and impact of attacks
  • Enhance overall security posture

Although SaaS providers include many security tools as part of their offering, different companies have different needs. You won't see great results if you don't implement security guidelines that align with general security best practices and your company's specific requirements.

SaaS security challenges

SaaS applications face a series of security challenges. Knowing what they entail helps businesses create an effective security strategy. Below are the main challenges SaaS applications have to worry about.

Data breaches

One of the biggest challenges in SaaS security is protecting data from unauthorized third parties. Companies have to deal with sensitive data like personal customer information, banking details, and health records. This type of data is valuable to hackers, and they're always looking for weak spots to exploit and gain access to them.

Businesses must have security policies in place that will prevent data breaches from happening or mitigate their impact.

Asset management configuration

Misconfigured assets are vulnerable to attacks. As modern organizations depend more and more on SaaS applications, making the right configurations for matching security standards, compliance best practices, and the company's policies becomes a necessary task. This is true even though it can be time-consuming and daunting. Outdated configurations leave you open to attacks.

Unsecure APIs

APIs are a powerful tool in the arsenal of all developers. They enable them to increase their level of productivity since they can implement essential functionality to their applications and access external services.

Of course, insecure APIs can expose you to security risks. Although companies try hard to offer safe API interfaces, hackers typically attempt to gain access through them.

(Learn about monitoring APIs to minimize risk.)

Human errors

In most cases, humans are the weakest link of a security strategy, and it's no surprise that attackers aim at them to gain access to a system and reach sensitive data. Social engineering attacks have increased these last couple of years with the exponential rise of remote working. Reducing human errors is a multifaceted security challenge and tough to overcome completely.

Cross-site scripting

Cross-site scripting attacks take advantage of an application's security flaws and allow attackers to pose as legitimate users. They get access to the user's data and can perform the same actions. This potentially could lead to serious security repercussions if the compromised user has high-level permission access.

SaaS security best practices

Now that we know what the most common security challenges are, these security practices will help all cloud-operating organization secure SaaS environments and assets.

(Learn about security operations centers & threat modeling.)

Data loss protection

Data loss prevention (DLP) tools and processes ensure that your data is safe and managed properly. They can help you track endpoint activity, and filter and monitor data traffic. What’s more, DLP allows you to:

  1. Detect violations of data compliance policies.
  2. Respond with several protective measures that'll help mitigate or resolve them.

SaaS security posture management (SSPM)

Security posture has to do with an organization's overall level of security and how prepared they are to defend against cyberthreats. An SSPM platform provides automation tools that allow you to get a clear picture of your SaaS application's security posture. With the advanced visibility capabilities an SSPM solution has to offer, you can address security issues more easily and more effectively.

Cloud access security broker (CASB)

The CASB is a cloud-hosted security solution that enforces security and compliance policies across cloud applications and mitigates cloud service security issues. It sits between the user endpoint and the SaaS vendor, offering an extra layer of protection.

SaaS detection and response

The SaaS Detection and Response solution offers deep visibility and advanced analytics that allow security teams to identify internal risks, malicious data access, and user account takeovers to defend the SaaS application. Once a threat has been detected, it enables you to analyze it further and respond to it accordingly.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

IAM is a set of policies that help you control digital identities. With IAM, you can efficiently manage who has access where. The goal is to reduce unauthorized entities, users and devices from getting access to sensitive data. IAM features include single sign-on (SSO) and multifactor authentication (MFA), and they are essential for protecting SaaS applications from cyberthreats and loss of data.

Educating employees

All employees should receive security training. It will help them avoid common mistakes and teaching them how to implement basic security measures can save your business from many future problems. Educating employees will also help them recognize and eliminate modern and more sophisticated hacking methods like social engineering techniques.

Data encryption

End-to-end encryption is an effective solution to reduce data loss and identity theft, and to protect communication. The sender encrypts the data, and only the recipient has the key to decrypt it. By encrypting your data, hackers are less likely to intercept and access your information.

SaaS requires security

SaaS applications have become increasingly popular. To ensure their security, it's important to implement the industry's latest best practices that can protect your business. Of course, creating and following a SaaS security strategy can be very challenging and time-consuming. Fortunately, there are tools available that you can rely on to achieve great security results.

What is Splunk?

This article was written by Alex Doukas. Alex’s main area of expertise is web development and everything that comes along with it. He also has extensive knowledge of topics such as UX design, big data, social media marketing and SEO.

This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.

Stephen Watts
Posted by

Stephen Watts

Stephen Watts works in growth marketing at Splunk. Stephen holds a degree in Philosophy from Auburn University and is an MSIS candidate at UC Denver. He contributes to a variety of publications including CIO.com, Search Engine Journal, ITSM.Tools, IT Chronicles, DZone, and CompTIA.