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SaaS Security: Complete Guide on Issues & Best Practices

The SaaS market is booming with an expected reach of $397.5 billion at the end of the year 2022.

SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) applications and products reside in cloud structures which is a boon in disguise due to their price affordability and ease to use. These benefits make the cloud environment more desirable, but security issues related to the cloud infrastructure are a growing concern amongst SaaS providers. In many cases, these issues are either ignored or unaddressed which is a huge risk for SaaS app data.

Your business as well as customer data is at risk of cyber-attacks and data breaches if these cloud environments are not secured strongly. Since a majority of the SaaS apps and products stay in cloud environments, securing your cloud should be the top-most priority.

  • A devasting data breach at Capital One compelled the company to shell out $190 million to 98 million people.
  • Data leak on LinkedIn has exposed the personal data of 700 million users.

Both Capital One, as well as LinkedIn, are popular SaaS applications that focus strongly on security, yet could not prevent mishaps.

Strong SaaS security is needed for securing the data and the same is possible by understanding SaaS security issues and implementing their ideal solutions.

In this article, we will discuss SaaS security, its key principles, its challenges, and its best practices for secured data storage.

Let's commence with understanding SaaS security.

What is SaaS Security?

SaaS Security is all about the best security solutions implemented by SaaS service providers with the motto of ensuring data security and privacy of customer data and other confidential information.

These security solutions play a pivotal role in keeping the SaaS apps secured from intruders and hackers who are constantly trying to barge in and gain user-sensitive data like usernames, credit card details, bank details, DOB, PIN, etc.

What makes SaaS Apps Risky?

1. Virtualization

Since cloud systems are based on virtual servers, even if one server is compromised, the entire cloud data is at risk. Though virtual technology is improvised, it is still vulnerable as compared to traditional networking systems.

2. Managing Identity

Many SaaS providers provide role-based access to SaaS apps and data. Sometimes these access systems can't handle varied users and are not secured enough to sustain cyber threats.

3. Security Standards for Cloud Services

Many of the SaaS providers fail to abide by the SaaS global security standards. Even providers abiding by SaaS compliance may have loose securities, which can be a threat to customer data.

Ensure to maintain the highest level of security standards for strong data privacy.

4. Unclear Processes of SaaS Providers

There are cases wherein, SaaS providers themselves are unclear about the backend security processes and hence customers also stay ignorant about the same. Customers need to know the security processes with precision since the same is related to their data privacy.

5. Data Location

SaaS service providers may use varied international locations to store customer data. Not all locations carry the same security. Clients also would personally prefer their data storage within the country rather than outside the national boundaries.

6. Access Everywhere

SaaS apps being accessed from anywhere can be a benefit as well as a disadvantage since if the access is done from compromised or infected devices; the server would be compromised. This may lead to unsecured endpoints and successful entry from hackers.

Restricting access can help in securing the server.

7. Data Control

Ever since cloud storage became popular, clients have lost control over their data. In case of emergencies, clients need to resort to the SaaS provider for accessing their data. Clients are also concerned about data access by strangers or corruption of data by intruders.

Companies need to prioritize SaaS security and implement solutions to secure user data from cyber-criminals.

Basic Principles of SaaS Security

Below mentioned are the 7 basic principles of SaaS Security as per the Cloud Security Alliance. They are:

  1. Assess Management: The access permissions given to the concerned should be role-based and as per the workflow requirement.
  2. Network Control: The security team which grants access to users should be very concrete in granting them. For precise granular network control, network access control lists or jump servers can be used. In addition to this, using a VPN that acts as a Firewall to control the incoming and outgoing traffic can also be implemented.
  3. Perimeter Network Control: A perimeter defense wall (firewall) should be placed in the data center network, for controlling the incoming and outgoing traffic. This wall also acts as a filter to prevent malicious traffic from entering the data center network. Some companies also use additional perimeter protection layers by implementing IDS/IPS (intrusion detection systems/intrusion prevention systems) to stop compromised traffic from entering networks.
  4. VM Management: Virtual Machines (VM) should be regularly updated to keep them secured. The security teams who are aware of the leading threats and their fixes should intimate the SaaS providers who should also implement and update the same.
  5. Data Protection: Data is always crucial and the same should be in an encrypted format. SaaS providers should implement data encryption methods during data-in-transit as well as data-in-rest. Some SaaS providers permit customers to hold the encryption keys so that the right to decrypt the data lies solely with the customer.
  6. Governance & Incident Management: Suspicious incidents should be captured, reported, and systematically solved by the security team. Hence the security team should generate an incident management system to manage such incidents as well as for gaining benefits from advanced alert notifications.
  7. Reliability: When high-level CDNs (content delivery networks) are implemented, the downtime is bound to be less. Apart from this, the system should be self-healing and have disaster recovery plans in place to prevent major damages.

Now that you have clarity on the basic SaaS security principles, let's move to the SaaS security issues that need to be addressed and taken care of.

Basic SaaS Security Issues

You can prevent intruders from accessing your SaaS applications only when you know their entry gates.

OWASP Top 10 is a valuable document for creating awareness amongst web developers. Below mentioned is a compilation of all the risks faced by SaaS apps.

1. SQL Injections

Hackers can send compromised codes to the web application, thus forcing the app to function as per their wishes.

2. Broken Authentication

Broken authentication is tagged for varied vulnerabilities used by hackers to impersonate legit users. This security issue is caused mainly due to lapses in session management and credential management.

3. Exposure of Sensitive Data

When confidential information like Social Security numbers, credit card details, etc. are not secured properly, attackers are bound to steal and misuse it. They may use this sensitive stuff for carrying out frauds like identity theft or other deceits.

4. Broken Access Control

When access rights are not allocated properly, it may invite hackers to your cloud. Improper access can permit hackers to gain admin access or user access, thus allowing them to read, modify, delete, or misuse data.

5. Security Misconfiguration

This security lapse generally occurs due to configuration errors in the OS or database systems. For example, a non-used account that is still active can pose a threat to your SaaS apps since it can be vulnerable to data breaches.

6. Cross-site Scripting (XSS)

Typical XSS attacks comprise session theft, a takeover of accounts, browser attacks, other client-side attacks, etc. These attacks are done with a motto to gain user data by redirecting them to a compromised site.

7. Defects in Deserialization

Hackers are very smart and leave no stone unturned to penetrate cloud networks. They also focus on defects in deserialization to execute codes from remote areas for injecting malicious scripts. The same is done to gain access to restricted areas in the network.

8. Using Components with Known Bodies

At times, attackers use vulnerable components to penetrate defenses and carry out attacks. Such successful attacks can help them gain server access for invading data privacy.

9. Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

If you are lazy to monitor suspicious activities, you may face surprise guests invading your privacy. Insufficient monitoring of activities daily can permit attackers to easily penetrate networks and steal data.

10. Insecure Interfaces & API

APIs are a cyber security risk in cloud computing. Insecure APIs are an ongoing threat and attackers can compromise these APIs to gain access to sensitive stuff.

11. Weak Control Pane

A poor cloud control pane means that the overall security of the cloud is weak and is not up to the expectations of the customer. An example of a weak control pane is the absence of 2FA (two-factor authentication). A customer may only realize the weakness of the security controls after migrating to the cloud.

12. Limited Cloud Visibility

This security risk arises when the IT personnel don't perform their duties properly. This happens when other employees utilize cloud apps without the knowledge of the IT team or employees having authorized access misuse their access.

13. Abuse and Nefarious usage of Cloud Services

Attackers abuse the cloud services by hosting malware by gaining access to the domain name of the cloud provider. The threats emerging from cloud environments include phishing scams, DDoS attacks, malware, etc.

Hackers keep on creating new gateways for penetrating the cloud and gaining data access. But if proper cloud security practices are implemented, these risks can be minimized.

Are you scared of the above-stated SaaS security risks?

Don't panic. Let's discuss some of the SaaS security best practices for preventing these risks.

Best SaaS Security Practices

We've got you covered with many SaaS security solutions, which can prevent these risks.

Nowadays with the rise in cyber-crime, you can't rely on one or two security solutions for securing your cloud. Ample security solutions need to be implemented to prevent hackers from gaining access to your SaaS applications and products.

Let's discuss each one briefly to have a clear view of their benefits.

1. End-to-end Data Encryption

Encrypting all interactions (data in transit) between the server and the user’s browser by incorporating SSL certificate security is an excellent way to prevent intruders from penetrating your cloud.

This SaaS security solution should also be implemented for data stored (data at rest) in the cloud. In a nutshell, the encryption process should be carried out for data at rest as well as data in transit.

All cloud service providers can decrypt the data when a customer needs to access it.

Example: Multiple SSL providers are there, and different SSL certs are issued as per website's requirement. Thawte SSL Certificates are one of reputed SSL certificate authorities, which are now powered by DigiCert are budget-friendly certificates that secure your cloud with robust 256-bit encryption.

  • Thawte Wildcard SSL Certificates secure multiple sub-domains with the root domain.
  • Thawte SAN/UC Capable Certificates secure multiple domains with SANs (Subject Alternative Names) and multiple sub-domains on varied servers.

Thawte SSL certificates come with a Thawte trust seal which enhances trust and reliability amongst customers.

2. Vulnerability Testing

Though SaaS providers claim to provide rock-solid SaaS security, the final say lies with the customers whose data is at stake.

The SaaS provider may have all the essential tools and securities to secure the app and data but, if they don't meet the essential standards, they may pose a threat by making the cloud vulnerable to cyber threats.

Varied ways are there to test the SaaS security either manually or via automatic tools. The best way to test the security is to adapt both these options for strong prevention against cyber threats.

Ample SaaS security solutions like:

  • Lacework: Traces threats across multi-cloud environments. Its features like easy integration, discovering threats, constant threat tracking, and container security make it an ideal security solution for start-ups.
  • Qualys: This all-rounder SaaS security solution has in-built apps for assessment of cloud security, tracing and managing vulnerability, and threat protection. Its main features include constant threat monitoring, patch management, analyzing threats and misconfigurations, and six sigma accuracy with minimum costs.
  • Fidelis Halo: This security solution takes care of all the cloud security challenges by ensuring container stack security as well as cloud workload protection. Its main features include threat visibility into varied cloud environments, using AI (artificial intelligence) for revealing threats, analyzing risk, etc.

3. Data Deletion Policies

Policies are pivotal in all circumstances. When policies are made to secure customer data, customers are ensured about the privacy of their stuff. The SaaS providers must be precise in defining their data deletion policies to their customers.

The service agreement should have all these policies and the after-effects of data retention timelines on the customer data.

4. Data Security at User Level

Apart from using security solutions for securing cloud databases, user-level securities also need to be ensured, to minimize the effects of cyber-attacks.

User securities like limited accesses, role-based permissions, appropriate allocation of tasks, etc. can help in preventing internal security vulnerabilities.

5. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A virtual private network is a safe tunnel for data communications as well as for data storage. Using VPN also permits users to use the SaaS apps from any location and ensures end-point security.

6. Update Cloud

Update your cloud regularly to patch up the security lapses and prevent intruders from accessing your SaaS apps and data.

7. Scalability & Reliability

The best factors of SaaS security solutions are scalability and reliability. Any addition of new features can easily be incorporated. These securities are reliable and trustworthy, which ensures data privacy, thus easing customers' minds.

Implementing SaaS CDN (content delivery network) also helps in enhancing strong security since CDN security acts as a barrier for intruders who are trying to penetrate your networks.

8. TLS (Transport Layer Security) and Configuration Certificates

As stated before, encryption helps in securing SaaS data. SaaS security is doubled when the cloud provider uses TLS/SSL to secure external data communications. TLS also helps in maintaining data privacy between application-user communications.

Ensure that these digital security certificates are configured properly, to prevent security vulnerabilities. Even internal communications and stored data should be encrypted to prevent outsiders from invading networks.

9. Limit User Access

If important accesses like admin access are given to all employees, there are chances of hackers accessing your data. Smart hackers can easily modify, delete or misuse the data. They can also destroy the data by injecting malicious codes. Limited privileges should be given to users to prevent such damages.

10. Use 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) for SaaS Authentication

Multiple security for logging in the cloud or admin area is always beneficial since if the hacker gets a key to one security barrier (password) to penetrate the cloud, he needs to face another security barrier before accessing SaaS apps.

Example: If the hacker gets hold of login credentials, specifically passwords, another security in the form of authenticating the PIN (sent on mobile) still secures the cloud.

Use 2FA for authenticating and securing your SaaS apps.

11. Logs

Logs are crucial since they constantly monitor the SaaS securities and help in detecting cyber threats. SaaS systems should comprise automatic logging systems which help in constant monitoring and threat prevention.

12. Incorporate the SaaS Security API DLP Policy

This policy helps in creating rules and regulations for securing sensitive data lying in SaaS apps. It uses DLP (data loss prevention) engines to scan content as per the stated DLP rules.

Rules of the DLP policy should be defined in such a way that they help in detecting threats and taking appropriate action against the same.

Once a threat is detected, the transfer of data should be stopped to prevent data loss. The admin should be notified about the same via alerts and they should verify the threat detections.

13. Deployment Security

SaaS vendors use deployment security to ensure data privacy. In case the customer/user wishes to self-deploy their SaaS app, they need to incorporate varied safeguards and security verification tests to prevent cyber threats.

Generally, cloud service providers ensure strong security of their cloud, but when you are using the services of a public cloud vendor, ensure that they adhere to the global security standards for security purposes.

14. Stay Updated about OWASP Security Issues

OWASP (open web application security project) reports varied security issues popping up from time to time. Stay updated on these security issues which checking out your SaaS security solutions. These reports also state the best fixes for the issues to help you in securing your SaaS apps.

Knowing the SaaS security issues will also help in detecting security vulnerabilities and in making a fool-proof security plan to prevent cyber threats.

15. Educate Employees

Last but not least, is to keep your internal staff, i.e. your employees educated about the latest cyber threats so that they can detect suspicious activities and contribute to their prevention and fixes too.

Wrapping Up

SaaS offers access to secured and updated software to organizations. It also eliminates the complexities for them to install or manage it and permits them to use it in a secured way.

For obtaining SaaS benefits, it's pivotal to adhere to the SaaS security practices at all stages, i.e., from the compliance stage to the deployment stage. This helps in overcoming the challenges of SaaS and in ensuring data security.

SaaS is the future of software and businesses need to adopt the same for varied reasons. Since many are skeptical to use the same due to their ignorance regarding the SaaS security risks, its challenges, and its simple fixations, this article will enlighten them and motivate them to use SaaS, avail its ample benefits, and keep their business ahead of the competition.

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