As businesses increasingly adopt cloud-based applications, Software as a Service (SaaS) security has emerged as a critical aspect of modern enterprises.
Ensuring a secure environment for SaaS applications requires a comprehensive understanding of the security challenges and best practices.
Let’s talk about what it takes to maintain a secure environment for both your business and your customers, including two recent examples of the potential harm a cyber threat can cause.
What is SaaS security?
SaaS security involves the protection of cloud-based applications, user access, and sensitive data from potential threats.
It encompasses various aspects, such as access management, data privacy, third-party integration, and continuous monitoring.
Why is SaaS security important?
With the growing reliance on SaaS applications, security concerns have increased.
Security breaches can lead to data loss, business disruptions, and reputational damage. Additionally, regulatory compliance requirements make SaaS security essential for business operations.
Challenges in SaaS security
Inadequate security configurations can result in vulnerabilities and potential breaches.
Configuration drift, a common issue in cloud deployments, occurs when changes to the environment result in deviations from the established baseline, increasing security risks.
Regular security audits can help identify and address these misconfigurations.
Ensuring secure data storage in the cloud environment is a key concern.
While cloud storage providers typically offer a certain level of security, businesses must also implement their own security measures to protect sensitive data.
These measures may include encryption, access controls, and monitoring.
3. Privacy and data breaches
Compliance with data privacy regulations and preventing data breaches are essential for protecting customer data.
Businesses must develop a comprehensive understanding of the regulatory landscape and implement appropriate security measures to minimize the risk of privacy breaches.
4. Applications are unique and complex
Each SaaS application has specific security requirements, making a one-size-fits-all approach ineffective.
This complexity necessitates a customized security approach tailored to the individual application and its unique security concerns.
5. SaaS security is your responsibility
Both customers and providers must collaborate to maintain a secure environment.
While providers are responsible for the security of the underlying infrastructure, customers must ensure the proper configuration and management of their SaaS applications.
Example A: Capital One
In 2019, Capital One, a US-based financial services company, suffered a data breach that exposed the personal data of over 100 million customers and applicants.
The breach resulted from a configuration vulnerability in the company's firewall, which allowed the attacker to access sensitive customer information.
The stolen data included names, addresses, credit scores, and Social Security numbers and the attack cost Capital One $100-150 million in expenses related to the breach (legal fees, customer compensation and increased cybersecurity investments).
Example B: Marriott International
In 2018, Marriott International, a US-based hotel chain, suffered a data breach that compromised the personal information of over 500 million customers.
The breach resulted from a vulnerability in the company's Starwood guest reservation database, which had been undetected since 2014.
Ultimately, the attack cost Marriott International over $72 million in damages due to regulatory fines, legal fees, and customer compensation.
SaaS security best practices:
1. Enhanced authentication
Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) for enterprise applications to secure user access.
MFA adds an additional layer of security by requiring users to provide two or more forms of identification, while SSO simplifies user access management by allowing users to access multiple applications with a single set of credentials.
2. End-to-end data encryption
Employ encryption capabilities to protect data at rest and in transit. This can help prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data, even in the event of a security breach.
Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a commonly used protocol for encrypting data in transit, while various encryption algorithms can be used for data at rest.
3. CASB tools
Utilize Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) to enforce security policies and monitor cloud environments. CASBs act as intermediaries between users and cloud-based services, providing visibility into cloud usage, detecting security threats, and enforcing security policies.
4. Policies for data deletion
Establish clear guidelines for data retention and deletion to minimize the risk of unauthorized access.
These policies should specify how long data should be retained, when it should be deleted, and who is responsible for performing these tasks.
5. Disaster recovery planning
Develop a business continuity plan that includes regular backups, testing protocols, and horizontal redundancy.
A well-designed disaster recovery plan ensures that businesses can quickly recover from unexpected events, such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, or hardware failures.
This plan should be regularly reviewed and updated to account for changes in the business environment and technology landscape.
6. Continuous monitoring
Establishing a robust monitoring strategy helps identify potential security threats and maintain situational awareness.
Continuous monitoring involves the real-time analysis of security events, which allows for rapid detection and response to threats.
Lack of monitoring can lead to undetected breaches and increased damage to the business.
7. Secure third-party integrations
Businesses often rely on third-party applications to extend the functionality of their SaaS applications. It is essential to ensure that these integrations follow best security practices and do not introduce new vulnerabilities into the environment.
Regular security assessments and penetration tests can help identify and address potential issues.
8. Educate employees on security best practices
Employees play a critical role in maintaining a secure environment.
Providing regular training and updates on security best practices can help employees understand their responsibilities and reduce the likelihood of human error leading to security breaches.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a comprehensive data protection law that affects businesses operating within the European Union (EU) or handling the personal data of EU citizens.
GDPR requires businesses to implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to protect personal data and ensure privacy.
Compliance with GDPR is essential for businesses that handle personal data, as non-compliance can result in significant fines and reputational damage.
To achieve GDPR compliance, businesses should:
- Conduct a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) to identify potential privacy risks and implement appropriate measures to mitigate them.
- Designate a Data Protection Officer (DPO) responsible for overseeing data protection activities.
- Implement data minimization techniques to reduce the amount of personal data stored and processed.
- Establish clear policies and procedures for handling personal data breaches, including notification requirements.
- Ensure that data processing agreements are in place with third-party service providers to guarantee GDPR compliance throughout the entire data processing chain.
SOC 2 compliance
Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 is an auditing procedure developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) that evaluates the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of a service provider's systems.
SOC 2 compliance demonstrates a commitment to maintaining a secure environment and protecting customer data.
To achieve SOC 2 compliance, businesses should:
- Develop and maintain comprehensive security policies and procedures that address the five Trust Services Criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
- Implement appropriate security measures, such as encryption, access controls, and intrusion detection systems.
- Conduct regular security audits to ensure ongoing compliance with established policies and procedures.
- Implement a continuous monitoring strategy to detect and respond to potential security threats.
- Engage a qualified auditor to perform a SOC 2 examination and issue a SOC 2 report.
What could Capital One and Marriott International have done differently?
In the highly connected world of SaaS and IaaS, companies need a 360-degree overview of their tech stacks, their users and their contracts.
Fortunately, over the past ±5 years, a new industry has emerged that mitigates certain cybersecurity risks: SaaS procurement.
These modern SaaS buying, management and compliance platforms make it easier and faster than ever to make sure your data security practices comply with the highest standards available.
For example, by automating vendor onboarding and offboarding, you can reduce the risk of unauthorized access to company data by former employees or contractors.
Or by managing all of your vendors and contracts in one place, it’s easier to keep track of vendors' security practices and ensure that they are meeting established security standards.
You can even use these platforms to negotiate better contracts with vendors that include specific cybersecurity requirements and clauses that further reduce the likelihood of a data breach.
So while it’s impossible for any company to guarantee that they’ll never fall victim to a cyber attack, every company can take measures to prevent or at least detect cyber threats before they escalate.
SaaS security is a shared responsibility between providers and customers.
By understanding the challenges and implementing best practices, businesses can create a secure environment for their SaaS applications, ensuring the safety of their data and the continuity of their operations.
Compliance with industry standards, such as GDPR and SOC 2, further demonstrates a commitment to maintaining a secure environment and protecting customer data.
By prioritizing SaaS security, businesses can reduce the risk of security breaches and focus on delivering value to their customers.