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What is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Security (in Cloud)?

Updated on: August 5, 2022

What is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Security (in Cloud)?

SaaS security refers to the practices and policies implemented by the providers of software-as-a-service (SaaS) to ensure the privacy and security of customer data in cloud-based applications and other information assets. These security policies make SaaS apps safe and trustworthy.

What makes SaaS applications risky?

1. Virtualization

Cloud computing systems run on virtual servers to store and manage multiple accounts and machines, unlike traditional networking systems. In such a case, if even a single server is compromised it could put multiple stakeholders at risk. Though virtualization technology has improved significantly over time, it still poses vulnerabilities that are often easy targets for cybercriminals. When properly configured and implemented with strict security protocols, it can provide significant protection from numerous threats.

2. Managing identity

Many SaaS providers allow for Single Sign-on (SSO) abilities to greatly ease access to applications. This is most helpful when there are multiple SaaS applications and access is role-based. Some of the providers do have secure data access systems, however, with an increase in the number of applications, it becomes quite complicated and difficult to manage securely.

3. Standards for cloud services

SaaS security can greatly vary based on the provider and the standards maintained by them. Not all SaaS providers conform to globally accepted SaaS security standards. Even those providers which claim to be compliant might not have SaaS-specific certification. Standards such as ISO 27001 can offer a certain level of confidence; however, if not carefully evaluated they might not have all security avenues covered under the certification.

4. Obscurity

Most of the time customers are not aware of the processes handled by the SaaS service provider. If a SaaS provider tries to be too obscure about the backend details, consider it a red flag. To be completely confident regarding SaaS security the customers must know in detail how everything works.

Most popular SaaS providers are transparent about their backend processes; however, several providers may not disclose details such as their security protocols and multi-tenant infrastructure. In such cases, Service Level Agreements (SLA) are useful since it compels the provider to disclose all responsibilities. After all, customers have a right to know how their data is protected against cyber-attacks and information exposure among other SaaS risks.

5. Data location

SaaS tools might store clients’ data in some other geographical region, but not all providers can promise that due to several factors such as data laws and cost. Sometimes clients would be comfortable with their data being stored within their country. Data location should also be based on factors such as data latency and load balancing.

6. Access from anywhere

SaaS apps can be accessed from anywhere and that is one of the reasons which makes them more appealing. However, this feature has its own set of risks. Incidents such as accessing the application using an infected mobile device or public WiFi without any VPN would compromise the server. If the endpoints are not secure it would allow attackers to enter the server.

7. Data control

Since all data will be hosted on the cloud, clients do not have complete control over it. If something goes wrong, clients are at the mercy of the SaaS provider. Once agreeing to a price model, the provider becomes responsible for storing and managing data. In such cases, clients often worry about who has access to it, scenarios of data corruption, and access by third parties and competitors, to name a few. When sensitive data is stored, answers to these queries become much more crucial.

Also Read: 5 SaaS Security Certifications to Wrap Your Head Around

Download this comprehensive SaaS Security Audit Checklist

Go through this SaaS security checklist and attain peak-level security for your application.

Best SaaS Security Practices

No system is safe and as we saw above, SaaS offerings also have security concerns that need to be resolved. By following the below security practices, you can leverage the powerful features and advantages of SaaS without worrying about security.

1. End-to-end data encryption

This means that all kinds of interaction between server and user happens over SSL connections and are encrypted. However, end-to-end encryption should also exist for data storage. Many providers have the option to encrypt the data by default, while some clients need to explicitly specify this. Clients can also have the option to encrypt specific fields such as financial details by using Multi-domain SSL certificates.

2. Vulnerability testing

You can expect SaaS providers to make high claims regarding SaaS security. But the onus to verify these claims can end up with the clients. If the SaaS provider has tools or checks, they should be reliable and meets all standards. Apart from these, you should also ensure that intensive checks are done on the SaaS systems.

There are multiple ways to assess SaaS security, such as automated tools or manually by security experts. A comprehensive SaaS security check should comprise both automated and manual checks since it would also consider real-world scenarios and the latest threats. A number of quality SaaS security solutions are available to help you with the security testing process.

Website VAPT Process
Astra’s VAPT Process

Related: What is Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing?

3. Policies for data deletion

Data deletion policies play an important role in keeping customers’ data safe. SaaS providers should be clear in declaring their data deletion policies to their clients. These policies are mentioned in the service agreement and should include what would happen after the customer’s data retention timeline ends. When applicable, client data should be programmatically deleted from the server and respective logs should be generated.

4. Data security at the user level

Multiple levels of SaaS security can limit the damage from cyber-attacks. At the user level, security protocols such as role-based permissions and access, and enforced distribution of tasks, will protect your system from attacks that leverage internal security gaps.

5. Virtual Private Network/Virtual Private Cloud

VPN and VPC provide a safe environment for clients for their operation and data storage. These are better options and more secure than multi-tenant systems. These also enable users to log in and use SaaS applications from anywhere by securing endpoints and protecting the infrastructure.

6. Virtual Machine Management

Your virtual machine needs to be updated regularly to maintain a secure infrastructure. Keep up with the latest threats and patches on the market and deploy them timely to protect your VM.

7. Scalability & Reliability

SaaS offers great scalability (both vertical as well as horizontal) & reliability features. You have the benefit of adding a new enhanced feature or additional resources as per your wish. Scaling cannot be realized instantly, thus the vendor must put together a plan for horizontal redundancy. A CDN (Content delivery network) adds more robustness to scaling.

8. Transport Layer Security and configuration certificates

SaaS security is greatly enhanced when a provider protects externally transmitted data using Transport Layer Security. Moreover, TLS also improves privacy between communicating applications and users. Make sure that the certificates are appropriately configured and follow security protocols. The same applies to internal data too. Internal data should also be stored in an encrypted format and any intra-application transfer should be protected. Further, cookie security should be looked into as well.

9. User privileges and multi-factor authentication

Different categories of users should have different levels of privileges. Cybercriminals often misuse privileges to access the core files of an application. Admins should have exclusive access to crucial files and folders. Also, authentication is a major point of entry for attackers. 2 Factor Authentication is the new standard for logging into applications. Make sure the SaaS application adheres to this custom.

10. Logs

Logs help in monitoring SaaS security incidents and help in detecting any cyber attacks. SaaS systems should have automatic logging mechanisms which should be available to clients to assist in audits or regular monitoring.

Learn how to conduct a SaaS Security Audit

With our comprehensive guide especially curated to help beginners.

11. Data Loss Prevention

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) consists of two parts, detection, and action. DLP systems can scan outgoing or transferred data for sensitive information through keyword and phrase searches. Once detected, data transfer is blocked preventing any leakage. For a robust system, the DLP system can send alerts to the administrator who verifies if the detection is correct. There are also SaaS APIs that enforce DLP protocols in your application.

12. Deployment security

Deployment can be either done on public cloud services or a SaaS vendor. In case you decide to self-deploy your SaaS application then you need to test the security thoroughly and adopt enough safeguards to protect your application against cyber attacks.

Most of the big cloud providers take care of all your SaaS security needs, however, when opting for a public cloud vendor, make sure that they follow all globally accepted standards. Asking for a pentest report while making a vendor assessment is fair play on your part.

13. Be updated about OWASP security issues

Whenever testing your SaaS security, always keep an eye out for the top security issues reported by OWASP. This provides a trusted repository for the latest security issues found and probable fixes. Based on this you can design your tests that can discover security vulnerabilities in your SaaS application. Also, this provides you with enough information to fix these issues and protect against attacks that exploit these.

Certifications

When choosing a third-party SaaS solution for your business, make sure it ticks the above security protocols. In addition, verify if the SaaS provider complies with key certifications such as the GDPR, ISO 27001, SOC 1 & SOC 2, and other important compliances as per your industry. Being vigilant about security while choosing SaaS services can save you from a lot of pain.

Conclusion

There are several reasons why a business should adopt SaaS, however, SaaS security concerns can hold them back a lot of times. These concerns arise from the lack of proper understanding of SaaS security protocols and controls. The above points provide a guideline on what to expect from a SaaS provider and SaaS security assessments.

At Astra Security, we have SaaS security audits that combine the use of automated and manual testing to find security vulnerabilities. Astra also provides a comprehensive report of all findings and solutions along with step-by-step guidelines for the developers.

SaaS security

Check out our SaaS VAPT solution here.

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Ananda Krishna

Ananda Krishna is the co-founder & CTO of Astra Security, a SaaS suite that secures businesses from cyber threats. He has been acknowledged by the Indian Navy, Microsoft, United Airlines, etc. for finding critical security vulnerabilities in their systems. Winner of the Best Security Product at Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 (awarded by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India) & French Tech Ticket, Paris (awarded by François Hollande, former President of France). At Astra he's building an intelligent security ecosystem - web application firewall (WAF), malware detection & analysis, large scale SaaS applications, APIs & more. He's actively involved in the cybersecurity community and shared his knowledge at various forums & invited talks.
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Elainejames
Elainejames
6 months ago

What should be included in SaaS security policy?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
6 months ago
Reply to  Elainejames

Hey Elaine, so here’s what all a well-formulated SaaS security policy should contain:

1. Data protection controls like in transit and at rest data encryption.
2. Continuous vulnerability assessments and penetration testing.
3. Well-formed data retention policies.
4. Authentication procedures like multi-factor authentication and access management.
5. Lastly, your compliance should also be monitored continuously.

Violetsmith
Violetsmith
6 months ago

Why do critical SaaS security flaws often go unnoticed by pentests?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
6 months ago
Reply to  Violetsmith

Here are the reasons why some SaaS security flaws can go unnoticed by pentests:-

1. Pentests detect flaws till their completion, so vulnerabilities could develop after.

2. Unnoticed business logic errors leading to regression despite following the right procedures.

3. Manual pentests alone can yield unchecked areas based on the expertise of the pentesting team.

4. Limited scope results in pentest not being comprehensive enough to find flaws.

To solve these issues, head over to our pentest tool, Astra’s Pentest which has a zero false-positive assurance through thorough manual and automated pentesting.

Jack
Jack
6 months ago

What should I look for when evaluating hosted online security solutions (security SaaS) for my small business?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack

Hey Jack, when you’re looking for Cloud SaaS security solutions, do enquire regarding their level of regulatory compliance, quality steps taken with regards to asset and data protection, incident recovery procedure in place as well as ensure they carry out continuous security audits and pentests. Hope this helped you out.

EmmaJones
EmmaJones
6 months ago

How can I secure access data facilities where my customer data will be stored?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
6 months ago
Reply to  EmmaJones

Hey Emma, so answering your question, securing access to data facilities can be done by placing role-based authentication and multi-factor authentication. Adhering to this practice ensures that your customer data cannot be accessed by unauthorized personnel or even malicious hackers. An additional level of protection can be offered by using Transport Layer Security for externally transmitted data.

Lillian
Lillian
5 months ago

What must be enabled to secure SaaS based applications?

Nivedita James
Editor
Nivedita James
5 months ago
Reply to  Lillian

Hey, so in order to secure SaaS-based applications, the following must be enabled:
1. Data Encryption at rest and in transit using Transport Layer Security.
2. Authentication and authorization via identity access management and multifaceted authentication.
3. Restricted user privileges by implementing role-based authentication.
4. Data retention and deletion policies.

Psst! Hi there. We’re Astra.

We make security simple and hassle-free for thousands
of websites and businesses worldwide.

Our suite of security products include a vulnerability scanner, firewall, malware scanner and pentests to protect your site from the evil forces on the internet, even when you sleep.

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