A Complete Guide to Ensure SaaS Application Security in 2021

Krunal Shah

Aug 14, 2021 | 10 min read

Let’s rewind to a few years back, when most business applications hosted their data on in-house servers. This obviously meant that security concerns were an added task for the operations team but at least the infrastructure was familiar and they knew what needed to be done to manage entrance of potential risks and minimize their harm. Now let’s fast forward a few years ahead. Today more and more enterprises are moving towards Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Over the years the Saas market size has not only doubled but quadrupled and how! A report by Statista states the worldwide SaaS market size will reach $138 billion by 2022. This rise in adoption and demand of SaaS applications got fuelled by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic making remote work a new mandate and SaaS a new lifeline for corporates around the world.

Using SaaS not only simplifies communication and collaboration but also makes management of internal operations a lot smoother, helps provide ample value to the customer, and rapidly innovates to stay ahead of the curve.

Forrester states that SaaS is the number one technology that enterprises will invest in and continue investing in power digital transformation. While SaaS surely happens to be a tempting route that most enterprises venture into, they forget to take into account one of the most important aspects of it all - SaaS application security. Along with the benefits of productivity improvements and lower costs, you also need to balance significant compliances and security issues.

So, in this article, we wanted to share SaaS Security risks you should look out for and then move on to the best practices you need to follow to ensure the security of SaaS applications to protect your employees and enterprise from potential threats.

What is a SaaS application?

Software as a service

Software-as-a-service or (Saas) is a cloud-based delivery model that enables organizations to subscribe to applications via the internet without purchasing servers and hosting them in-house. It is an on-demand software allowing vendors to host it remotely and saves organizations a massive cost of infrastructural set-up.

SaaS is not just a hot trend in technology ready to fade away in a few years. It’s actually quite the opposite, SaaS is here to stay as there’s no going back to the traditional software in today’s era. It is the most popular delivery software in the cloud computing family which includes Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-service (PaaS).

There’s a reason why SaaS is preferred by so many organizations around the world today. All the credit goes to these advantages that seem to work in its favor:

  • Super flexible and scalable
  • Fast-setup, implementation & loading
  • On-demand
  • No additional costs
  • Easy updates and maintenance

Read More: How To Build A SaaS Product: A Complete Guide

What is SaaS Application Security?

Saas application security

SaaS application security refers to cloud-based security designed to protect sensitive information such as user privacy and corporate data in subscription-based applications. SaaS hosts programs on the cloud and carries a lot of confidential data that can be easily accessed from any device. Its quick setup and easy loading allow several organizations a quick entryway into the SaaS world.

However, in most cases, security practices go for a toss leaving them extremely vulnerable to security compromises in the form of data branches and possible phishing attacks.  

12 Critical SaaS Security Risks

Saas security risks

There’s no doubt about the fact that cyberattacks have gotten more unforgiving over the years. There exist some threats that are common to SaaS applications. The risks occur due to the fact that all the data is stored in a third-party application that can be easily accessed by any user from any device. According to data by Statista, there were 1,001 data breaches in the United States in 2020. Over the course of the same year, over 155.8 million individuals were affected by data exposures.

Read More: 10 Essential Steps To Build a SaaS MVP

So, before jumping into the best practices to ensure SaaS application security, let’s first address the biggest risks in SaaS security heads-on.

Phishing

Cloud-based cyber attacks revealing sensitive information such as login credentials and credit card information. Attackers resort to sending emails with malicious links, which when opened by the recipient leads to loss of user data.

Lack of transparency

When the SaaS service provider is not completely transparent about their safety measures and security protocols. This lack of clarity can prove to be dangerous when it comes to handling important data and sensitive information.

Identity Theft

This happens to be one of the most common security risks in SaaS products due to the frequent use of credit card payment methods via the internet along with managing privileged access that might pose a serious risk of identity theft.

Cross-site scripting (XXX)

This occurs when an attacker injects malicious code or corrupted links into the pages viewed by the end-users. Upon clicking the link, the browser sends all the private data of the user to the attacker.

Lack of modern security standards

When SaaS providers do not look after maintaining security systems and continue working with outdated standards, this could turn out to be a huge risk for organizations trying to safeguard their confidential data and sensitive information.

Compliance and audits

Not following government mandates when it comes to ensuring security is another risky area. Organizations must ensure to follow GDPR and regulations when it comes to industries such as (HIPAA) for healthcare, (SOX) for finance, and (PCI DSS) for the retail sector.

Account takeovers

It occurs when attackers try to gain unauthorized access to get a hold of the corporate credentials of an employee to take over an organization's data. This is done through a credential phishing campaign or via acquiring credentials on the dark web. When it comes to users, attackers try to impersonate user identity and take over their accounts.

Lack of Identity Management

Every working entity has a regular inflow of new employees and current employees leaving. An employee when working with an organization may have multiple identities with a SaaS application. This may be a problem for security regulations because immediately removing access after an employee leaves may become difficult.

Security Misconfiguration

It occurs when security controls are not implemented properly for web and server applications. This also happens when security controls are implemented but with an incorrect setup. To ensure the security of SaaS applications, it is integral to correctly configure all tools and update them on a timely basis.

Vendor lock-in

When organizations choose a cloud service provider they are essentially locked in with that vendor. This may become an issue if a SaaS provider goes out of business entirely, its quality of services declines, or if it gets acquired by a competitor since moving databases after set-up is extremely challenging.

Data theft

Another common attack aimed at SaaS applications is the risk of a data breach which occurs when cyber criminals try to get access to important data stored outside the corporate data center, that could be customer data, financial details, intellectual property (IP), and personally identifiable information (PII).

Insider threats

Most of the time, employees become an organization’s weakest link when it comes to managing security. These can be unintentional threats that can occur due to user negligence, sharing of passwords, weak passwords, or lost or stolen devices. Insider threats are not only limited to these but also comprise of malicious intent wherein employees abuse their authorized access to leak information or cause damage.

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Best Practices for SaaS Application Security

Best practice for saas application security

In the wild sea of data breaches and security threats that your organization might be vulnerable to when using a SaaS application, it becomes all the more crucial to take necessary actions to look after your SaaS application's security and safeguard all your important data.

Read More: How To Choose A Tech Stack For SaaS Development

Here’s how you can take the security of SaaS application into your own hands:

Create a thorough security review checklist

It is crucial to bring all members of your organization on the same page when it comes to understanding the required security standards. Tackling a major security risk is never easy and may take you a long time to recover from its damage. For this, it is integral for enterprises to develop an exhaustive security review checklist to ensure appropriate security compliance.

Build robust training programs to protect employees

Create a culture of security by educating employees and creating awareness in their minds. This will help them stay updated with your organization’s security policy and act as a shield to protect and safeguard them from any security risks that they might be vulnerable to. Regularly inform and train them on how to recognize a phishing email and not fall prey to such campaigns.

Safeguarding Customers

Protecting your customers is also an essential part of maintaining SaaS application security. Educate your customers to act with caution when dealing with unfamiliar situations. Inform them about the risks and consequences of account takeovers and train them to be fully aware of password best practices, enabling two-factor authentication and recognizing phishing emails.

Adding layers of security throughout the SDLC Process

Integrating security in the SDLC process right from development to deployment can help detect SaaS security issues in each phase very early on and gives ample time to eliminate and fix bugs beforehand. This process sets the base for a secure and stronger application and makes way for secure coding best practices, particularly when codes are being reviewed.

Securing deployment

When opting for cloud deployment, dedicated SaaS vendors such as Google or Amazon help you manage areas such as SaaS data security, network security, data segregation, etc. When opting for self-deployment, you need to ensure and adopt important safety practices to prevent your applications from DoS (denial-of-service) and network penetration attacks.

Protecting your infrastructure

Protecting and securing your infrastructure is critical to ensure business continuity when facing malicious attacks such as ransomware and denial of service (Dos). The best way to deal with this is configuring and backing up data continuously along with using firewalls. Doing this also lets you track and monitor any suspicious activities happening on your SaaS application.

Compliance of audits and certifications

Organizations must comply with all the necessary certifications to protect themselves from security breaches, data theft, and loss of sensitive data. The two-must have certifications for organizations are Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) that helps safeguard sensitive information and System and Organization Controls (SOC 2) Type II that helps protect data through maintenance of the highest level of security.

Ensure end-to-end data transmission

End-to-end encryption has become the norm to ensure the security of Saas applications. What it means is even if unauthorized users get a hold of your data, they will not be able to seize any data without encryption keys. To maintain encryption during transmission, be sure to facilitate all interactions and communications via Transport Layer Security (TLS). Field-level encryption is also provided by cloud service providers to ensure that data is securely transmitted and stored.

Integrating real-time protection

Integrating real-time monitoring helps in the security of SaaS applications and safeguarding your products from critical breaches and attacks in the form of SQL injections, account takeovers, and XSS attacks. Real-time monitoring benefits you to differentiate between queries that are legitimate and malicious attacks through protection logic in the code. It also helps enhance visibility, compliance, and control.

Policies for data retention and deletion

Data retention and deletion are both legal obligations and shall be stored and deleted as required by law. Data retention helps take necessary backups and clear file space. For data retention to be applied, organizations must have clarity on what data needs to be retained. For example, names, addresses, financial records, etc. Deleting customer data that you no longer require is also a mandate that needs to be followed, non-compliance of which may lead to fines.

User-Level Data Security Monitoring

Organizations should monitor user-level data security to meet internal and external application security standards. You will receive role-based access control (RBAC) and enforced segregation of tasks from your cloud service provider. This ensures the highest level of SaaS application security and validates that only the right people have authorized access to data on SaaS applications.

Privileged access management

Most organizations give admin access account for SaaS applications to a number of employees. Even shared social media accounts are another example. The credentials for these are rarely changed and are openly shared with multiple people and teams making them easy prey for attackers and cybercriminals to latch on to. It is important to identify these accounts as privileged and take necessary actions to eliminate the risk associated with them.

Implement Security Controls

To safeguard your SaaS application from potential threats and risks associated with different assets, it is crucial for organizations to implement security controls like two-factor authorization, biometrics for login, password control policy, access management systems, data encryption, malware, and data loss prevention policy combat security risks in the most robust fashion.

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Conclusion

As data security goes onto take the highest position in the world of IT operations, securing your SaaS apps have become more crucial than ever. By putting SaaS application security at the forefront of your organization’s goals you are not only benefitting by combatting risks but also staying ahead of the competition in the industry. SaaS applications have changed the way software is used. It is a window to success and shows no signs of slowing down. Ensuring SaaS security is integral to protecting your employees and organizations and thereby helps in providing greater value to end-users.

We sincerely hope this SaaS security guide was insightful and will help you build a secure SaaS application.

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Krunal Shah

Krunal Shah is the CTO and Co-founder at Third Rock Techkno. With extensive experience gained over a decade, Krunal helps his clients build software solutions that stand out in the industry and are lighter on the pocket.

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