Jun 24 2022
What is SaaS Application and How to Secure it

What is SaaS Application and How to Secure it?

Introduction

Cloud technology is a booming sector in today’s digital world. The business environment is trying to make the most of it from cloud-based platforms. With pandemics striking the globe, cloud applications have come to rescue business operations from remote locations. It improves connectivity and accessibility irrespective of the location. However, every technology has its advantages as well as disadvantages. In this document, let us look at the working of SaaS applications, the importance of SaaS, the threat against the SaaS platforms, and best practices to secure the SaaS applications.

What is SaaS Application?

SaaS is, otherwise known as software as a service, is a cloud-based software provider. The SaaS model replaces the traditional process where the users have to buy the software and manage themselves. In this new method, the vendor maintains the software while the user can use the application over the internet without worrying about the security and upgrades. The cloud infrastructure provides software services, including servers, databases, and storage facilities. You can avail of these cloud services through a subscription process where the payment is made only for the required services.

There are many differences between traditional applications and SaaS applications. They are as follows.

Difference Between Traditional Application and SaaS Application

Traditional Applications SaaS Applications
  1. In this model, the applications are bought through one-time purchases from the vendors.
  2. Should install the applications before using them on a device.
  3. The traditional applications run on the user’s device.
  4. Can use the application only on the installed devices.
  5. The company develops and maintains the software, requiring IT infrastructure.
  1. In the SaaS model, the users rent the applications rather than buy them.
  2. There is no need for installations; you can access the applications through the internet.
  3. The SaaS applications run in the cloud server.
  4. Can use the application on multiple devices by simply using the browser.
  5. Here, the applications are developed and maintained by the service provider on behalf of the company.

Cloud-Based Services

The SaaS application includes other cloud-based services: IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) model and PaaS (Platform as a Service) models. In the IaaS model, the vendors provide cloud servers to compute and store the data or software for rent. The cloud service provider rents the software development platform in the PaaS model, including tools, infrastructure, and other facilities required to develop new applications.

Different Cloud Services

The SaaS applications include all the IaaS and PaaS models providing fully functional cloud applications for rent or lease. These applications can be used by the clients and directly by the users through the internet. The best examples of cloud-based services are Gmail, Office 360, Netflix, Amazon, etc.

Working of Software as a Service Model

Working of SaaS Model

In the SaaS model, the vendors provide servers, databases, and software that you can access over the internet. The SaaS model is used for both personal use and organizational purposes. It gives the advantage of easy accessibility by allowing any devices to avail of the service. An example of personal use is email services.

Usually, the companies or users are intended to pay a recurring fee charged monthly or yearly to get such services. It reduces the burden on the companies in maintaining the applications and software. This model helps minimize the company’s operational cost while upgrading and maintaining the data and software quickly. Most used SaaS applications include Customer Resource Management (CRM), Accounting and Invoice, Data Management, Web Hosting, and e-commerce.

Features of SaaS Applications

  • The SaaS model is like the Application Service Provider (ASP) working with on-demand computing software services. Here, the vendor hosts the software and makes it available to users through the internet.
  • In this cloud-based architecture, a single platform is shared by both the users and the software applications.
  • SaaS is a multitenant architecture where users and applications have a single, shared infrastructure and codebase. So, it is easy to maintain it. Therefore, it will help vendors to reduce the development time.
  • The other important feature of SaaS is its customization capability. The user can easily customize the SaaS depending on their business needs. Hence it reduces the adoption cost for the user.
  • It has an advanced feature in accessing data; users can access data from any networked devices and simultaneously monitor privileges and manage data usage.
  • The interface of the SaaS application is more straightforward, like websites, so it is easy for the user to understand. You can also customize SaaS with point-and-click ease.
  • The SaaS has a flexible payment method in which the user does not need to buy software or hardware. It is entirely cloud-based; the user will only have recurring costs and zero transitioning costs. In addition, the user can un-subscribe to SaaS at any time to cut the recurring cost.
  • The user can ask the SaaS provider to update the platform automatically. It will help reduce the pain of internal IT staff by purchasing new software and configuring it.

What is SaaS Security?

As more businesses rely on SaaS applications for their day-to-day functions, it becomes essential to secure this business model. The SaaS application is accessed by many users from various devices, which poses a massive threat to user privacy and organizational data security. It is the responsibility of the service providers to manage the security of the cloud applications, which includes several vectors such as platform, network, applications, operating system, and infrastructure. The cloud-based applications can be secured using the SaaS application security tools offered by the service providers. The significant advantage of SaaS security services is that they can be implemented quickly, which shows instant results. However, most security breaches happen due to the customer’s error which can be avoided by following the best security practices.

Why is SaaS Security Important?

Various Factors Contribute to the Necessity and Importance of SaaS Security

Even though the SaaS provider offers a wide range of security options that can be opted for by the users, the clients play a huge role in managing the security of the organizational data and the user access. Nowadays, cloud applications are prone to various cyber threats such as malware attacks, phishing emails, ransomware, and more. Therefore, despite enhancing the development and usage of customized software, the SaaS applications have also created new security threats that affect user access and sensitive business data.

  1. Unlike traditional applications, SaaS apps allow the non-administrator user to perform privileged changes. The non-administrators do not know cyber security practices, leading to cyber-attack against the applications. In addition, it could result in the leak of user access details and company data.
  2. Should restrict the access of critical resources to privileged authorities based on their designation and needs. Data sharing has become simple and less time-consuming with the SaaS applications in use. In addition, the connectivity has increased due to the usage of cloud-based applications, increasing the possibility of a data breach.
  3. As the SaaS applications are provided by the ISV (Independent Software Vendor), who may also be hosting the cloud platforms, securing the applications does not entirely fall under the service provider. As a result, it creates a loophole in the security of the SaaS applications, which can be fixed by sharing the responsibility, where the service provider secures the software. In contrast, the concerned organizations themselves secure user access and data.
  4. The SaaS model facilitates administrative access from anywhere across the globe, which opens a new portal for hackers to attack the organization’s network. As more SaaS applications are used in the business world, the probability of error in the application is high. It is up to the cyber-security teams to find the threats and prevent any issues from the user side.
  5. There is a possibility that the customer data could be stored in a different geographical location from the company. It becomes difficult to secure the data in other geographical solutions when the data security laws are different.

It clarifies that securing the SaaS applications is of paramount importance to safeguard the business functions that rely on them.

The Growing Threat Landscape of SaaS

A recent study has shown that almost 40% of all SaaS data is unmanaged prone to cyber-attacks. Internal, external, or public users can easily access unsupervised data. Recent changes in the business environment have mandated many companies to adopt SaaS applications to use its adaptive features and easy accessibility. As the SaaS applications are cloud-based, we can access them from any part of the world irrespective of the location. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the companies were forced to perform critical operations from remote locations, increasing cyber-attacks and data breaches.

Gartner’s report states that the global SaaS applications revenue will grow up to 38% within 2022. And the worth of the SaaS business model is estimated to be around $140 billion. Expansion in the implementation landscape of the SaaS model has also enhanced the scope of future threats. The remote usage of SaaS applications allowed access to critical data, increasing the difficulty in managing the data and making it hard to track access to such resources. It is also possible that multiple SaaS applications could integrate to share the data, resulting in a data breach when it goes unmanaged. Therefore, an organization should take the measure to secure the SaaS applications as follows.

How to Secure SaaS Applications?

There are a few best cyber security practices to secure SaaS applications. They are as follows.

Planning A Security Strategy

The first step in securing the SaaS applications is to create a well-researched plan. Finding out the cloud applications’ vulnerabilities will help design a security strategy. However, without knowing the critical resources to be protected, it is not easy to secure the data in the SaaS platform. Therefore, it is essential to analyse a few factors before initiating the SaaS model business, including the need for SaaS, business-critical data, best service provider, vendor security, and knowledge of cyber-security teams.

Using Cryptographic Technology

Cryptography encrypts the standard text into ciphertext by assigning it with different variables. It is one of the oldest and a more efficient ways to protect data from being stolen by hackers. It means that even when the hacker extracts the data, it will be meaningless until it is decrypted using the right key. More SaaS applications use Transport Layer Security (TLS) for secured communication. This technique can also secure stored data that the vendors should provide.

Authentication Management

Authentication is a security process that ensures the safety of data and application from unauthorized access. Multi-factor authentication is the most efficient method where more than two factors are enabled to access the critical resources. For example, in addition to the traditional factors such as user id and password, the latest factors such as verification code biometric scanning are required to gain access to the data. This method prevents hackers from gaining access through social engineering hacks.

Limited Access

Unlimited access to unmanaged resources can pose a more significant threat to data security. An organization can avoid it by limiting the number of persons who can access the resource and should grant access based on the requirement. The main aim of this concept is to give the proper access to the right person at the right time. In addition, limiting access makes it easy to log the access details and changes to the data.

Control Over the Network

It is indispensable for an organization to have control over its network. First, it helps to identify the cyber-attacks in the earlier stage. It helps to manage the access instances across the network. Additional security features such as Network Access Control List (NaCl) can function as a firewall that controls traffic flow in the subnets. A company can also use other security tools such as Intrusion Detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS) can also be used to monitor traffic after entering the firewall.

Vendor Analysis

Before choosing the cloud service provider, it is essential to analyse the available vendors thoroughly. Should consider Various factors to select the suitable vendor, including services, infrastructure maintenance, security compliance, and available security features. The service provider with well establish security management framework can effectively secure the SaaS applications and data from hacker threats.

Application Monitoring Tools

Organizations can use these tools to add security to the SaaS applications when the service provider fails to provide. For example, Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) is software used to identify and fix the security gaps in all the cloud-based business models (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS). SaaS Security Posture Management is also a security tool used to analyse the application configuration and find a compromise. It can be used for both on-premises as well as cloud-based applications.

Protecting the Data

Data protection plays a vital role in eliminating data breaches in an organization. It includes both physical and virtual security measures. It is mandatory to have proper data management. Can implement proper data security measures by classifying the data according to their importance. Data such as customer information, financial details, company documents should be given more protection when compared to other data.

Storage Management

It is crucial to determine which data is required and which is not. Accumulation of an enormous amount of unwanted data will lead to a data breach. The organizations should be careful in collecting the data from the customers. For example, confidential data such as the customer’s social security number should be collected if necessary. Storing a more sizeable number of data could reduce the efficiency of the data management, which increases the possibility of data theft or leak.

Frequent Updates

The technology is developing fast, which is also applicable to cloud service models. Hackers are also finding new ways to attack the business. Therefore, it is necessary to update the cyber-security software so that it could be able to prevent the latest threats. Outdated SaaS applications could also create new vulnerabilities in the cloud platform. Regular updates to the applications can prevent the hacker from exploiting those vulnerabilities.

Make Use of Key Vaults

Key vaults are like safe vaults used to store valuable things and secrets. These are digital vaults that can store confidential information such as encryption keys, database access codes, digital documents, etc. The critical vault adds to the security layer of the cloud applications, which can either be provided by the vendors or separately used by the organization.

Recovery Plan

None of the digital technology is hackproof. Therefore, it is wise to have a well-defined recovery plan from cyber-attacks. Delay in responding to the cyber-attack will increase the damage done by the hackers. So, it is essential to take immediate action in an attack. A company can do it by educating the security team and other employees of the organization in identifying and mitigating the threat. Assigning responsibilities to the employees can improve the efficiency of the incident response.

SaaS Security Checklist for Developers

The developers must follow these good practices while developing new software or updating the existing one.

Use Authentication

The organization’s password policy should be solid, like an alphanumeric combination and a unique phrase instead of random characters so no one can guess and hack a user account information.

Monitoring Account Activity

Must monitor the account activities regularly, and you should be able to see who accessed which data in the system. So, you can do that when you suspect any suspicious activity on the system; this will help us eliminate the cyber attacker who is waiting to steal the company’s valuable information.

Encrypt All Data

The developers should encrypt sensitive information like API keys, customer records, employee records, billing info, etc. They should miss no data because any unencrypted information will become an access point for the hackers. Once they get access, they will steal all the company’s valuable records, leading to loss of reputation or loss of business for the company. So, a developer must encrypt all the data.

Use Encryption

It is essential to use proper encryption methods like TLS/SSL certificates. All the network traffic should be encrypted using those methods, which will keep hackers away from accessing our data. Using weak encryption methods like WEP or WPA to send files between servers is vulnerable. Cyber attackers can easily hack the data within a minute, and they will steal the company’s valuable information.

Secure the Servers

One of the essential steps an organization should take to avoid a breach of sensitive data is to maintain its server properly with proper security patch updates. So, you need to update the server frequently with the security patches, which helps us to ensure that there is no back-door entry into the server. The other way of maintaining the server is with the firewall. It will help to increase the security of the server. Also, it should do proper security testing in a defined time interval to find the application’s flaws and ensure it works properly.

Limiting Admin Access

The admin access is critical. If it is not used correctly, the hacker can quickly get into the system and steal the company data. Admin should only give company staff administrator privileges on any network. Admin should only give others temporary admin access, where the passwords expire after the specified timeline, and they should be monitored.

Limiting Data Access to The Employees

Only employees who need access to sensitive data should be given access. Those who do not need it should not be given access. In addition, the users must be monitored if it is given, provided they have the expiring password for a defined period.

Check for National or Regional Authorities

Another thing that a developer of SaaS needs to follow is to adhere to the local regulations. They are nations that have authorities that issue guidance on using SaaS, the country, like the UK’s national cyber security center, offers essential security reviews of SaaS products. If you follow the regulation sincerely, it will help you have a good foundation for internal security analysis.

International Standards

The company should comply with the international standard that defines maintaining information securely like ISO 27000, which gives information about how to manage the information securely and includes a set of security controls to roll out.

The Developer should compile with SOC2 auditing procedure. This auditing procedure helps the company identify whether its third-party suppliers manage all the data correctly or not and increase the security of its data. The system must be complex and have plugins, or the system’s data must move between different providers.

Conduct Audit

An organization needs to perform audits on its technology to secure data. In addition, the organization has to update itself with the current technology; otherwise, the hackers will quickly take over your network.

Check the technology used to secure the organization’s data and review the authentication options and other security limits.

Check the user activities and their access level.

Check the easiness of the Security feature and ensure that a single IT admin manages all the users appropriately. By performing the above audits in a defined time interval, the organization can find their flaws and fix them before some hackers use them to hack their network, strengthening company security.

SaaS Challenges

SaaS development and implementation are not easy as it seems. The biggest challenges of SaaS are as follows.

Visibility

The companies mostly use over 200 SaaS applications. Each one will be different, making it too difficult to track by an IT team. But the crucial problem is the lack of knowledge about the application and its capabilities.

Due to this overload, the IT could not put their requirement when the department purchases a new SaaS product because it is decentralized. As a result, each department will purchase their SaaS as and when required, which leads to a lack of IT intel stemming from the shadow IT.

For example, the company may buy or place an order for an application that department already has a similar one. The best way for the organization is to let IT negotiate an enterprise plan with the vendor.

Problem in Integration

If the application is not integrated correctly, it may lead to multiple issues. For example, suppose the accounting and sales data are not appropriately synced with the CRM, and the user keeps on updating the changes and uploading files to the different systems. In that case, the system can go wrong across the organization. It will result in generating wrong bills and sending to some wrong recipients.

Performance Issues

If the SaaS users are far from the data centres may face latency and performance issues if an organization does not have a broad cloud strategy. And those who purchased SaaS without proper consultation will end up wasting more money and managing data poorly, which means even more work and IT hours.

Time Constraints

Moving to the cloud from on-premises will take some time which affects the business operations and revenue of the business. So usually, the business transition to the cloud will be in a rush to get the application and services up and running. Therefore, the businesses need to be planned carefully to avoid any interruptions in service.

Access Control

Another major challenge an enterprise will face while transitioning into the cloud is access control. Usually, the admin will control all the access, but they might also lose track of it during transition time. If you move from traditional software to a SaaS solution, the access transition will not be that smooth.

Budgeting

When it comes to budgeting for a SaaS subscription, the IT and procurement team should be more careful and have proper knowledge and understanding of the application. It will lead to poor budgeting, and the company will unnecessarily spend more money.

Companies will overspend on the SaaS application than they need to due to unnecessary tools that are auto renewed or the poor negotiation with the software vendors. If this happens, the company will prevent itself from investing in the necessary application, especially important for business growth. So, IT must help the company make the proper budget, leading to a worthwhile investment and improving the business revenue.

Vendor Management

Managing more applications lets enterprises deal with more vendors, contracts, and renewals. However, it makes the team busy in their full-time job, and it can lead them to lose track of the application’s subscription.

So, an organization needs to have a proper system to organize contracts, renewal dates, and mission-critical details. If a company does not have that, it may risk subscribing to unwanted software.

Security Risk

Before subscribing to the SaaS while sending a requirement to the IT team, the primary concern will be the risk associated with the application. So, the IT teams must check the SaaS application compliances and the SaaS provider reputations before subscribing to it. Because the IT team allows a single unsecure application or unauthorized access into their network, it will lead to cybercriminals. It could vanish their sensitive data, spoiling the company’s reputation and leading to loss of business. It is why IT teams should work hard before purchasing or subscribing to any application for their organization.

Another critical risk the organization faces when transitioning to cloud-based services is data security. Recent research shows that 66% of people use the same password for most of their accounts. Furthermore, many of them use a simple password like 123456, which means if a provider gets hacked, the chances are bright that the providers’ customers can also be hacked and steal their data.

It is one of the severe threats for the organization to overcome. Therefore, businesses take various security measures, like implementing two-step authentication and encrypting the storage and transmission data.

High Integration Cost

Regular IT resources cannot do SaaS integration. It requires highly skilled professional resources for which the company has to spend some extra money which is a high cost. The company has to hire an external resource for this job. The best way to cut down this cost would be selecting a suitable service company that provides seamless integration with all other systems in the company, which should preferably come with an open API.

Hyper-Specialization

Most SaaS service providers say that they offer all-in-one solutions for their customers. Still, the SaaS solution improves the application only in one or two things. So, the company has to approach multiple solutions for different purposes. It is a burden for a company, leading to a hyper-specialization. So, the company needs to make sure the solutions they are planning to use are playing well.

In Proper Attention to SLA

The SLA (Service Level Agreement) is a document that provides the terms agreed by both the company and SaaS provider. It will have what to expect from the SaaS provider and the action plan if something goes wrong. If a business is not aware of what they have agreed, it can lead to a relationship issue between the provider and the business in the long term. So, a business needs to check the SLA and understand that clearly by both parties to maintain a good relationship between them. The long-term relationship will always give a profitable business for both parties. It is a Win-Win deal for them.

Upgrades Issue

You should always keep data as your main priority when you decide to upgrade the application. Now, this is the age of auto-renewals. Therefore, you have to be careful; otherwise, due to upgrades, you may be in issues. If you have to protect the data, ensure you have user insight to monitor the upgrades.

Conclusion

As businesses are moving to global platforms, SaaS applications are easy to use, which increases the organization’s productivity and helps to reach more customers. However, there is no single solution to prevent the threat landscape of cloud-based applications. It is the responsibility of the organizations to select and implement security measures suitable to their applications and functions.