The need for a solid SaaS security checklist, that would bridge the gap between innovation and assurance, remains vital for SaaS companies, as security is still a number one concern when it comes to the adoption of SaaS software. These doubts are understandable, given that 55% of businesses with SaaS solutions in place have experienced at least one security incident in the last two years.
What can SaaS providers do to ensure that their statement about secure-by-design software isn’t just lip service? In this article, our vetted experts highlight the risks of SaaS and share how to get your solution security on lock.
Major SaaS security concerns putting your solution at stake
Just as the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, it plays out the same way for software as a service security in cloud computing. Here are four most common SaaS threats that can imperil the overall security level of your solution.
- Misconfiguration remains the biggest cloud security risk organizations have to face. When security teams fail to configure SaaS software appropriately, or too many roles within the company have access to the SaaS security controls, it can lead to exposing customer data, its leakage, or theft.
- Insecure APIs. Jeopardizing the APIs’ security is the second largest of all OWASP API security risks. Session tokens in URLs can be leveraged by cyber attackers, resulting in unauthorized access to SaaS solutions or a data breach.
- Unauthorized access. A lack of data encryption and irresponsible key management can also have dire consequences, such as exposing confidential data and personally identifiable information that your customers have entrusted you as their SaaS vendor. Sometimes unauthorized access can take a toll on your business, as happened to LastPass after two security breaches in 2022.
- Inability to meet regulatory requirements. Сomplying with international and industry-specific regulations is a must for SaaS providers. However, undergoing ISO certification or covering HIPAA SaaS compliance, etc. is easier said than done. Such challenges are usually put off until the eleventh hour.
Check how we helped a global security tech provider prepare to obtain ISO27001:2013 certification
8 SaaS security best practices to fortify your software
Based on the major SaaS vulnerabilities mentioned earlier, *instinctools’ experts have identified SaaS security best practices to follow so that your product’s safety won’t hinder customer adoption.
1. Adopt security-first mindset within the company
Keeping an eye on security risks from the very beginning of product development and monitoring security threats through real-time discovery after the solution’s rollout is the surest way to ward off most of the SaaS security issues.
Shifting security left, to the software development life cycle (SDLC), can be done by leveraging the DevSecOps approach. To hone your security level without sacrificing deployment speed, we advise you to bank on:
- Threat modeling to uncover weak points and critical vulnerabilities in your solution before they turn into real SaaS threats.
- Automated security testing to get a static, dynamic, and interactive CI/CD pipeline security analysis.
Adopting a security-first mindset goes beyond integrating DevOps practices right from the start of product development. It’s also about raising security awareness among employees outside security teams.
48% of US software and IT companies allow their staff to work fully remotely, and 51% of respondents offer hybrid arrangements. SaaS vendors are no exception, so they have to monitor employees’ devices and guard their organization’s data with a comprehensive BYOD (bring your own device) policy. For instance, to perfect SaaS data security within the company, the following can be done:
- Leverage SSL certificates to ensure secure connection for your employees anywhere anytime;
- Stipulate automated wiping of data on the staff’s devices after failed login attempts.
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2. Stay compliant with all the necessary industry and location-specific regulations
Legal compliance isn’t just a best practice, it’s a requirement for SaaS providers. Following industry-specific world-wide and local regulations can be worth a thousand words if you want to prove your reliability to potential SaaS customers.
For example, if US-based SaaS vendors offer their software to EU-located clients, they should stay compliant not only with GDPR but also with local regulations, such as the Data Governance Act (DGA), ePrivacy Directive, Open Data Directive, to name a few.
If you provide SaaS industry-specific software, you have to take this into account, as local industry regulations may differ. Let’s take the healthcare sector as an example. In the US, you must comply with HITECH and HIPAA SaaS requirements as a software provider.
However, if you want to expand your market reach and offer your solution, let’s say, in Canada, you’ll need to follow PIPEDA stipulations. This act is quite similar to HIPAA, but there are still differences, the violation of which can cost you up to $100,000. For instance, PIPEDA applies to all customer data, while HIPAA covers only healthcare-related confidential data.
3. Ensure secure API and authentication
API endpoints’ vulnerabilities and authentication flaws set the stage for unauthorized access to sensitive information. To derisk end-customers data, build multifactor authentication (MFA) in your software. It’s one of the standard SaaS authentication methods that shields personal and sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. However, going through it every time when opening an app can become a burden for end users.
You can simplify SaaS data protection without compromising security by providing customers with a single sign-on (SSO) option when they can safely log in to the system with their company’s Google, Microsoft, etc. accounts. For instance, OAuth 2.0 protocol is one of the widespread ways to ease signing and logging into the scads of a company’s apps.
Just as MFA and SSO are must-have preventive measures to implement in your SaaS solution, they’re also critical to adopt within your company, where the software is being crafted. Neglecting these standards puts the security of your SaaS users’ data at stake.
For instance, your employees should be aware that cybercriminals can bombard them with fake MFA push notifications to compromise their accounts, as it happened with SolarWinds. The corporation’s security structure was busted because employees routinely approved a push notification — essentially, the company’s staff invited the attackers to the system’s core. Therefore, if your SaaS solution is targeted at companies related to healthcare, finance, or politics, you shouldn’t take MFA lightly or let approving push notifications become staff’s “second nature.”
Keep the bar of your SaaS network security high
4. Bring efficient IAM controls
In the SaaS development process, robust authentication goes hand in hand with solid identity and access management (IAM). Efficient IAM controls empower SaaS providers to:
- Log and monitor all access attempts to have complete visibility across the system and spot attackers right off the bat.
- Set different access rights within the company based on their role (RBAC), identity (IBAC), or attributes (ABAC).
However, consider that any control over data access, processing, and monitoring impacts the system’s performance. More importantly, each security enhancement increases the solution’s complexity for end users. As a SaaS provider, you have to juggle one and the other to provide customers with user-friendly software while keeping their confidential data safe.
Stop intruders at the front door
5. Make robust data encryption a table stake
Data protection regulations such as GDPR, D-DPA, etc., impose restrictions on using customers’ personally identifiable information for decision-making. Therefore, as a SaaS provider, you’ll need to leverage data encryption techniques such as data scrambling and data substitution to ensure users’ anonymity, while still being able to know your customers better. With such an approach, personal data is modified to ensure that it cannot be matched to individuals. However, you still can effectively use this anonymized data to analyze, for example, a product’s popularity in different regions.
SaaS data protection entails a greater responsibility level, than in the IaaS model, where data encryption is a customer’s duty.
As a SaaS vendor, you should bet on symmetric or asymmetric data encryption to get control of sensitive data, whether it’s at rest, in use, or in motion. With symmetric encryption, the same key per session is used for encryption and decryption. While asymmetric encryption implies two keys – public for data encryption and private for its decryption.
These are the protocols you can leverage to secure data in its different states:
- TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) for the data in motion. Guard emails, files, etc., moved between applications, networks, computers, etc. And no matter how trivial it may seem, if your SaaS solution is web-based, use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) protocol to minimize SaaS security risks.
- Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) for the data in use. Defend data storage and files that are currently open.
- Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for the data at rest. This protocol is a top choice for safeguarding databases, cloud storage assets, and file archives.
6. Run regular security audits
Data encryption means performing regular security audits, both internal and external, as part of your SaaS data encryption strategy. Knowing the potential risks of your software and understanding how to nip them in a bud can help you become a more reliable vendor for your SaaS customers. Auditing your solution lets you catch sight of minor issues before they turn into a real threat looming over your solution.
What are the vital components of an efficient security audit? Instinctools’ experts gear you up with the most essential steps of a SaaS audit checklist:
- Review your security policies. Inspect the data encryption protocols you use for the data in motion, in use, and at rest, and evaluate how well they do their job. For example, if you use DES (Data Encryption Standard) to secure sensitive information at rest, it may be time to switch to a more sophisticated AES protocol.
- Check your coding. Don’t underestimate the importance of secure coding standards. Measuring code quality implies reviewing its efficiency, security, reliability, and maintainability. If one of these parameters has weak spots, for example, you uncover missing initialization, it puts the whole SaaS solution at risk.
- Perform various security tests. If you want to comply with regulations such as HIPAA, ISO, IEC, SOC 2, etc., you’ll need to undergo a lot of security tests, including vulnerability scanning, security assessment, penetration testing, and compliance audit. Thereby you’ll prove the solid security level of your SaaS solution.
It’s also important to distinguish between internal and external security audits.
- Internal audits depend mostly on your capacity – you can run them whenever you have spare time and free hands. We suggest setting an automated trigger for such audits and conducting them before every solution’s update and release of a new feature.
- External audits, on the contrary, are performed by specialized third-party organizations, require a sizable chunk of your budget, and take at least several weeks. Therefore, act according to your industry’s SaaS considerations.
As a SaaS provider, who wants to safeguard their solution from external threats, you can require a security audit for any third-party software integrating with your application to mitigate security risks.
7. Provide a comprehensive disaster recovery plan
SaaS risk assessment during a security audit leads to developing an incident response plan and disaster recovery (DR) plan as security measures to tackle outages and other issues if they happen. You should ensure data backups are in place and easily accessible to minimize operational disruption when disaster strikes and enable business continuity even in the case of major security blunders.
As a SaaS vendor, you have to provide your clients with a DR plan that meets two performance goals agreed upon with the customer:
- Recovery Point Objective (RPO). This measure determines the amount of data that could be lost in an incident. For example, it can be data for the last 15 minutes.
- Recovery Time Objective (RTO). This standard describes how much time you’ll need to recover the lost data. For example, you can set one week for the task.
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8. Leverage expert support
Even with an in-house IT team, you can lack specific expertise to deal with SaaS security monitoring. Or you may need a safe pair of hands to get over mind-boggling security audits before obtaining compliance with new regulation requirements. Don’t hesitate to reach out to skilled professionals.
Get your SaaS security on lock
Checklist on how to secure SaaS applications: *instinctools edition
As you can see, once you follow SaaS security best practices and rely on battle-tested expertise, managing SaaS security challenges will no longer seem daunting and overwhelming. We’ve summarized the best practices and security measures to focus on.
Securing SaaS isn’t a one-and-done endeavor — it’s a continuous process
Since security is one of the SaaS trends that are here to stay, as a SaaS vendor, you should amp up the security level of your solution. But consider that the diversity of security requirements doesn’t allow you to stir SaaS security risks away one by one. For example, you can’t state providing efficient IAM controls without secure APIs, just as running regular security audits makes no sense if it doesn’t lead to creating a robust disaster recovery plan. Therefore, you should address all these issues holistically.
Want to get rid of SaaS security concerns and craft fail-safe software?
SaaS security policy covers compliance with security regulations, authentication methods, identity and access management, types of data encryption, security audits frequency, and disaster recovery plan. It should be comprehensive enough to serve as a basis for your SaaS security strategy.
The four SaaS security issues you should address in the first place are misconfigurations, insecure APIs, unauthorized access, and reaching regulatory compliance. All of them can be dealt with by following eight SaaS security best practices — security-first mindset, compliance with industry- and country-specific regulations, secure APIs, IAM controls, data encryption, regular security audits, data recovery plan, and reaching out to security professionals.
Primary measures for securing SaaS applications are:
– Data encryption
– Keeping a weather eye on authentication and access controls
– Providing solid incident response and data recovery plans.