In the past, companies prioritized managing information technology (IT) tasks and purchasing software suites internally. Nowadays, many companies rely on external software as a service (SaaS) providers for many core functionalities that allow their businesses to thrive. However, companies providing and utilizing SaaS solutions need to account for the many risks and vulnerabilities associated with outsourced IT infrastructure via cybersecurity best practices.
Cybersecurity Best Practices for Software as a Service
SaaS providers and their clients are both stakeholders in SaaS security. Building out secure systems and maintaining all required regulatory safeguards help to keep everyone protected.
To that end, there are two critical security areas to consider when integrating SaaS solutions with your IT environment:
- Four distinct best practices that SaaS companies should adopt and incorporate into the solutions delivered to clients
- Other priorities and concerns that are shared by SaaS clients and providers
Understanding both of these areas is essential to safeguarding your company and those with which it holds SaaS service relationships.
Best Practices and Approaches for Saas Cybersecurity
A wide-ranging McKinsey study from 2019 collected company data relevant to SaaS cybersecurity trends. The survey established baselines for SaaS usage across industries, with a clear majority of respondents indicating that SaaS solutions helped them mostly with:
- Office automation
- IT services and support
- Sales-oriented functions (e.g., marketing, R&D)
- Human Resources
The study also revealed that the surveyed companies had reservations about adopting SaaS for core or sensitive functions, such as resource management, engineering, or manufacturing applications. These reservations were due primarily to the challenges that come with SaaS integration, along with priorities shared by SaaS providers and clients.
To understand the challenges and priorities, you first need to understand the industry consensus around the four best practices for SaaS cybersecurity.
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SaaS Security Practice #1: Security Monitoring and Visibility
The broadest concern among surveyed SaaS clients has to do with what McKinsey terms “security telemetry and monitoring.” This concern refers to visibility and control over all security-relevant information, such as intelligence regarding threats and vulnerabilities impacting a company (i.e., cyberthreat intelligence). The SaaS suite that addresses such is also commonly referred to as security information and event management (SIEM).
On the information side of SIEM, one impactful solution is threat and vulnerability management or a managed detection and response (MDR) program. These train their focus on threats and vulnerabilities, employing mitigation strategies by referencing threat intelligence to prevent any latent risk from turning into a full-blown attack or event.
SaaS Security Practice #2: Incident Response and Recovery
A plurality of companies surveyed indicated that they hope to see SaaS vendors employ incident response and recovery strategies. One apt solution is a robust incident management program, including:
- Identification – Immediate detection of any attack or other event as soon as it occurs
- Logging – Initial logging and cross-referencing against internal and external intelligence
- Diagnosis – In-depth analysis leading to diagnosis and development of response plan
- Assignment – Initial role and resource allocation and adjustments to mitigate the event
- Resolution – Complete resolution of all elements of the event and recovery of lost data
- Continuity – Long-term, proactive customer satisfaction and business continuity tactics
After your SaaS company initially implements these controls, it must then optimize and adjust them for the unique cybersecurity needs of all clients that you service.
SaaS Security Practice #3: Identity and Access Management
Another broad concern shared by most SaaS clients is their providers’ identity and access management (IAM). IAM combines authentication (i.e., identity verification) and authorizations to provide control and visibility over users’ access to data—especially for sensitive data, which must be protected according to industry and security regulations.
Configurable IAM access policies enforce authentication restrictions and may require users to meet multifactor authentication (MFA), date and time, or other conditions depending on their sophistication. MFA aids cybersecurity by requiring additional credentials (e.g., PIN codes, physical tokens, biometric data). An IAM solution should also enforce your company’s password policies, such as setting expiries, length, and complexity standards.
IAM governs the “who, what, where, why, and how” when it comes to user permissions after they successfully log into their network, system, application, and other accounts. Typically, authorizations are predetermined according to each user’s job role (i.e., role-based access control, or “RBAC”) or their account attributes (i.e., attribute-based access control, or “ABAC”).
SaaS Security Practice #4: Cryptography Management Suite
Finally, the most niche of the practices requested of SaaS providers by clients is also the one most desired. Per McKinsey’s study, 56 percent of SaaS clients would appreciate an emphasis on encryption and key management from their SaaS providers.
There is a bit of a disparity between how companies prioritize this issue, and it depends on their IT budgets:
- For lower IT-spend companies, 46 percent use SaaS for key hosting and management.
- For higher IT-spend companies, just 38 percent use SaaS for any element of encryption:
- 24 percent rely on SaaS providers for both key hosting and management.
- 14 percent rely on SaaS for key hosting but elect to self-manage keys.
Other Security Considerations for Software as a Service
When implementing the best practices detailed above, SaaS providers must consider the network of third parties orbiting their clients’ companies. On the client’s side, enterprises can bolster their security and the uptake of SaaS providers’ efforts by implementing a Third Party Risk Management (TPRM) program. TPRM includes visibility dashboards for all strategic partners a company has, such as vendors and contractors, whose collective risks compound.
SaaS providers should also pay careful attention to various legal and regulatory requirements a client company needs to follow. For example, any healthcare company needs to maintain HIPAA compliance as a covered entity.
Challenges Facing Both SaaS Companies and SaaS Clients
According to the McKinsey study above, many companies who utilize SaaS vendors rely on a large number of them simultaneously—about 25 percent used more than 80 unique providers. This plurality leads to significant TPRM challenges, as the volume, diversity, and severity of SaaS-related threats and vulnerabilities compounds with every vendor.
Software as a service in cloud computing examples include widespread productivity tools like Google Workspace for file management, Dropbox for flexible storage, and Salesforce for sales and customer relationship management. SaaS client-provider relationships rely on each other’s implementation of a robust cloud security suite to protect the unique attack surface that all of these integrations create.
Security and IT Priorities for SaaS Providers and Customers
Beyond implementing the best practices above—and considering the nuances of SaaS clients’ many third-party risks—the McKinsey study also suggests the following priorities for SaaS security:
- Building out agile, flexible security solutions that can adapt to clients’ evolving needs
- Scaling multiple levels of security suites for clients of different sizes and complexities
- Facilitating integrations across all client security systems proactively and aggressively
- Taking a leadership role in pioneering new data security measures in client companies
Working with a quality managed security services provider (MSSP), like RSI Security, is the best way for SaaS providers at any scale to integrate these priorities and the best practices above.
Professional Security for SaaS Companies and Clients
RSI Security has helped countless SaaS providers and clients rethink their security systems to provide their clients with top-level cybersecurity. We offer a full suite of services corresponding to the best SaaS security practices and priorities, as well as countless other services like penetration testing and comprehensive security training.
Contact us to secure your software as a service business!