SaaS applications form the backbone of modern businesses, accounting for 70% of total software usage. Apps like Box, Google Workplace, and Microsoft 365 are an integral part of daily operations. This widespread adoption has turned them into potential breeding grounds for cyber threats. Every SaaS application presents unique security challenges, and the landscape is constantly evolving as vendors improve their security features. Additionally, the dynamic nature of user governance, including onboarding, deprovisioning, and role adjustments, further complicates the security equation.
With great convenience comes great responsibility, as securing these SaaS applications has become a top priority for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and IT teams around the world.
Effectively securing SaaS applications requires a delicate balance between robust security measures and enabling users to perform their tasks efficiently. To navigate this complex terrain, this article extracts a step by step guide to establish a robust SaaS security strategy – from planning to execution and performance measurement.
Map your applications and security requirements
Before embarking on a SaaS security journey, it is imperative to understand your organization’s specific landscape and its security needs. While apps like Salesforce and Microsoft 365 may hold more critical data, even smaller niche apps used by diverse teams may store sensitive information that needs to be protected.
Consider the regulatory and compliance requirements applicable to your business. Industries such as finance adhere to SOX, while healthcare organizations must comply with HIPAA. Understanding your regulatory environment is essential to shaping your security strategy.
Additionally, prioritize user access and data privacy. Implementing the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) ensures that users have access to only the data required for their roles, reducing the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access. If your applications process personally identifiable information (PII), make sure your security program complies with privacy laws.
Here is some basic information you should collect for each application:
To read the complete Kickstarting Your SaaS Security Program guide, Click here.
Map your existing security ecosystem and how you plan to integrate SaaS security tools and processes
To be most effective, your SaaS security program must integrate tightly with existing infrastructure. It should connect to the organization’s identity provider (IdP) for effective user governance and to your single sign-on (SSO) provider to make it harder for unauthorized users to access the SaaS stack. These integrations improve the protection of your applications and make the work of security professionals easier.
It’s also important to integrate your SaaS security tools with existing SOC, SIEM, and SOAR tools. The SOC team can analyze alerts and quickly determine required mitigation measures. Meanwhile, SIEM can manage events while SOAR can orchestrate remediation, deprovision users, and automate many of the mitigations needed to secure the SaaS stack.
Identify stakeholders and define responsibilities
SaaS security is a collaborative effort involving multiple stakeholders. Business units manage SaaS applications with a focus on productivity, while the security team’s priority is data protection. Bridging the gap between these groups and deciphering the unique language of each SaaS application’s settings is a challenge.
Effective SaaS security requires collaboration and compromise between these parties to mitigate risk without hindering productivity.
Set short and long term goals
Creating a successful SaaS security program requires clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress. Start with a pilot program focused on critical applications managed by different departments. Establish a timeline for the pilot project, usually around three months, and set realistic goals for improvement.
A posture score, measured on a scale of 0 to 100%, can help assess security effectiveness. Aim to maintain a score above 80% at the end of a three-month pilot program and aim for a long-term score of 90-100%.
Increase your initial security posture
Start by securing high-risk, low-touch items in collaboration with application owners. Close communication is essential to understanding the impact of security changes on workflows and processes. Address high-risk security controls affecting a small number of employees first. Use security posture management solutions to guide remediation efforts based on application, security domain, or severity.
Some organizations choose to improve their posture one application at a time. Others improve posture by domain across multiple applications, while still others choose to fix issues by severity, regardless of application. Regardless of which model you choose, it is important to develop a process to help you systematically move forward with your applications.
Schedule ongoing check-in meetings to maintain and continue to improve your posture
Frequent meetings with stakeholders involved in the rehabilitation are essential, especially during the pilot phase. As the situation stabilizes, adjust the frequency of these meetings to ensure lasting security.
Continue to integrate and monitor additional applications to improve the security of your entire SaaS stack.
Adopt a strict identity and access governance policy
Adopt the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) to restrict user access to critical tools and data. Deprovision users who no longer need access to minimize risks associated with active accounts. Regularly monitor external users, especially those with administrator rights, to protect application data.
By adhering to these principles and following a structured approach, organizations can establish a robust SaaS security program. Remember that SaaS security is an ongoing process, and continuous adaptation and improvement are essential to staying ahead of evolving threats across the digital landscape.