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SaaS security in a nutshell - 10 best practices to protect client's data

Business in the clouds

Until recently, most applications used by companies ran on internal servers. This solution had its pluses - clear security policies and operating structure, but also limitations, such as less scalability and flexibility. Today's business world is dominated by cloud-based SaaS products. There are several good reasons behind this:

Why are SaaS products so popular?

  • Customization for the common user, not necessarily a technology expert.
  • Ease of implementation; most do not require the support of an IT expert to use them.
  • Convenience in remote companies, when employees work from different cities, countries, and continents, and all tools, data, and communication channels are available to them. 
  • Lower license prices because they are based on a shared or multi-tenant environment.
  • High scalability. SaaS systems usually function in the cloud and are integrated with other tools. Thanks to that, the user does not have to buy another server or software - it is enough to use available integrations and adjust the system to the company's needs.

Security is everything in the case of data

In 2020, up to 65% of companies experienced at least one cyber attack. Any system in which many people have access to data requires a special focus on security. In the case of SaaS products, businesses can even face completely new threats like malware and phishing attacks. Of course, that doesn't mean SaaS users are doomed and have to worry about their data all the time. There are many ways to improve SaaS security. And here are they: 

10 principles of SaaS security

1. Shared Responsibility

In open systems like SaaS products, the level of security depends on two main factors - technology and usage. The first is the responsibility of the provider - he must create a product that is safe to use with certain rules. On the other hand, it depends on the users whether they will follow these rules and use the application safely. It is like driving a car. The manufacturer creates a vehicle that meets the appropriate technical parameters - it has working brakes, airbags, and seat belts. The rest is in the hands of the driver. If he drives over the speed limit, violates traffic laws, or gets behind the wheel drunk - even the best technical protection may not be enough to ensure their safety. In the same way, the key to SaaS security is shared responsibility between user and provider.

2. Access and role management 

In many organizations, employees use one common administrator account in the application, share login credentials, or never log out of the system. In many cases, people outside the organization, such as freelancers or subcontractors, are also given access to systems containing sensitive information. As a result, the organization loses control over what happens to its data because every person who has access to it is a potential gateway for a cyber attack. 

How to protect against this? It's a good idea to assign admin privileges carefully and use roles and custom permissions so that each employee has access to only the features and information they need. Make sure that credentials are secured and additionally protected, for example, with multi-factor authentication, which we will talk about later. It is also important to be able to trace the activity undertaken from the admin account so that security vulnerabilities can be detected.

3. Update in case of employees turnover

When an employee is leaving the company, it’s always a lot of paperwork and technical issues - you need to cancel benefits such as sports cards or medical packages, collect equipment, change the status of projects and prepare the onboarding of the person who will take over new responsibilities. In these situations, it's easy to forget to revoke a departing employee's access to tools and applications. Drives and clouds, email addresses, slack, social media accounts, customer information - all of these can be sources of potential leaks, especially if the employee who left the company still has access to login credentials or was logged in on private devices. 

4. Multi-factor authentication

Single-factor authentication is a way to gain access to an application based simply on a login, such as an email address and a matching password. This is still the most popular method of logging into many SaaS applications, but a much more secure alternative is multi-factor authentication. In this situation, in addition to entering the correct password, you need another factor to log in. This could be a number code or a special key. You know this mechanism from many banking activities, for example, to make a larger transfer, you need to log in to the banking application using your login and password and then confirm the transfer by entering the code that the bank sent to you via SMS. 

5. Encryption

Encryption is a method of data security that makes data unreadable without the use of a key. By encryption, the original text, the so-called plain text, is changed into an unreadable record, the so-called ciphertext. In this case, an authorized user has to apply a key, such as a string of numbers, to decrypt the encrypted text and read the original content. This practice is a simple but extremely effective method of securing data from cyberattacks. 

6. Password security

Application passwords are often the weakest points in SaaS product security. First, they are often used by multiple people on different devices. Second, these passwords are often easy to remember and therefore also easy to crack, such as "Admin123" or "Company_Name_2022". Third, companies rarely change passwords, sometimes using the same login credentials for several years. Fourth, passwords are not properly stored and secured. Companies use many applications, and it is hard to require an employee to remember 20 complicated passwords for each application. For this reason, companies have all of their passwords stored somewhere. That "somewhere" usually means a file on a drive where all the credentials are handed to a potential cybercriminal on a plate. 

For passwords to work as they should, they need to be extra protected. A strong password is very important, ideally, it should be a random string of letters, numbers, and characters. Also, do not use the same password for different applications and change them regularly. It is known that passwords that no one remembers are not good protection (unless from the employees themselves), so you need to store them in some way. Here a great solution will be just mentioned encryption, thanks to which you will protect the file with your credentials. Many programs will help you to secure the relevant data easily.

7. Data storage and processing

SaaS security equals data security. According to 65.75% of cybersecurity IT professionals, the biggest potential sources of data leakage are cloud storage, file sharing, and email. To improve SaaS security, the most important thing is to make sure WHAT data will be collected by applications and whether it is data the user knowingly consents to. Another issue is WHERE the data will be collected and WHO will have access to it. This is especially important in situations where SaaS products are integrated with other applications. Finally, it is crucial to verify IF the SaaS product provider has a clearly defined data security policy and privacy track record. 

8. Procedures and contingency plan

Taking care of data security is a habit like any other. And proper procedures help in forming habits. Prepare a data security scenario, for example, in the form of a checklist, and each time methodically check whether all points have been met. The key to protecting data is also knowing that something can always go wrong. If this is the case, it's a good idea to have a contingency plan in place beforehand - procedures that can be carried out to minimize losses and stop the threat in the event of a cyber attack. 

9. Updated knowledge

The principles of cyber security are changing and evolving all the time, as potential threats change and evolve just as quickly. To effectively protect your data, you need to regularly update your knowledge of the latest methods and technologies that allow you to do so and implement them in your policies. 

10. Awareness

Many of us live in a kind of information bubble where cyber-attacks are the concern of large organizations, political groups, and other big players in the business world. Meanwhile, data is the currency of the digital world, and anyone can fall victim to data theft. Small businesses and private users are often the easiest targets for such attacks because they don't believe they can become one. The first and most important principle of SaaS security is to know that the duty to protect data applies to everyone who has access to it. 

SaaS security isn't that hard

SaaS products are becoming increasingly popular, and this trend will continue because they are cheaper, more convenient and flexible. While it may seem like it will take forever to implement proper security procedures, it's not that difficult, and the effort invested will pay off in increased productivity, and better company performance.

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Olha Kurinna
Olha Kurinna
Content Specialist
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SaaS security in a nutshell - 10 best practices to protect client's data

May 13, 2022
10
minutes read
audio description available
TL;DR

SaaS security is one of the hottest topics in digital business today. As more and more companies use such solutions and their characteristics are quite different from the well-known in-house solutions, providers and users of SaaS products face new challenges but also opportunities when it comes to protecting sensitive data.

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SaaS security in a nutshell - 10 best practices to protect client's data
SaaS security in a nutshell - 10 best practices to protect client's data

Business in the clouds

Until recently, most applications used by companies ran on internal servers. This solution had its pluses - clear security policies and operating structure, but also limitations, such as less scalability and flexibility. Today's business world is dominated by cloud-based SaaS products. There are several good reasons behind this:

Why are SaaS products so popular?

  • Customization for the common user, not necessarily a technology expert.
  • Ease of implementation; most do not require the support of an IT expert to use them.
  • Convenience in remote companies, when employees work from different cities, countries, and continents, and all tools, data, and communication channels are available to them. 
  • Lower license prices because they are based on a shared or multi-tenant environment.
  • High scalability. SaaS systems usually function in the cloud and are integrated with other tools. Thanks to that, the user does not have to buy another server or software - it is enough to use available integrations and adjust the system to the company's needs.

Security is everything in the case of data

In 2020, up to 65% of companies experienced at least one cyber attack. Any system in which many people have access to data requires a special focus on security. In the case of SaaS products, businesses can even face completely new threats like malware and phishing attacks. Of course, that doesn't mean SaaS users are doomed and have to worry about their data all the time. There are many ways to improve SaaS security. And here are they: 

10 principles of SaaS security

1. Shared Responsibility

In open systems like SaaS products, the level of security depends on two main factors - technology and usage. The first is the responsibility of the provider - he must create a product that is safe to use with certain rules. On the other hand, it depends on the users whether they will follow these rules and use the application safely. It is like driving a car. The manufacturer creates a vehicle that meets the appropriate technical parameters - it has working brakes, airbags, and seat belts. The rest is in the hands of the driver. If he drives over the speed limit, violates traffic laws, or gets behind the wheel drunk - even the best technical protection may not be enough to ensure their safety. In the same way, the key to SaaS security is shared responsibility between user and provider.

2. Access and role management 

In many organizations, employees use one common administrator account in the application, share login credentials, or never log out of the system. In many cases, people outside the organization, such as freelancers or subcontractors, are also given access to systems containing sensitive information. As a result, the organization loses control over what happens to its data because every person who has access to it is a potential gateway for a cyber attack. 

How to protect against this? It's a good idea to assign admin privileges carefully and use roles and custom permissions so that each employee has access to only the features and information they need. Make sure that credentials are secured and additionally protected, for example, with multi-factor authentication, which we will talk about later. It is also important to be able to trace the activity undertaken from the admin account so that security vulnerabilities can be detected.

3. Update in case of employees turnover

When an employee is leaving the company, it’s always a lot of paperwork and technical issues - you need to cancel benefits such as sports cards or medical packages, collect equipment, change the status of projects and prepare the onboarding of the person who will take over new responsibilities. In these situations, it's easy to forget to revoke a departing employee's access to tools and applications. Drives and clouds, email addresses, slack, social media accounts, customer information - all of these can be sources of potential leaks, especially if the employee who left the company still has access to login credentials or was logged in on private devices. 

4. Multi-factor authentication

Single-factor authentication is a way to gain access to an application based simply on a login, such as an email address and a matching password. This is still the most popular method of logging into many SaaS applications, but a much more secure alternative is multi-factor authentication. In this situation, in addition to entering the correct password, you need another factor to log in. This could be a number code or a special key. You know this mechanism from many banking activities, for example, to make a larger transfer, you need to log in to the banking application using your login and password and then confirm the transfer by entering the code that the bank sent to you via SMS. 

5. Encryption

Encryption is a method of data security that makes data unreadable without the use of a key. By encryption, the original text, the so-called plain text, is changed into an unreadable record, the so-called ciphertext. In this case, an authorized user has to apply a key, such as a string of numbers, to decrypt the encrypted text and read the original content. This practice is a simple but extremely effective method of securing data from cyberattacks. 

6. Password security

Application passwords are often the weakest points in SaaS product security. First, they are often used by multiple people on different devices. Second, these passwords are often easy to remember and therefore also easy to crack, such as "Admin123" or "Company_Name_2022". Third, companies rarely change passwords, sometimes using the same login credentials for several years. Fourth, passwords are not properly stored and secured. Companies use many applications, and it is hard to require an employee to remember 20 complicated passwords for each application. For this reason, companies have all of their passwords stored somewhere. That "somewhere" usually means a file on a drive where all the credentials are handed to a potential cybercriminal on a plate. 

For passwords to work as they should, they need to be extra protected. A strong password is very important, ideally, it should be a random string of letters, numbers, and characters. Also, do not use the same password for different applications and change them regularly. It is known that passwords that no one remembers are not good protection (unless from the employees themselves), so you need to store them in some way. Here a great solution will be just mentioned encryption, thanks to which you will protect the file with your credentials. Many programs will help you to secure the relevant data easily.

7. Data storage and processing

SaaS security equals data security. According to 65.75% of cybersecurity IT professionals, the biggest potential sources of data leakage are cloud storage, file sharing, and email. To improve SaaS security, the most important thing is to make sure WHAT data will be collected by applications and whether it is data the user knowingly consents to. Another issue is WHERE the data will be collected and WHO will have access to it. This is especially important in situations where SaaS products are integrated with other applications. Finally, it is crucial to verify IF the SaaS product provider has a clearly defined data security policy and privacy track record. 

8. Procedures and contingency plan

Taking care of data security is a habit like any other. And proper procedures help in forming habits. Prepare a data security scenario, for example, in the form of a checklist, and each time methodically check whether all points have been met. The key to protecting data is also knowing that something can always go wrong. If this is the case, it's a good idea to have a contingency plan in place beforehand - procedures that can be carried out to minimize losses and stop the threat in the event of a cyber attack. 

9. Updated knowledge

The principles of cyber security are changing and evolving all the time, as potential threats change and evolve just as quickly. To effectively protect your data, you need to regularly update your knowledge of the latest methods and technologies that allow you to do so and implement them in your policies. 

10. Awareness

Many of us live in a kind of information bubble where cyber-attacks are the concern of large organizations, political groups, and other big players in the business world. Meanwhile, data is the currency of the digital world, and anyone can fall victim to data theft. Small businesses and private users are often the easiest targets for such attacks because they don't believe they can become one. The first and most important principle of SaaS security is to know that the duty to protect data applies to everyone who has access to it. 

SaaS security isn't that hard

SaaS products are becoming increasingly popular, and this trend will continue because they are cheaper, more convenient and flexible. While it may seem like it will take forever to implement proper security procedures, it's not that difficult, and the effort invested will pay off in increased productivity, and better company performance.

Olha Kurinna
Olha Kurinna
Content Specialist
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