Is SSO Enough for SaaS Security?

Nov 29, 2022

Nov 29, 2022

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4 min

To overcome the inherent limits to identity management and SSO, security leaders rely on the SaaS security control plane (SSCP) for visibility, risk mitigation, and access control.

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Josh Mayfield
VP Product Marketing
Is SSO Enough for SaaS Security?
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Single sign-on (SSO) has undoubtedly affected many aspects of IT and IT security — SSO security simplifies authentication for businesses, enabling employees to access applications more efficiently. Enterprises rely on federated identity management to transfer trust, enabling“single sign-on” for SaaS access control for managed SaaS services.  

However, SSO also presents some downsides, especially with SaaS. Most SaaS services, apps, and tenants remain accessible via passwords, exposing identities and credentials unreachable for SSO. Security leaders often ask, “Is SSO secure?” can quickly discover the constraints, including its security risks and how to curtail potential risks.

What Does SSO Do Well?

Businesses use multiple SaaS services and apps, many of which require users to insert a username or password. SSO provides one set of credentials for logging in, making accessing the necessary information to perform tasks easier. Although SSO does not allow companies to go fully passwordless, it alleviates the stress of remembering a different ID and password for every service. 

While SSO solutions are convenient, they feature limitations that can make businesses more susceptible to security risks. Aspects that restrict SSO effectiveness include:

  • Scope: SSO cannot monitor or manage SaaS applications that are not officially purchased and implemented by IT departments.
  • Cost: Besides the initial cost for SSO, businesses may also need to pay additional fees to SaaS services for licensing and integration. Onboarding can be an expensive process, as well. 
  • Complexity: Since users only have one set of credentials, their choices must be strong and incorporate multiple characters. This can make passwords too complicated.
  • Inefficiency: Should SSO go down, users cannot access any applications. The same holds if the identity provider (IdP) goes offline. 
  • Changing SaaS: SaaS is dynamic — many SaaS services and apps will change in just a few years—statistically, more than 60 percent of the SaaS estate churns every two years. Additionally, obsolete or unused SaaS tends to fall outside the capacity of SSO access, making it difficult to know if these SaaS expose businesses to risk.

What Are the Security Risks from the Limitations of SSO?

SSO limitations are not just a problem in and of themselves — they also have implications for SaaS security. Consider the following risks that commonly arise: 

Lack of SaaS Usage Awareness

The enterprise SaaS layer is diverse, multi-faceted, and remains the largest shadow ingress. SaaS also comes with an outsized impact—because organizations use SaaS to control and operate everything else, from factories to finance, IT to HR — the modern enterprise runs on SaaS. Security managers cannot know what data is exposed in unsanctioned SaaS. These services and apps can account for up to 80 percent of all SaaS resources.  Compounding the challenge, nearly 50 percent of SaaS services change every year, with a continuous SaaS adoption and SaaS abandonment.

"Increasingly, business-critical operations are performed via SaaS services, existing entirely outside the corporate network, making traditional controls ineffective. New controls are needed to address these new realities."  Gartner, 2022

Inability to Oversee Most SaaS Usage

As SaaS usage increases, IT teams may find governance a more convoluted process. When assessing a risk management strategy, CISOs need to know not only to factor in how much SaaS employees use but also the number of people using a particular app and the type of data it stores. Having employees log in with SSO alone may make supervision infeasible.  

Difficulty Securing SaaS Accounts

Providing adequate security for each account is challenging without understanding the types of SaaS employees use and their risk levels. For instance, SSO may suffice for one account, but another may require additional protection.

Offboarding Personnel

When employees leave, their SaaS may become inaccessible. Conversely, they might still have access to some SaaS services even after they move on. If those user-SaaS relationships did not fall under SSO protection, businesses would struggle to minimize their security risks.  

Reduce and Mitigate SSO Security Risks

The risks of SSO do not undermine its benefits — businesses can still experience heightened productivity and potentially lower some costs using the method. Furthermore, the right mitigation strategies can decrease security limitations. Some solutions to consider include the following: 

  • Restricted SaaS use: Prohibiting access to certain SaaS can allow security teams to ask users how and why they use the app, a key objective of periodic user SaaS access reviews
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): This technique provides an added layer of security to accounts, especially those with compromised passwords. It can also mitigate damage following data breaches. 
  • Login management: Having a system in place to oversee logon activity can make it easier to detect problems as they occur. For instance, the system can notify the IT team if a user makes too many failed login attempts or connects from an unrecognized device. 
  • Password vault: If SaaS cannot be incorporated into SSO right away, a business may require employees to store credentials in a password vault until further notice. 

How to Improve SSO Security

Despite offering several advantages, SSO is simply not enough for businesses that want to use SaaS securely. Overall security depends on SaaS security, because SaaS serves as the control interface for everything in the digital enterprise — modern work SaaS, production and security SaaS, finance, repositories, business-led SaaS, and graveyard of rogue and abandoned SaaS services stuffed with dangling access and identities primed for credential attacks.

To realize universal secure SaaS access, security teams start with Grip SSCP to solve the perennial challenges of visibility, risk, and access control. The first-day value of Grip SSCP is identifying and closing SSO gaps in just a few clicks.

This SaaS security product is fundamentally unique and enables businesses to meet the demands of modern security issues. For instance, some employees may use a preferred email or password instead of their company identity provider (IdP). With an SSCP, IT teams can figure out which authentication method people select and prompt users to switch to the IdP. This feature is seldom in other SSO solutions. 

The SSCP also streamlines the process of mitigating SSO blind spots. It allows companies to scour through over 10 years of SaaS history, discover authorized and unauthorized apps, and deliver secure access on managed and unmanaged devices. The visibility of risk an SSCP provides can better empower you to balance cost with security. 

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Grip Closes SSO Gaps

If your enterprise wants to move beyond the limitations of single sign-on, turn to Grip for unparalleled innovation in SSO security. With Grip SSCP, you can pursue a business-led IT approach with greater peace of mind. Request a demo with Grip today to learn more about SSO limitations and our solution. 

Grip delivers on the top security concerns — visibility, risk, and access control — with the world's first SaaS security control plane (SSCP). Grip SSCP enables organizations to consistently protect their cloud-first reality while avoiding the complexity and limits of SSO, significantly simplifying security throughout the enterprise SaaS layer. Grip SSCP is essential for today’s cloud security programs, protecting the enterpriseSaaS layer — identity first.

SaaS Security Resource: A Guide to SaaS Security

Watch the webinar: SaaS Security Control Plane: Real or Hype?

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