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SaaS Risk Management for SaaS Security

Mar 27, 2023

Mar 27, 2023

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6 min

Take control of SaaS security with our guide on SaaS risk management. Learn best practices to minimize threats and protect your data.

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Josh Mayfield
VP Product Marketing
SaaS Risk Management for SaaS Security
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SaaS Risk Management for SaaS Security

Do you know the risks associated with SaaS? Nearly every company today needs software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications to compete in an increasingly digitized world. While SaaS tools can help you grow your business and work more efficiently, they also expose you to risk. Learn more about SaaS security in this guide from Grip.

Understanding SaaS Risk Management

Most IT departments have a set of standards or guidelines for adopting new applications or tools. Enterprise risk management SaaS policies help an organization identify and mitigate potential security threats in the SaaS layer. Before approving a SaaS application for company use, an IT team should assess factors including:

  • Usage control
  • Privacy settings
  • User authentication
  • Vendor security maturity 

Unfortunately, many organizations make the mistake of viewing and addressing risk in silos. For example, they may have separate strategies for managing identity, endpoint, network, and email risk. The reality, however, is that all the risk is related, especially in the SaaS environment. 

Say an employee’s email account is compromised; the breach could extend beyond the email account since email can be used to reset passwords, providing access to multiple systems. The  IT team needs to take immediate steps to secure the employee’s endpoint device, the network, and any applications they use.

Types of Risks in SaaS

SaaS applications offer scalability and flexibility for companies, but with that comes a set of risks. These include:

Shadow IT

Also known as business-led IT, shadow IT includes any tool or service that your employees use without the explicit knowledge and approval of your IT department. Without the right security controls, any end user with internet access can download and install a SaaS application. 

This makes your whole organization vulnerable: unsanctioned SaaS tools can create major security gaps. And your IT team can’t put appropriate protections in place if they don’t even know the full extent of SaaS sprawl

Potential Data Loss

SaaS tools often have access to critical business data. Even if you’ve vetted an application’s security and privacy settings, you should still be prepared for a potential breach. 

Exposure or loss of sensitive data can have a major impact on your company’s finances and reputation. If private customer data is leaked, you run the risk of violating regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Misconfiguration

A typical company might use over 300 different SaaS applications. SaaS usage can also be uneven across an enterprise – certain applications may be used company-wide, while others might be limited to a specific team, like marketing or finance. Ongoing monitoring is critical to keep track of configurations and permissions. Otherwise, you run the risk of unintentionally exposing company data and assets. 

Unauthorized Access

Unapproved or unmonitored SaaS applications may help bad actors obtain private information or continue using company assets. One common bad practice is dangling access – an employee or contractor leaves your company, but retains their SaaS credentials and can continue using the application. While often an honest mistake, this affects your SaaS perimeter and can create unsecured access points. Furthermore, because SaaS applications are cloud-based, you could also be at risk of brute-force attacks.

Threats to SaaS Security

Weak SaaS security is an opportunity for cyber attackers to infiltrate your organization and hijack your data. The most common threats associated with SaaS applications include:

  • Account Takeovers: Hackers gain access, usually through phishing, social engineering, or malware, to steal account credentials and use a SaaS account for illicit purposes. Once they gain access, the can also view, modify, or delete the user’s data. 
  • Malware: Because many SaaS applications use cloud storage, it can be difficult to monitor all cloud activity across the entire SaaS layer. This lets attackers hide malware like viruses or spyware. 
  • Phishing: This attack method uses social engineering to convince an end user to reveal their credentials.
  • SQL injection: An attacker can use Structured Query Language to inject malicious code into a SaaS application. This gives the attacker access to the SaaS data, which they can then view or modify.

Ongoing employee training and a central, enforceable security policy can help reduce the risk of common SaaS attacks.

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Best Practices for Managing SaaS Risk

You don’t need to eliminate SaaS applications to protect your company. Implementing safe SaaS usage practices can significantly reduce your risk. These include:

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Identity sprawl occurs when employees have access to SaaS accounts that aren’t monitored by IT and may be unsecured. Under an IAM policy, each end user in the company has a unique profile. They must use this profile to securely access any SaaS tools. That way, all user credentials are authenticated, and SaaS permissions are centrally managed by your IT team.  

Monitoring and Review

When it comes to SaaS risk management, regular review of your security settings is key. Cybersecurity mesh architecture (CSMA) can help you tailor a central security policy to individual programs or applications. 

Encryption 

The best SaaS tools have end-to-end encryption, a security setting that protects cloud data with a unique encryption key. While encryption doesn’t eliminate risk, it can prevent attackers from accessing your data even if they penetrate the cloud environment.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in SaaS Risk Management

SaaS applications are now so ubiquitous that companies may become less vigilant in their security practices. Avoid these common mistakes:

Poor Compliance Oversight

Make sure your IT and legal teams coordinate on regulatory compliance. If you’re adopting a new SaaS tool, you need to know if the vendor complies with privacy regulations like GDPR or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and if they hold third-party security certifications. An external security audit can help you identify any potential issues. 

Shared Credentials

Too often, teams will use a shared login for a SaaS application. This is especially common in tiered-pricing models, where a company pays a SaaS subscription fee based on the number of users or licenses. But shared credentials are unsafe – they can fall into the wrong hands and make it more difficult for IT staff to trace issues and manage permissions. Each end user needs to have a unique username and password to reduce identity risk.

Data Storage

Because SaaS applications have access to potentially sensitive company data, you need to understand where information will be stored. Your vetting process should include a review of the vendor’s storage policies. Will your data be in a private data center or a secure cloud service? Do you have control over the storage location? Get a complete picture of the vendor's data security practices before you move forward.

SaaS Risk Management for SaaS Security

A strong security posture is essential if you want to mitigate the risks associated with SaaS. At Grip, we understand the challenges of shadow SaaS and the need for a comprehensive risk management dashboard. 

That’s why we created the Grip SaaS Security Control Plane – a platform that gives you complete control over SaaS access and usage company-wide. Contact Grip to set up a complimentary SaaS security risk assessment or request a demo today.

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