Ensuring Security in Your SaaS Applications [An Overview]
I'm a Principal Security Consultant and an instructor for the SANS DEV541 Secure Coding in Java/JEE.
Enterprises are constantly faced with the task of balancing the advantages of productivity gains and lower costs against significant compliance and security concerns as they move their data and applications to the cloud.
With 94% of enterprises
using the cloud, companies are looking at data and business processes such as records, transactions, pricing information, etc. as crucial for compliance policies and access control.
While software as a service (SaaS) is a great software distribution model with easy-to-use offerings that are already installed and configured in the cloud, there are several challenges with it.
What are those challenges?
For instance, SaaS applications often store sensitive information such as the credit card info of their customers, but this opens up application security concerns about potential SaaS security risks. A cybercriminal may attempt to conduct a data breach to gain access to this information or steal credentials for malicious reasons.
All of these factors pose a threat of significant application security vulnerabilities and data breaches, which could lead to legal and financial liabilities. This is why it is crucial for enterprises to ensure SaaS applications security- to protect their customer’s data from attackers and not fall victim to cyberattacks that may lead to legal or financial issues.
Here are some of the basic security controls every SaaS provider must have to secure their applications:
Best Practices to Protect Your SaaS Application
To successfully and securely protect your SaaS application, it is essential for companies to be committed to implementing best-in-class SaaS security.
By assessing application security risks and threats in the context of your SaaS applications, you can understand your application’s vulnerabilities.
Once you have identified vulnerabilities
in your SaaS applications, you can not only protect the vulnerable hotspots but also adopt better solutions that secure your SaaS application and protect it from new SaaS security risks.
We’ve compiled a list of the best practices and ways to improve SaaS application security. These will give you a better idea of how you can implement security controls in your SaaS application while experiencing the benefits that cloud services offer.
Develop a Security Review Checklist
Further, if a data breach results in the loss of sensitive information, a decline in brand reputation, or the loss of confidence in your ability to keep your data secure, it can be a make or break situation for your company.
For this reason, it is imperative for enterprises to create a clear and concise security review checklist to ensure your network, devices, and users are in compliance with the required security standards.
What should a security review checklist include?
There are many things that could be on a security review checklist. Here are some broad categories that may cover many of the crucial cybersecurity aspects:
- Create a security-first culture.
- Develop strong security policies, document them, and enforce them via training and technical controls.
- Ensure compliance with appropriate compliance frameworks along with own internal and external audits
- Enforce strong password policies and multifactor authentication.
- Conduct regular training on the latest cybersecurity threats and how they can be effectively handled.
- Host security awareness training for all employees to make security a shared responsibility.
- Classify data by usage and sensitivity and protect data appropriately for each classification level.
- Enable encryption.
- Enforce strong segmentation of data with separate encryption keys for each client data set.
- Secure networks, mobile devices, computers, and storage devices.
- Harden all devices.
- Routinely scan for vulnerabilities and deviation from the approved configuration.
- Identify sensitive data and enforce stringent policies on its usage and access.
- Enable multi-factor authentication for clients.
- Ensure applications have Transport Socket Layer (TSL) to protect data transfers with strong algorithms, key lengths, and cipher configuration.
- Enforce strong user access control with enforced least privilege access.
- Ensure robust detective controls are in place to identify malicious/suspicious behavior.
- Ensure strong audit logging is in place that feeds into a tuned incident and events manager.
- Ensure a robust Incident Response plan and a disaster recovery plan are in place and are regularly tested.
- Ensure you have a fully-secured Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) deployed with automated scanning, threat modeling and manual reviews by security experts.
A security review checklist may vary depending on the platform you use, but it is crucial for organizations to regularly review and update the checklist with the latest threats that will help them prioritize application security while maintaining quality.
Ensure Compliance of Certifications and Audits
How can an SaaS provider ensure compliance with certifications and audits?
For the PCI DSS, an SaaS provider has to perform thorough audits to ensure sensitive data is transmitted, processed, and stored in a secure manner.
It calls for a comprehensive security standard which entails requirements for cloud security policies, procedures, management, network architecture, software design, and other important protective measures.
It ensures a cloud service is deployed and actively monitored to maintain high-security controls to ensure data security.
Both of these certifications will protect your organization from data breaches and ensure proper confidentiality and integrity is maintained.
Enforce a Data Retention Policy
Data retention is a critical aspect of SaaS application security. While many SaaS applications have varying retention policies, some applications do not have any retention options available.
It is imperative for businesses to have a data retention policy for their SaaS applications, especially when it comes to account management and subscriptions.
Why is this important?
You need to understand which data needs to be retained. While some data is required to be retained for a specific time period by law, other data might be important to your business but it may not necessarily be required for retention.
Data retention policies are not just helpful to create backups and free up space on your files but are often a major necessity for compliance.
In addition to the internal compliance rules of a company, there are several regulations and laws that require companies with cloud services to form a data retention policy.
For instance the PCI DSS and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
. Staying compliant with the laws and regulations is a big concern for businesses. Penalties for noncompliance can range from exorbitant fines to loss of reputation.
Ensure Secure Deployment
With dedicated SaaS vendors such as Amazon or Google, they take a shared responsibility of securing SaaS applications by providing secure infrastructure services that help ensure data segregation, data security, network security, etc.
What about self-hosted deployments?
In a self-hosted deployment, you will have to ensure that appropriate safety measures are taken and stringent application security policies are in place to protect your applications against DoS attacks and network penetration attacks.
If you choose to deploy your SaaS application on a public cloud, make sure that you follow the best practices and norms recommended by the public cloud vendor.
Encrypt Transmission Data End-to-End
Another effective way to secure your data in SaaS applications is by implementing encryption on transmission data.
Encryption enables you to encode your data to protect it from unauthorized or inaccessible users. It protects your data by providing integrity, non-repudiation, confidentiality, and authentication.
In a nutshell, even if an unauthorized user is able to access your data, they will not be able to decode it without the encryption keys.
To encrypt transmission data, make sure that all interactions with the servers take place over TLS (Transport Layer Security) transmission. The TLS should only terminate within the cloud service provider.
In addition to data in transit, data in storage should also be encrypted properly to secure sensitive information. Ideally, cloud service providers often provide field-level encryption, so you can select the fields you want to encrypt and ensure that your data is securely transmitted as well as stored.
Monitor User-Level Data Security
It is crucial for enterprises to monitor user-level data security to ensure compliance with internal and external application security standards.
Your cloud service provider may provide you with role-based access control (RBAC) features that enable you to specify user-specific access and other action permissions.
The idea is to give the right access to the right people ensuring that only authorized individuals can access data on SaaS applications.
Such a system enables an accurate, access control-based, enforced level of application security that segregates the users and how they can access data in the SaaS applications within an enterprise.
Integrate Real-Time Protection
SaaS applications provide great value to end users because of their easy setup and collaboration capabilities.
One of the most effective ways to secure your SaaS application is to integrate real-time monitoring which will provide greater visibility, control, policy management, and compliance of your SaaS applications to protect your data from exposure.
How does real-time monitoring help secure SaaS applications?
Attacks such as SQL injections, XSS, and account takeovers are some of the common breach methods used to attack SaaS products.
Real-time monitoring can help you distinguish between legitimate queries and malicious attacks through protection logic. Real-time protection tools can be integrated into the code at the development stage.
It helps you detect attacks early in the development process and mitigate SaaS security risks by taking appropriate measures.
Employ a Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
A traditional SDLC is focused on meeting requirements in terms of features and functions. However, the set of actions that take place during different phases of the SDLC might not always intrinsically comply with the set application security standards.
To address this issue, consider integrating security throughout all the phases of the SDLC, right from the beginning of the development stage.
By shifting the security left, i.e towards the beginning stages like the development stage, you can easily detect potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your applications early in the SDLC.
With this approach, you can create a secure application where you can implement best practices for secure coding, especially during code reviews.
Moreover, enforcing security guidelines early in the SDLC process helps prevent SaaS security vulnerabilities from creeping in and eliminates potential setbacks.
Ready to Ensure Security in Your SaaS Application?
SaaS offers a gamut of benefits such as reduced costs and improved operational efficiency. However, it is vital to adopt SaaS security practices, from compliance to secure deployment, and make sure that you address cloud security challenges upfront to secure your SaaS application.
While most of these concerns stem from our lack of visibility and control over how our data is being stored by our SaaS providers, it is important that you follow the best practices above to ensure cloud security in your SaaS application.
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