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Hackernoon logoWhy SaaS Companies Require Security Testing? by@chaitanya_

Why SaaS Companies Require Security Testing?

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Head of Growth at Appknox | Enterprise Mobile Security | Helping Unicorns on Mobile Sec

SaaS companies offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to providing essential software solutions to their customers. They have an added advantage of being easily accessible and that too on all kinds of devices. As a result, the modern age businesses are rapidly switching to these solutions provided by SaaS vendors. 

According to a recent report published by KBV Research, the global SaaS market is expected to cross $185 billion in size by 2024. These promising figures have initiated a race of its own kind in the market. Most of the software companies are now planning to transform their business platforms to SaaS-based models. Despite such a bright picture, SaaS companies have their own unique challenges as well. 

Owing to the changing market requirements, the customer demands in the case of SaaS companies change abruptly as well. These changes in requirements, in general, can be attributed to a bunch of critical factors. Many times it's due to some new compliance and regulation. On several other occasions, it’s due to some change in the agile process development or maybe the customer wants something very unique.

Whatever the reason be, SaaS companies have to adapt to this dynamic environment. They must do this in order to survive in the market and gain customer trust. And where does this trust come from? In the case of SaaS organizations, providing secure services may be the key.

With a massive disruption in the software services landscape, security no longer remains as the 'cost center' which delivers no value. It has now transformed into a strategic business factor that determines the success or failure of SaaS companies all around the globe.

There are several other reasons which justify why SaaS companies need to focus on security testing.

1. Security Testing Eliminates the Risk of Data Breaches

Data breaches have become more commonplace than ever. Despite having a well-to-do security infrastructure in place, research shows that around 56% of the organizations still faced significant security incidents in the past 12 months. Evidently, security needs to be pushed up the priority ladder and prevent such breaches to protect sensitive customer data. 

There are many examples of organizations that have failed to implement security measures and faced bizarre consequences as a result. And most of these companies had SaaS vendors who were still skeptical about focussing on cybersecurity. 

Evidently, SaaS companies need to focus on security and bolster their security infrastructure in order to mitigate the underlying risks. This would not only strengthen their relationship with their customers but drive significant business value as well. 

2. Regulators Require Compliance

With the advent of increasing cyber crimes, authorities have begun to enforce strict regulations that demand serious security measures to be put in place. Since non-compliance with such regulations is not an option, companies are compelled to carry out a regular vulnerability assessment and test their technical infrastructure. 

Out of a bunch of available security testing techniques, the one which is generally preferred by leading SaaS companies is penetration testing. Penetration tests not only help in laying out a suitable process for targeting security threats but also test the system in ways the hackers would love to approach it. 

Pen-tests also strengthen the understanding of the developers about the ways in which the application could be exploited. The further stages of penetration testing enable the assessment of the impact on business in case any vulnerability is exploited by threat actors. 

What SaaS Companies Should Focus on Security Testing? 

1. Secure Software is Critical for SaaS Vendors

A great USP of SaaS companies is that they can handle their customer's software requirements end to end. So, basically it's all about how good they deliver those applications and maintain them. This makes them vulnerable to cyber risks and security testing becomes their utmost priority. 

User activity patterns on SaaS-based platforms can be complex at times. There could be multiple endpoints and locations involved as well. In light of such challenges, having security measures put in place and a strong control mechanism can surely boost business for SaaS companies.

Despite these evident advantages, there is still a discussion in the SaaS industry whether security should be stressed upon or not. This is the reason why only 19% of business leaders accept that their SaaS vendors meet their security requirements. Surely there exists a considerable margin of improvement.

Industry leaders and experts believe that the inclusion of security critically affects many of the business aspects of SaaS companies. The effect is so strong that companies highlight assurance of security and other findings from security testing reports in their sales presentations to crack major business deals.   

2. Application Security is Vital for Business

Hackers are constantly on the move to break into every possible security system and largely popular applications are surely their number one target. In the first half of 2019 itself, around 4 billion customer records were stolen. 

However, most of these security woes can be mitigated with the help of security testing. The basic purpose of application security testing is to find the root cause of vulnerabilities and fix them as soon as possible. The testing tools and methods not only check for loopholes during the development phase but also protect the security systems even after the application has been deployed. 

Despite these rigorous efforts, hackers still continue to threaten companies with their ever-evolving tactics. And that is why businesses need to expand their security horizons too. 

Leading SaaS companies now have extended their security testing approach. They now take into account the security infrastructure with the same mindset the attackers use. This technique helps in gauging elements of application security more efficiently. It also provides a more significant level of software security assurance. This is because testers are now able to fortify the areas where threat actors have been infiltrating the most.

3. Manual Testing is Still Significant

Most of the SaaS applications generate huge chunks of data resulting from users and back-end activities. These logs must be assessed regularly to check for potential vulnerabilities. Although automated security testing can easily do this job, there are several situations where manual testing proves to be far more suitable. In case of security for SaaS companies, this fact makes a lot of sense. 

In cases where automated test scripts can't identify the security loopholes, human security testers can prove much more useful. They are able to interact with the software as users would do. Moreover, they can promptly discover hazardous vulnerabilities before they could cause serious damages. Automated testing, on the other hand, wouldn't cover this many details for sure. 

4. Agile Penetration Testing for Agile SaaS Companies

Agile development might be efficient under most of the circumstances. But, it might turn into a nightmare for developers if security flaws are detected while testing. This could be avoided by agile penetration testing. 

Applications like Appknox allow developers to consistently monitor their code and test for errors, even before the code gets committed or launched. This saves a major chunk of resources and developers don't have to wait for testing until the entire code gets compiled.

Moreover, Appknox also offers SAST (Static Application Security Testing), or "white box" testing, so that security vulnerabilities could be identified more effectively. This also helps SaaS developers to do a more in-depth analysis of their security systems in comparison to other methods like DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing).

Adopting these security measures keeps the overall process on track and also saves time and other resources. Obviously, it allows Agile developers to channelize their efforts on other critical tasks and be assured about security.  

What needs to be Tested for SaaS Applications?

1. Performance Testing 

SaaS-based platforms thrive on delivering the best software services they can. They must perform even under the most critical conditions. That is why performance testing becomes a must for SaaS applications. Managers handling SaaS projects must ensure that performance testing measures are included in the development process. 

One factor which must be properly evaluated is that under what conditions the application's performance needs to be tested. Testing in a lab or a staging environment might be helpful. But, this method is less likely to highlight the real performance and reliability issues once the application is released at scale. 

Therefore, the testing parameters must be expanded in order to effectively test the performance. Testing in the actual production environment might be the key. This will take into account all the internal as well as external components that influence the application's performance and reveal issues if any.

The risk of completely exposing the application to the production environment can't be taken as well. There are certain ways in which this exposure could be limited:

  • Testing performance during maintenance.
  • Testing performance on smaller chunks of the production infrastructure.
  • Testing before the actual release or announcement of the product. 

2. Business Workflow Testing

As the functionality of the SaaS application increases, so does the complexity underlying workflow. And as these business workflows continue to get jumbled up, it becomes even more difficult to detect errors and security vulnerabilities in them. 

This issue can be tackled efficiently by implementing business workflow testing during the early stages of development itself. It guarantees the timely detection of workflow errors. It also makes sure that each process precisely reflects the actual business workflow and provides the anticipated results. 

3. Availability Testing

A major challenge for SaaS developers is to make sure that their application remains available even under the most adverse circumstances. That is why availability testing becomes a must. Availability testing measures how any given software component behaves under normal working conditions and also checks its accessibility under critical conditions. 

Putting it simply, it checks the behavior of the system under failover situations. Also, it makes the system failsafe by ensuring that the system shifts to a reliable back up upon failure. The main objective behind carrying out availability testing is to determine the mean time between failure. The process also makes sure that the critical software components like the cloud are designed to remain available under all possible circumstances.

4. Integration and Migration Testing

Like every other application of modern times, SaaS applications also rely on a bunch of third-party software integrations in order to have enhanced functionality. Be it APIs for payments, cloud storage, location tracking or increased storage, the role of third-party integrations can't be undermined. 

But these integrations come with their own list of vulnerabilities as well. Therefore, it becomes essential for the developers to test these third-party libraries and APIs to ensure all-round security.

The process of integration and migration testing also includes a step-by-step analysis of each and every business process present in the workflow. This ensures that the transition of data between each consecutive process takes place smoothly and that no security loophole remains unchecked. 

5. Stress and Load Testing 

It's not uncommon for applications to receive and handle a massive number of user requests at the same time. Correspondingly, such repeated requests slow down the applications and affect their functionality as well. 

Stress and load testing simulate similar scenarios for SaaS applications and tests the behavior under critical circumstances. By pushing the system beyond desirable limits and straining the elements of the application, testers can identify vulnerable components and create an emergency response plan.

Final Thoughts

In the upcoming years, SaaS vendors will most likely replace the traditional software service providers because of the innovative and flexible solutions they provide. However, they must confront the issue of cybersecurity efficiently in order to build an image of trust in the eyes of their customers. 

Moreover, they need to build security into their products in such a way that their customers could easily integrate them into their business environment. By focussing on the security issues and complying with the data-security requirements, SaaS companies will surely speed up the ongoing transition from traditional solutions to SaaS-based solutions.

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Head of Growth at Appknox | Enterprise Mobile Security | Helping Unicorns on Mobile Sec


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