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/ What Is SaaS Security?

What Is SaaS Security?

SaaS security is the protection of sensitive data hosted in sanctioned and unsanctioned SaaS applications. Software as a service models have exploded alongside mass cloud adoption, opening up enterprise and customer data to new types of malware and vulnerabilities. To prevent costly data breaches, enterprises need effective security beyond SaaS providers’ native tools.

Why Is SaaS Security Important?

Users value SaaS apps for their productivity-boosting features and anytime, anywhere access. Organizations value them because they carry predictable costs and are easy to deploy, scale, and maintain. It’s no wonder software as a service has seen incredible growth alongside ongoing global cloud computing and mobility trends.

Effective SaaS security is critical for any modern organization that has adopted cloud services. SaaS apps store and process sensitive data in the cloud, and insufficient security opens organizations up to data interception, injection attacks, unauthorized access, and more—in short, data breaches—which can lead to data loss, operational downtime, and noncompliance. For a serious breach, consequences range from reputational harm to lost business, fines, and even legal trouble.

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82% of breaches involved data stored in the cloud.

—Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, IBM

Who Needs SaaS Security?

SaaS has exploded in workplaces worldwide across email, data storage, collaboration, communication, and more, with companies using an average of 130 SaaS apps (Vendr, 2023). Popular apps like Gmail, Microsoft 365, and Slack may be used by nearly every employee at an organization where they’re deployed. That means a huge amount of data in the cloud—with a huge number of potential entry points.

That’s why any organization using SaaS apps needs SaaS security to protect sensitive data, maintain privacy, ensure compliance, and stop cyberthreats.

Top SaaS Security Risks and Challenges

Let’s look at some of the specific security risks and challenges organizations face when it comes to using SaaS apps:

Virtualization Risks

If a service provider’s shared cloud infrastructure (found in SaaS environments like colocation data centers and public clouds) isn’t properly isolated to prevent data commingling because of vulnerabilities or misconfigurations, it can lead to data leaks and security breaches, such as one tenant gaining access to another tenant's segment. This often results from issues like:

  • Inadequate data segmentation between tenants
  • Exploitable vulnerabilities in the hypervisor layer
  • Virtual machine (VM) overprovisioning and misconfiguration

Identity Management and Access Control

To prevent leaks, data manipulation, and insider threats, users must be authenticated and authorized in line with zero trust principles for least-privileged access, including role-based access control and continuous monitoring. Effective anti-phishing measures are also critical here. Identity and access issues mostly often stem from:

  • Weak or compromised identity and access management (IAM)
  • Lack of multifactor authentication (MFA) beyond single sign-on (SSO)
  • Inadequate or misconfigured access controls

Lack of Standardization

Inconsistent security policies and procedures across SaaS providers can create challenges for security teams around consistent security controls and enforcement, leading to a weaker security posture, potential enforcement gaps, vulnerabilities, and even data corruption. Some of the major contributors to increased risk in this area include:

  • Interoperability and integration issues between cloud providers
  • Data transfers between environments
  • Regulatory compliance challenges

Data Residency and Governance

Complying with industry and government data protection regulations can be complex when SaaS providers run widely distributed operations. It’s critical to understand how a given SaaS provider aligns with your organization’s compliance requirements, as well as to implement effective data encryption and access controls for data in transit and at rest. Common residency and governance issues arise from:

  • Sovereignty and residency regulations (e.g., GDPR)
  • Shared responsibilities between the customer and SaaS provider
  • Unsanctioned apps (shadow IT) putting data outside the IT function’s purview

To mitigate these risks, organizations should conduct thorough risk assessments, implement robust security policies and controls, regularly monitor SaaS applications for vulnerabilities, and stay up-to-date with security best practices.

SaaS Security Best Practices

No two organizations have identical SaaS ecosystems, so no simple list can cover every step you should take to ensure data security in your SaaS environments. There are, however, some steps any organization can take to assuage major security concerns and strengthen your security posture.

  • Educate your employees about SaaS security risks and effective mitigation strategies. Ensure they know to spot phishing and social engineering, report suspicious activities and incidents, and manage and protect their credentials.
  • Enforce multifactor authentication (MFA) for all SaaS accounts to better protect against unauthorized access.
  • Maintain robust access controls based on zero trust, giving users only the access required to do their jobs.
  • Implement continuous user activity monitoring around your SaaS apps to detect unusual behavior or unauthorized access.
  • Understand your SaaS vendors’ security practices, certifications, integrations, compliance practices, contractual agreements, data retention policies, and incident response processes.
  • Establish clear incident response and disaster recovery plans, including roles, responsibilities, and procedures around SaaS-related security incidents.
  • Invest in an effective SaaS security posture management (SSPM) solution to help you conduct regular security assessments; track security threats; and manage misconfigurations, compliance, permissions, and other cloud security issues.

What Is SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM)?

SaaS security posture management (SSPM) helps organizations keep their SaaS applications and data secure by unifying continuous cybersecurity risk assessment and regulatory compliance monitoring with detection, enforcement, and remediation capabilities. Effective SSPM solutions give organizations critical visibility into the security posture of their SaaS deployments, ensuring they can continue using cloud services to accelerate and streamline their operations.

Key SaaS Security Posture Management Technologies

Securing SaaS apps from every angle isn’t a job for any one technology. These are some of the key solutions and tools that serve one or more functions of SSPM:

  • Cloud access security brokers (CASBs) act as intermediaries between users and cloud services, providing security and compliance controls. They offer features like data loss prevention, threat protection, and access control.
  • Identity and access management (IAM) solutions manage users’ identities, roles, and permissions to help enforce least-privileged access controls.
  • Data loss prevention (DLP) tools help identify and protect sensitive information in SaaS apps, prevent data leaks, and support compliance.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) platforms collect and analyze events and logs from SaaS apps to help identify and respond to potential security incidents and policy violations.
  • Data encryption tools, usually native to SaaS apps themselves, encode data at rest (in storage) and in motion (moving to or from an endpoint or service) to protect it against unauthorized access.
  • Vulnerability management tools scan SaaS apps for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations to help organizations take proactive action against security risks.
  • Application programming interface (API) security tools protect the data that SaaS apps exchange with other systems as part of API-based integrations.
  • Zero trust principles require security policy to be based on context established through least-privileged access controls and strict user authentication—not assumed trust.

Zscaler SaaS Security Solution

SaaS platforms store huge amounts of potentially sensitive data for most of today’s modern organizations, yet IT teams often lack visibility and control over how the platforms are secured. Meanwhile, misconfigurations and dangerous integrations expose organizations and their data to undue risk.

Zscaler Advanced SSPM, part of the Zscaler Data Protection suite, is a comprehensive and unified solution that delivers complete security across SaaS apps and platforms, from data visibility to posture and governance. Advanced SSPM helps you quickly identify SaaS risks and prevent threats from compromising data and your organization by enabling you to:

  • Identify risky misconfigurations: Secure your sensitive data from open gaps and risk integrations that can lead to data loss or breaches.
  • Retire risky or dormant integrations: Reduce your attack surface by vetting all SaaS platform integrations and revoking risky connections.
  • Enforce zero trust access: Ensure least-privileged SaaS access and revoke overprivileged identities and permissions.
  • Maintain posture and compliance: Continuously monitor SaaS security to ensure regulatory compliance is maintained across the organization.

By empowering you to find and secure SaaS data, respond to identity risks, harden SaaS cloud security posture, and govern risky app integrations, Zscaler Advanced SSPM gives you complete control over your SaaS security.

Request a demo today to see for yourself.

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Zscaler was the only Leader in the 2023 Forrester Wave for SSPM, and CRN named Zscaler Data Protection a 2023 Product of the Year.

Suggested Resources

Zscaler Advanced SSPM for SaaS Security
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Defend Your SaaS Platforms
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Zscaler: The Only Leader in the Forrester Wave for SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM)
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Zscaler Data Protection Named a 2023 CRN “Product of the Year”
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