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Avoid These 5 Common SaaS Attack Techniques

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SaaS platforms have not just become an integral part of how modern businesses operate but are also emerging as a hotbed for various types of cyberattacks. While traditional security measures focus on endpoints and internal networks, a new breed of 'networkless' attacks specifically targets SaaS environments. 

The landscape of SaaS is evolving rapidly, offering unprecedented flexibility and scalability for businesses. However, the very qualities that make SaaS attractive also open the door to a new breed of security threats.

Our focus here will not just be on frequently targeted SaaS platforms like Office 365 or Google Workspace security. We'll delve into the often-overlooked hundreds of other SaaS applications that possess primitive security controls yet have access to highly sensitive data.

saas security stats
SaaS security statistics

Before diving into SaaS exploitation methods, know there's a tool that can help. Resmo detects every SaaS login and finds security vulnerabilities, even in the Shadow IT. Protect your organization from the start. Give it a try (no strings attached.)

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Understanding SaaS-Specific Attack Techniques

Before we can effectively mitigate risks, we need to understand the unique challenges posed by SaaS platforms. In the subsequent sections, we will examine various categories of SaaS attack techniques loosely inspired by traditional security frameworks:

  • Reconnaissance and Information Gathering: How attackers identify vulnerabilities in your SaaS setup.
  • Initial Access and Phishing Techniques: The schemes attackers use to gain initial entry.
  • Execution and Workflow Manipulation: Ways in which attackers can hijack existing workflows for nefarious purposes.
  • Persistence and Evasion: Strategies that attackers deploy to remain undetected.
  • Credential and Data Compromise: How attackers gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.

We aim to dig deep into these categories, providing practical examples and preventive measures for each.

SaaS Attack Techniques: From Initial Access to Lateral Movement

SaaS attack techniques

Navigating the complex landscape of SaaS security requires a nuanced understanding of the various attack techniques that cybercriminals deploy. From the initial stages of gaining access through tactics like credential stuffing or phishing to advanced strategies involving lateral movement within your SaaS applications, the threats are multifaceted and ever-evolving. 

This section delves into the mechanics of these techniques, arming you with the knowledge to identify vulnerabilities like misconfigurations and fortify your SaaS environment against each stage of an attack.

information illustration

1. Reconnaissance and Information Gathering

In this section, we'll explore how attackers gather initial intelligence (reconnaissance) about your SaaS environment to find potential vulnerabilities. Unlike traditional systems, SaaS platforms present a different set of challenges and opportunities for both defenders and attackers.

Common Techniques

Tenant Discovery: Identifying the specific SaaS tenants that an organization uses can provide attackers with a focused target.

User Enumeration: By exploiting sign-up or login pages, attackers can often determine if a specific email address is associated with the service.

API Endpoint Exploration: Attackers often probe API endpoints to understand the architecture and find potential weak points.

Case Studies

Example 1: A recent case saw attackers using automated scripts to probe sign-up pages, thereby identifying valid corporate emails.

Example 2: Another instance involved attackers scanning for publicly accessible API endpoints that lacked sufficient security measures.

Mitigation Strategies

  • Regular Audits: Conduct security audits to identify potential weak points in your SaaS applications.
  • Rate Limiting: Implement rate limiting on API and user endpoints to deter automated scanning attempts.
  • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): Always enable MFA to add an extra layer of security, especially during the initial login phase.
SaaS access illustration

2. Initial Access and Infiltration Tactics

In this section, we will unpack the methods attackers use to gain initial access to SaaS applications. SaaS services are often accessible via the internet, making them an attractive target for attackers looking to bypass traditional network defenses.

Common Techniques

Consent Phishing: Attackers trick users into granting malicious apps access to sensitive data or functionalities.

Credential Stuffing: Using leaked or stolen credentials to gain unauthorized access to accounts. Effective monitoring for such credential vulnerabilities is key, and tools like Resmo provide real-time alerting to prevent unauthorized access.

Poisoned Tenants: Infiltrating shared or multi-tenant environments to compromise security across the board.

Case Studies

Example 1: A notorious cyber-criminal group used consent phishing to obtain access to email accounts and sensitive corporate data.

Example 2: Credential stuffing attacks were used to compromise a widely-used SaaS application, leading to a significant data breach.

Mitigation Strategies

  • User Training: Educate users about the SaaS risks of consent phishing and the importance of not reusing passwords across services.
  • Robust Access Controls: Implement strict permissions and use least-privilege principles to limit the risk of unauthorized access. Try to follow the best practices for access control.
  • Regular Monitoring: Employ real-time monitoring and alerting mechanisms like Resmo to identify and prevent unauthorized access attempts quickly.
hacker illustration

3. Execution Tactics in SaaS Environments

In this section, we explore the methods attackers deploy to execute malicious activities within compromised SaaS applications.

Common Techniques

Shadow Workflows: Automated workflows can be maliciously set up to exfiltrate or manipulate data.

OAuth Tokens: Attackers abuse OAuth tokens to act on behalf of legitimate users.

Client-side App Spoofing: Malicious client-side apps are used to trick users and perform unauthorized activities.

Case Studies

Example 1: A shadow workflow was used in a data leakage incident involving a well-known SaaS-based CRM tool.

Example 2: OAuth tokens were exploited to send phishing emails from a legitimate business email service.

Mitigation Strategies

Review and Audit Workflows: Ensure only approved workflows are active.

OAuth Monitoring: Regularly review and validate third-party apps given OAuth token access.

Security Software: Employ solutions that can identify and block malicious client-side apps.

link manipulation concept

4. Privilege Escalation and Persistence

This section will focus on how attackers can escalate privileges within SaaS applications and maintain persistent access.

Common Techniques

API Keys: Attackers steal or misuse API keys to gain higher privileges.

Evil Twin Integrations: Creating malicious integrations that look like legitimate services.

Link Backdooring: Modifying shared links to include malicious payloads or redirects.

Case Studies

Example 1: API keys were compromised to give attackers full access to a cloud storage service.

Example 2: A seemingly innocent third-party integration was, in reality, a backdoor giving attackers continual access.

Mitigation Strategies

  • API Key Management: Regularly rotate and properly secure API keys.
  • Integration Audits: Routinely audit third-party integrations for any unusual activities or permissions.
  • Link Verification: Implement link verification solutions to validate the authenticity of shared links.
vault illustration

5. Credential and Data Compromise: Cracking the SaaS Vault

When it comes to SaaS security, one of the most alarming aspects is the potential for attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. Even after initial access and establishing persistence, the ultimate goal often revolves around the theft or manipulation of valuable information. This section shines a spotlight on some of the most common methods attackers use to compromise credentials and data.

Common Techniques

Password Scraping

This is one of the most straightforward yet highly effective techniques. Attackers use various tools to scrape passwords that might be stored in less secure locations, such as text files or even emails.

API Secret Theft

APIs are the glue that holds many SaaS applications together, allowing them to communicate with each other seamlessly. However, API secrets, which are essentially the keys to these digital locks, are sometimes stored insecurely. Attackers can locate and steal these secrets to gain unfettered access to multiple services.

Account Recovery Exploits

Attackers have been known to exploit the account recovery process, tricking the system into sending reset links to email addresses or phone numbers under their control. This could involve social engineering, exploiting weak security questions, or leveraging previously stolen data.

Case Studies

Example 1: A real-world example where inadequate API secret management led to data leakage across multiple SaaS applications.

Example 2: How attackers exploited the account recovery process, using both technical and social engineering methods to gain unauthorized access.

Mitigation Strategies

  • Strong Password Policies: Enforce complex password requirements and periodic changes.
  • Secure API Management: Utilize tools that keep API keys and secrets encrypted and secure.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication for Recovery: Implement MFA procedures even for account recovery processes to add an extra layer of security.


saas attack mitigation strategies

As SaaS applications continue to be integral to business operations, taking a proactive approach to security is crucial. From identifying reconnaissance activities to monitoring credential-based attacks, safeguarding your SaaS environment is a multifaceted challenge.

Solutions like Resmo offer comprehensive visibility into your SaaS ecosystem, helping you stay one step ahead of potential threats. By providing real-time alerts, shadow SaaS monitoring, and in-depth risk assessments, Resmo ensures that you're not just reacting to threats but proactively mitigating them.

Take control and shift from reactive to proactive SaaS security today by creating your Resmo account for free (zero strings attached).

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