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User Provisioning for SaaS Apps: Top 10 Best Practices

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User provisioning and its counterpart, deprovisioning, include creating, managing, modifying, disabling, and deleting user accounts in IT infrastructure and business applications. In any organization, whether operating on-premises, in the cloud, or in a hybrid environment, user provisioning is fundamental to digital identity and access management in order to maintain compliance and security.

As Software as a Service ("SaaS") application adoption is increasing, user provisioning has become a vital tool for ensuring compliance, maintaining security, and improving operational efficiency. It also came with its challenges, such as the time-consuming process of provisioning and deprovisioning users, which made it difficult for IT teams to keep tabs on changes in users, permissions, etc. Hence, this term encompasses more than employee onboarding and offboarding. It involves a continuous and collaborative effort that adheres to best practices. To better understand what this means for every organization, no matter its size, let's delve into the top 10 best practices for SaaS application user provisioning!

Top 10 User Provisioning Best Practices

1. Implement a centralized Identity and Access Management ("IAM") policy

Having a centralized IAM policy makes sure that your SaaS apps are only accessible by the right people and job roles within your organization at the right time in a managed and regularly updated process. The process consists of 4 components that provide two core benefits from the perspective of security and productivity:

1. Access Management

2. Privileged Account Management

3. Identity Management

4. Access Governance

Despite the multitude of steps involved in IAM, there are some pioneering best practices that should be followed in order to maintain a decent process when it comes to account provisioning and deprovisioning. The three measures include 2FA to increase security by requiring additional verification for accounts, revoking access to accounts once users are no longer needed, and separating duties to reduce the risk of unauthorized actions.

IAM Best Practices for User Provisioning

Suggested Reading: Top IAM Best Practices

2. Automate user provisioning and deprovisioning

Imagine that someone or a whole IT team knows your password, or one of your old colleagues still has access to your current project. It is highly possible to encounter a variety of situations like these when performing manual provisioning and deprovisioning processes. Managing profiles and accounts manually requires a high level of attention, so automating provisioning processes solves these problems by giving people permission in a secure, private environment. Automated processes give employees permissions based on the required SaaS tools and the required extension both on-premises and off-premises SaaS applications, aligned with their job descriptions. The roles and permissions are then stored in one place so that they can be easily changed or revoked.

Additionally, automating user provisioning and deprovisioning results in reduced time and costs. By eliminating manual processes, this improves operational efficiency while providing a quick return on investment, both in terms of cost savings and increased security, freeing up resources for more strategic projects.

3. Monitor SaaS applications continuously

Every day, new SaaS apps are added to the market, and employees keep on trying and adopting them, which results in a dump of used and unused tools within the organization, and organizations rely more and more on SaaS subscriptions. Because of this, provisioning or deprovisioning processes cannot be initiated without a solid understanding of what is being used within the organization and who has access to which environments to what extent. As these can be discovered through continuous monitoring, organizations may gain a comprehensive understanding of SaaS usage within the organization. The visibility attained through continuous monitoring provides organizations with:

  • The usage patterns of SaaS apps across teams and departments, which may lead to a role-based or department-based provisioning process for users.
  • Unused SaaS apps or those that are used less than anticipated, which may lead to the decision to terminate the subscription or downgrade the package. 
Monitoring SaaS Apps for User Provisioning
Source: Forbes

Three main principles stand out today for properly managing SaaS applications in an organization:

  • Principle of Least Privilege ("PoLP"): Considering that unnecessary access is the backdoor to cybersecurity incidents, it is recommended that a user be granted only the privileges necessary to fulfill his or her duties, because insiders or external attackers are likely to exploit or misuse the privileges to great extent. This is where POLP enters the picture by assuring that a user or entity only has access to the specific data, resources, and applications required to complete a task.
  • Just in Time Access ("JIT"): JIT allows access to SaaS applications, on an as-needed basis, for a limited period of time. The result is that an attacker or malicious insider is less likely to be able to exploit all privileges available at all times. It is also a good practice not to make employees wait for weeks to access particular apps when IT becomes a bottleneck for granting access.
  • Identifying and Terminating Orphaned SaaS Apps: Every organization faces issues such as the departure of a billing owner, the transfer of teams, or simply the use of an email address that is not associated with the organization. There is, however, a possibility that an organization will forget to assign ownership of the SaaS app in such an instance, resulting in an orphaned subscription for which no one is responsible. Additionally, orphaned subscriptions come with the added problem of paying for software whose maintenance is not being handled by the organization. Having orphaned subscriptions is evident when your SaaS architecture lacks transparency, so platforms such as Resmo give you visibility into the value of your SaaS stack, how it is used, and your compliance requirements, helping to prevent this from happening.
Identifying Orphaned SaaS for User Provisioning
Source: Vendr

4. Use a SaaS Management Platform ("SMP") to provision users

A system management platform (SMP) streamlines user provisioning, making it easier to manage and control access. SMPs centralize user management, making it easier to manage and control access levels, automate provisioning processes, and ensure compliance with security protocols. Additionally, SMPs can reduce the amount of time and resources needed to provision users, as well as reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

5. Keep an eye out for shadow applications

A shadow application refers to an application or tool used by employees outside the knowledge of their IT departments. It is typically possible to create shadow applications in two ways:

  • Using tools without IT department approval
  • Using approved tools but in an unauthorized manner

Maintaining control and security requires identifying and addressing such apps. Tracking users and permissions is essential for mitigating shadow applications. Regular monitoring should also be done to ensure that applications are being used as intended and that no malicious activities or vulnerabilities are occurring. Organizations should also create policies and processes to ensure that any application used on their networks is properly vetted and approved before use.

Suggested Reading:Shadow IT - How to Shed Light on It

6. Maintain a record of temporary access

Monitoring and managing temporary access rights ensures that permissions are revoked when no longer needed, preventing unauthorized access. Manual provisioning often leaves unused access unrestricted for employees, but also for users like contractors and vendors. As a result, temporary access may become permanent for many users, causing vulnerabilities and a deficient deprovisioning process. In addition, temporary access should be preferred for one-time projects, and even guest access should be revoked once the project is completed. This can lead to serious security issues, as unused access can be exploited by malicious actors. Organizations should review their access provisioning policies and make sure that temporary access is revoked once it is no longer necessary. Rigorous security measures should also be taken to prevent unauthorized access.

7. Create a role-based access control ("RBAC") system

Through RBAC, users and groups are identified based on what activities they perform on which resources. By implementing it, users have access to only the resources necessary for their roles, which enhances security, minimizes potential breaches, and increases operational efficiency.

By using a decent RBAC policy, it is easy to assign permissions to users and revoke them when it is no longer needed. A comprehensive SaaS security solution like Resmo provides its users with not only monitoring and uncovering SaaS tools used within the organization, but also standing features, such as RBAC Management. The use of a platform to manage all these crowds automatically minimizes errors and security vulnerabilities in the system and keeps provisioning and deprovisioning processes as safe and precise as possible.

Suggested Reading: Role-Based Access Management with Resmo

8. Make sure your team is trained on security best practices

Raising consciousness about security best practices within an organization is the most basic but most challenging part of preventing security vulnerabilities. In order to maintain a decent security posture, employees need to be trained on new apps, provided incentives for best practices, such as multi-factor authentication, and be more rigorously when giving permissions. For any organization to remain safe and secure, this part is indispensable, as it promotes a security-conscious culture and reduces accidental breaches.

9. Prepare a disaster recovery plan

In the event of unforeseen events or disruptions, the organization can quickly recover with a well-defined disaster recovery plan. This plan should include a clear list of procedures, protocols and processes that must be followed in order to restore operations.

10. Develop an incident response plan

Incident response plans outline how to respond in the event of a security incident, minimizing the impact and ensuring quick and coordinated action. It is essential that the plan includes a detailed process for identifying, responding, and recovering from breaches, which is crucial for effective user provisioning. A couple of basic steps must be followed:

  • Incident identification
  • Coordinated response
  • The escalation procedure
  • Mitigation and containment
  • Forensic investigation
  • Notifications and communication
  • Remediation and Recovery
  • Educating the team
  • Continually testing and improving

Takeaway

As SaaS apps become more prevalent, provisioning and deprovisioning of users is a critical component of modern IT and business systems. The provisioning of users is an ongoing and collaborative process integral to maintaining compliance, security, and even operational efficiency. Implementing a centralized IAM policy, automating the process, and continuously monitoring SaaS applications are key best practices. With SSPM tools such as Resmo, organizations can leverage SaaS security controls and monitor SaaS applications used within the organization, even those that fly under the radar. Furthermore, real-time alerts regarding potential vulnerabilities aid in preventing breaches before they occur. 

Disaster recovery plans and incident response plans are also essential parts of the process. It is important to remember, however, that managing user provisioning is not without challenges, just like all complex processes. For organizations to effectively and efficiently manage the user provisioning process, they need to identify these issues, mitigate risks, and refine their processes continuously. User provisioning, done successfully, involves robust strategies, the right tools and a pervasive security awareness culture. In this way, organizations can align their user provisioning practices with their overarching business goals and strategies, contributing to an environment of enhanced security and productivity.

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