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What is SaaS Security? Best Practices & Challenges

SaaS Security refers to the practice of safeguarding user privacy and corporate data within subscription-based cloud applications. Recognizing the volume and sensitivity of data housed within SaaS applications, as well as the extensive and diverse user access that characterizes these platforms, SaaS Security is pivotal in mitigating risks to privacy and data integrity.

Companies with more than 1,000 employees use over 150 SaaS applications. (SaaS risks)

Software services that we use online (known as SaaS) are growing quickly. Popular examples include Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Atlassian, and even your daily work tools like Gmail or Spreadsheet. While SaaS tools offer more ease and flexibility, they can also have more security risks. Every time a new online software is made, it's like adding a new door that bad people might try to enter. So, IT and security teams that are responsible for reducing company attack vectors must also focus on SaaS security particularly.

Why is SaaS Security important?

SaaS (Software as a Service) has grown in popularity because it's flexible, cost-effective, and easily scalable. However, this growth also brings increased security challenges for both providers and their users.

About 43% of organizations have faced security breaches due to misconfigurations in their Software as a Service (SaaS) systems. 

Understanding the significance of SaaS Security:

  • Data Integrity: Safeguards against threats, ensuring that sensitive data remains untampered by cybercriminals or rogue insiders.
  • Reputation Management: Security breaches can tarnish a brand's image; strong SaaS security prevents such damage and retains customer trust.
  • Cultivating Confidence: Solid security practices bolster customer faith in the reliability of the SaaS provider.
  • Regulatory Adherence: Proper security measures ensure alignment with industry-specific safety norms and guidelines.
  • Fortifying Digital Assets: By countering cyber threats, SaaS security reduces the risk of data breaches, maintaining the sanctity of both applications and the data they house.

Challenges in SaaS Security

Data Breaches

Data breaches are incidents where unauthorized parties gain access to confidential information. With SaaS platforms storing vast amounts of user data, they become attractive targets for cybercriminals. For example, a hacker might exploit a software vulnerability to access customer financial records in a cloud-based accounting system.


Incorrect setup or security misconfigurations can inadvertently expose sensitive data or systems. Often, organizations overlook default settings, which might be insecure. An example would be a cloud storage service unintentionally set to 'public' access, allowing anyone with the link to view its contents.

Inadequate Access Controls

Without strict user access controls, sensitive information can fall into the wrong hands. Failing to implement role-based access can mean staff members have access to data they shouldn't. Imagine a junior employee in a company being able to access high-level financial reports merely because permissions weren't set correctly.

Compliance Challenges

Different industries have varying regulations for data protection. Ensuring that a SaaS application adheres to all relevant compliance standards can be complex. For instance, a healthcare SaaS solution needs to ensure it's HIPAA-compliant to protect patient data.

Insider Threats

Malicious or careless insiders can pose significant risks. Employees or contractors with access to SaaS applications might misuse their privileges either intentionally or accidentally. An example might be a disgruntled employee downloading and leaking customer information before leaving a company.

Here are a few common insider threat examples in the context of SaaS security:

  • An employee misusing access to a cloud-based CRM to extract and sell client data.
  • A team member uploading sensitive documents to a personal cloud storage, bypassing company protocols.
  • An administrator tweaking SaaS application settings, exposing data to unauthorized users.
  • A disgruntled staff member deleting critical data from a cloud-based project management tool.

Account Hijacking

Cyber attackers can take over user accounts, which is called account hijacking, gaining unauthorized access to sensitive information and resources. This can result from phishing attacks or weak password practices. A notable example is an attacker gaining control of an administrator's account and making malicious changes to the SaaS application.

Lack of Visibility

Often, companies don't have a clear view of all their SaaS applications in use, leading to "shadow IT" scenarios. Without clear visibility, it's hard to manage and secure these applications. An employee might, for instance, start using an unsanctioned collaboration tool, which could have vulnerabilities.

Integration Risks

Many SaaS applications integrate with other services, potentially opening more avenues for cyber threats. If one integrated tool is compromised, it might pose risks for others. Consider a CRM tool integrated with an email marketing platform; if the CRM gets breached, sensitive email lists can be exposed.

Multi-Tenancy Concerns

SaaS providers often host data from multiple clients on shared resources. A vulnerability affecting one client could potentially compromise others. Think of an e-commerce platform where a bug exposes one store's customer data, which, if not isolated, might risk revealing other stores' data.

Rapid Evolution and Updates

The dynamic nature of SaaS applications, with frequent updates, can occasionally introduce new vulnerabilities. Without timely patches and continuous monitoring, these vulnerabilities can be exploited. An example is a collaboration tool introducing a new feature, which, if not properly tested, might have a security loophole.

SaaS Security Best Practices to Follow

Following the best practices for SaaS security, training employees in your organization to also stick to those practices, and cultivating a SaaS security culture in your workplace can significantly reduce potential risks and workload of your IT and security teams.

1. Implement Strong Access Controls

Access controls are foundational to SaaS security. By enforcing role-based access controls (RBAC), organizations ensure employees only access data and tools necessary for their roles. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be mandated as it introduces an added layer of security, making unauthorized access significantly harder.

saas security risk illustration

2. Regularly Audit and Monitor Activities

Active monitoring provides insights into system access and user activities. By setting up alerts for suspicious actions, security teams can act swiftly to mitigate risks. This includes flagging actions like repeated login attempts, data transfer spikes, or accessing the system outside regular hours.

3. Conduct Employee Security Training

Human error remains a significant security vulnerability. By educating employees about the importance of security, recognizing potential threats, and promoting safe behaviors like unique password use, organizations build a more robust first line of defense against breaches.

employee training for saas security

4. Encrypt Sensitive Data

Encryption is essential for data protection. Both data at rest and in transit should be encrypted, ensuring any intercepted data remains unreadable. Proper management of encryption keys is crucial, and they should be stored separately from the encrypted data.

5. Stay Updated with Patches and Upgrades

Security vulnerabilities can be discovered in any software. Regularly updating and patching applications ensures these known vulnerabilities are addressed. Organizations should prioritize timely patching and remain in close contact with SaaS providers about any emerging threats.

6. Use Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs)

CASBs offer an additional security layer between users and cloud services. They allow organizations to enforce security policies across multiple cloud services, ensuring consistent application. CASBs can also provide valuable analytics, helping to identify potential security threats.

saas security data backup

7. Maintain Regular Backups

Data loss can be catastrophic. Regular backups ensure that, even in the event of a breach or system failure, data can be restored. It's essential to store backups in a secure, separate location and to periodically test restoration processes.

8. Vet Third-party Integrations Carefully

Not all third-party integrations adhere to the same security standards. Before integrating a new tool or service, thoroughly vet its security protocols. An insecure integration can become a weak point, making the entire SaaS ecosystem vulnerable.

9. Address Insider Threats Proactively

Both malicious and accidental insider actions can compromise security. By monitoring for unusual internal behavior and limiting access rights, risks associated with insider threats can be significantly reduced. Regular audits can also help in early detection.

saas vendor risk management illustration

10. Negotiate Clear Security Terms with Vendors

Before committing to a SaaS provider, understand their security measures. The provider's security standards should meet or exceed the organization's requirements. Contracts should clearly delineate responsibilities, ensuring the provider remains accountable for maintaining stringent security measures.

11. Utilize SaaS Discovery and Security Tools

These tools detect unauthorized SaaS applications being used within the organization, effectively addressing Shadow IT. By identifying and remediating security misconfigurations, these tools ensure that no overlooked applications become a security threat. Regular scans can help keep the organization's SaaS environment clean and secure.

How Secure Are SaaS Tools?

The security of SaaS (Software as a Service) tools depends on several factors, including the specific provider, the maturity of the tool, industry standards, and the practices implemented by the end-users. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

SaaS Provider Reputation and Maturity

  • Well-established Providers: Renowned SaaS providers like Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, and others have robust security infrastructures. Their large customer bases and reputations necessitate rigorous security measures.
  • Start-ups and Smaller Vendors: While many smaller vendors prioritize security, their resources might be limited compared to industry giants. It's essential to vet such vendors diligently.

Built-in Security Measures

  • Encryption: Most reputable SaaS tools use encryption for data in transit and at rest. This means that even if data is intercepted, it remains unreadable without the decryption key.
  • Regular Updates and Patches: Reliable SaaS providers proactively release updates to fix known vulnerabilities and enhance security features.
  • Access Controls: Many SaaS tools offer role-based access controls, ensuring users can access only what they need for their role.

Compliance and Certifications

  • SaaS tools catering to specific sectors, like healthcare or finance, often need to meet industry-specific compliance standards (e.g., HIPAA for healthcare).
  • Many providers also obtain certifications like ISO 27001 or SOC 2, which indicate adherence to recognized security standards.
saas data center security illustration

Data Center Security

  • Reputable SaaS providers use top-tier data centers with physical and electronic security measures, redundancy, and disaster recovery capabilities.

User Practices

  • End-User Behavior: Even the most secure SaaS tool can become vulnerable if end-users have lax security practices, such as weak passwords or falling for phishing scams.
  • Misconfigurations: Sometimes, users or administrators might incorrectly configure the tool, inadvertently exposing data or services.

Third-Party Integrations

  • Integrating with other services can introduce vulnerabilities if those services aren't equally secure. Proper vetting and regular reviews are essential.

Vendor Transparency

  • Trustworthy SaaS providers are transparent about their security practices, potential outages, and breaches. They often have clear communication channels for such issues.

How Does Resmo Help You Secure SaaS

saas security with Resmo

Resmo provides a comprehensive solution for detecting all SaaS applications accessed by your employees using business credentials or OAuth logins. Through native integrations and browser extensions, Resmo ensures visibility into every SaaS sign-up. This central platform empowers your IT and security teams to assess potential security risks associated with each app. Moreover, Resmo fosters collaboration by enabling employees to address and rectify their misconfigurations via ChatOps, streamlining the remediation process.

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