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What is SSPM? SaaS Security Posture Management

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SSPM, or SaaS Security Posture Management, is an automated security solution designed specifically to monitor and manage potential risks within Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. SSPM tools identifies risks such as misconfigurations, dormant user accounts, over-privileged user roles, and potential compliance infractions. Unlike Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM), SSPM focuses solely on SaaS applications, ensuring that platforms like ServiceNow, Office 365, and Salesforce remain secure from potential threats. In a world where SaaS solutions are central to business functionality, SSPM acts as the guardian, maintaining the integrity and security of these essential tools.

Gartner introduced the SSPM (SaaS Security Posture Management) category to represent solutions dedicated to ongoing risk evaluation and management of the security stature of SaaS applications.

What is SaaS security posture?

Security posture refers to the status of an enterprise's resources and capabilities in place to detect, mitigate, and respond to cyber security threats. It encompasses a wide range of tools and controls to safeguard your data, users, networks, and devices, including information security, network security, data security and penetration testing.

  • Information security
  • Network security
  • Data security
  • Penetration testing

The concept is the same with SaaS security posture, only this time; it applies to SaaS applications, which are cloud-hosted solutions rather than an internal network. This is what differentiates SaaS security from traditional network security. Since SaaS tools are hosted remotely, they are substantially out of your organization's control. 

security posture definition

They are accessed through the internet, from any device, anywhere in the world, increasing your attack surface and risk of unauthorized access. As a solution, SSPM tools help close security gaps in your SaaS applications by detecting the security risks. Let's move on with the definition of SSPM.

What is SaaS security posture management (SSPM)?

SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) is the practice of leveraging SaaS security controls and continuously monitoring your SaaS applications such as Slack, GitHub, and Jira to maintain and improve the security posture of your organization. SSPM can help you:

  • Identify and address risks
  • Reduce vulnerabilities and manage risks before they become a problem
  • Identify high-risk areas in your SaaS tools, assess their impact, and determine how best to mitigate them
  • Ensure security and compliance
SSPM definition

What is an SSPM tool?

An SSPM tool, which stands for SaaS Security Posture Management tool, is a specialized software solution designed to manage and enhance the security posture of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. Given the widespread adoption of SaaS applications in modern business environments, ensuring their security is of utmost importance. SSPM tools address this need by helping organizations identify and rectify potential vulnerabilities specific to their cloud-based software applications.

How do SSPM tools work?

SSPM key functionalities

SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) operates by employing a combination of techniques, tools, and strategies to ensure the safety of SaaS applications. Here’s a closer look at how SSPM works:

Step #1 Discovery and Inventory

The first step involves cataloging all the SaaS applications in use within an organization. This discovery phase ensures that there are no "shadow IT" applications (unsanctioned apps) being used without the knowledge of the IT department.

Step #2 Configuration Assessment

SSPM tools continuously scan the configurations of the SaaS applications to identify any settings or parameters that might be vulnerable or pose a security risk. This includes checking for weak password policies, improper sharing settings, or any other security misconfigurations.

Step #3 Policy Enforcement

Organizations can set predefined security policies within the SSPM tools. When a misconfiguration is identified, the SSPM solution can either automatically rectify it or send alerts to administrators for manual intervention, based on the policy.

Step #4 User and Access Monitoring

SSPM solutions monitor user activities and access patterns. This helps in identifying unusual behaviors like excessive permissions, unused accounts, or potential insider threats.

Step #5 Compliance Checks

Many SSPM tools come with built-in checks for various compliance standards like GDPR, HIPAA, and more. They ensure that the SaaS applications are aligned with the necessary compliance requirements.

Step #6 Threat Detection

Advanced SSPM solutions may also incorporate threat detection capabilities. They can identify suspicious or malicious activities within SaaS applications, like data breaches or unauthorized data access.

Step #7 Integrations with Other Systems

Most SSPM tools can integrate seamlessly with other security and IT tools. This integration ensures that alerts and data can flow between systems, providing a holistic view of the organization's security posture.

Step #8 Reporting and Dashboards

SSPM solutions often offer detailed reporting and dashboard capabilities. Administrators can get an at-a-glance view of the security posture of their SaaS apps and dive deeper into any potential issues or historical data.

Step #9 Automated Remediation

Some SSPM tools have the capability to not only detect but also automatically rectify certain vulnerabilities or misconfigurations. This ensures that vulnerabilities are addressed swiftly, minimizing potential exposure.

5 Key features of SSPM

  1. Relentless Oversight: SSPM is like a security camera for your online tools. It's always on, always checking, making sure everything’s safe and no one’s breaking any rules.
  2. Proactive Defenses: Instead of a mere alert system, think of SSPM as an active defense mechanism. It doesn’t just signal a threat; it springs into action, nipping potential risks in the bud. Such capabilities offload the burden from IT teams, enabling them to steer their focus to broader strategies.
  3. Adaptable Integration: SSPM’s strength lies in its adaptability. Be it a collaborative workspace, an organizational management tool, or niche SaaS solutions, SSPM flexibly merges its capabilities. This ensures that every corner of an organization's digital infrastructure is scrutinized for vulnerabilities, from erroneous settings to ill-defined user access.
  4. Benchmarked Security Protocols: SSPM is anchored in globally recognized security benchmarks. It’s like having a watchdog trained by the best in the business. The system meticulously scours application setups, flagging configurations that veer off the secure path, ensuring businesses remain in the clear, both security-wise and regulatory-wise.
  5. Consolidated Security Insights: One of SSPM’s crowning features is its intuitive dashboard, a singular pane that offers a comprehensive snapshot of the organization's SaaS security health. This not only streamlines the process of monitoring but fosters collaboration among stakeholders, ensuring everyone is aligned and enlightened.

Also read SSPM Checklist

Benefits of SaaS security posture management

The stronger an organization's SSPM security, the more capable they are of defending against security vulnerabilities, cyber attacks, and data breaches, in short, minimizing risks. 

SaaS security posture management SSPM benefits

The dynamic nature of SaaS applications has led modern organizations to reconsider their compliance approach. So, today many organizations strive to comply with industry standards, privacy regulations, and security frameworks. However, compliance can quickly go downhill with the slightest negligence. Improved security posture helps adhere to compliance standards and requirements.

  • Prevents misconfigurations: 
According to research, misconfigurations and unauthorized access are among the highest-ranked cloud threats. (See SaaS Security statistics)

Data breach incidents saw a soar in recent years, the majority of which are due to misconfigurations of cloud services. As the number of SaaS applications used increases, resource configurations tend to be overlooked. This, in return, leads to security risks and falling out of compliance. SaaS security posture management averts these by automatically detecting misconfigurations. 

  • Eliminates overly permissive access settings:

Users with overly permissive roles might lead to broader attack surfaces and higher chances of accidental data exposure. That's why SSPM evaluates user roles and permissions in your SaaS applications, ensuring that only authorized users have access to a certain type of data, devices, and assets.

Suggested reading: What is Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management?

SSPM vs CASB vs CSPM: Comparative Analysis

SSPM, cloud access security broker (CASB), and cloud security posture management (CSPM) are pivotal in the cloud security context. While they all share the mutual goal of enhancing cloud security, their functionalities and scopes differ. Here’s how:

SSPM vs. CASB

CASB acts as a shield, defending sensitive data by amalgamating multiple security policies into one robust defense mechanism. It can be visualized as a gatekeeper stationed between cloud service consumers and providers, ensuring that traffic complies with the company's security policies. It has the flexibility to be hosted on the cloud, on-premises, or as stand-alone software. Moreover, CASB's scope extends to a range of cloud environments such as platform-as-a-service (PaaS), SaaS, and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), making it a versatile solution.

Conversely, SSPM narrows its focus predominantly on SaaS applications. It hones in on the security configurations and user activities within these apps, rather than taking a holistic view of the broader cloud ecosystem like CASB.

SSPM vs. CSPM

SSPM shares common ground with CSPM in monitoring cloud applications for potential configuration weaknesses. However, their approach and depth of inspection vary. CSPM delves deeper into the intricacies of cloud configurations, pinpointing specific vulnerabilities that could jeopardize network security. Imagine a scenario where a user is inadvertently granted elevated privileges, granting them unintended access to confidential segments of a cloud application. CSPM is designed to spot and rectify such lapses.

Furthermore, CSPM integrates advanced automation to consistently scan and evaluate potential security gaps, recommending or implementing remedial measures where necessary. This proactive stance empowers businesses to perpetually assess risks, rectify misconfigurations, and strategize to uphold the gold standard in cloud security, safeguarding sensitive organizational data.

In essence, while SSPM offers a microscope to closely inspect individual applications, CSPM provides a telescope, enabling businesses to view and secure their entire cloud galaxy. (Compare SSPM vs CSPM in detail.)

Frequently Asked Questions about SSPM

What is the difference between CASB and SSPM?

CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker) serves as a gatekeeper between cloud users and multiple cloud services, ensuring company-wide security policies are followed. In contrast, SSPM (SaaS Security Posture Management) specifically targets the security of SaaS applications, continuously assessing and managing potential vulnerabilities. Essentially, CASB provides broader cloud security coverage, while SSPM specializes in safeguarding SaaS applications.

What is Gartner SSPM?

Gartner, a leading research and advisory company, introduced the term SSPM, which stands for SaaS Security Posture Management. Gartner's SSPM category refers to solutions that are designed to continuously assess and manage the security posture of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. These solutions help organizations detect potential vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, or non-compliance in their cloud-native applications. Gartner's categorization and subsequent reports on SSPM provide insights and guidance for businesses looking to understand and invest in these security tools to enhance their SaaS application security.

What is the difference between SSPM and SASE?

SSPM (SaaS Security Posture Management) focuses on continuously assessing and optimizing the security configurations of SaaS applications, pinpointing potential vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. On the other hand, SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) offers a unified cloud-based solution combining network security and WAN capabilities, ensuring secure and efficient access to cloud resources for users, irrespective of their location or device. In essence, SSPM addresses SaaS application security, while SASE looks at broader network access and security.

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