SaaS Platforms: The New Cybersecurity Battleground | SecurityWall
09 Aug 2023

SaaS Platforms: The New Cybersecurity Battleground

Hisham Mir by SecurityWall
SaaS Platforms: The New Cybersecurity Battleground

Securing the SaaS Attack Surface: The Power of Bespoke Audits and Testing

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Spending on SaaS platforms now outpaces investment in traditional IT infrastructure 3 to 1 according to IDC. In 2021 alone, worldwide SaaS revenue grew over 20% to $158 billion. But with more critical business operations and sensitive data now housed in the cloud, SaaS environments have become a prime target for cybercriminals.

Recent high-profile breaches of SaaS platforms underscore this emerging threat landscape. In 2021, Codecov, a SaaS testing platform, was compromised resulting in attackers gaining access to vulnerable internal applications at 29+ enterprise customers. The same year, Email security company Mimecast suffered a supply-chain attack that allowed hackers to stealthily steal sensitive customer data.

The rapid growth of SaaS has also made startups in this space a prime target for cybercriminals. High-profile breaches across companies like UnderArmor, Canva, and Twilio show that even tech-forward startups struggle to keep pace with security as they focus on agile innovation. Between 2018-2023, these attacks on SaaS-based startups exposed hundreds of millions of customer records and sensitive business data. The common attack vectors include phishing campaigns aimed at employees, credential stuffing to gain unauthorized access, and supply chain compromise through trusted third parties. Many startups lack strong access controls and activity monitoring capabilities tailored to their specific SaaS environment. 

This leads to insider threats from abuse of excessive user permissions. The distributed nature of SaaS data across vendor infrastructures also makes detection and response more difficult compared to traditional on-premise environments. With growing portions of daily business operations and sensitive data now housed in SaaS applications, the impact of such cyberattacks continues to intensify. These incidents reveal a concerning trend - while shifting to the cloud, many organizations have not properly secured their SaaS environments. ManageEngine research shows 58% of businesses do not use proper auditing and testing compliance and testing approach and only 25% encrypt SaaS application data. Such oversights leave cloud data exposed.

The Challenges of Securing Distributed SaaS Data

The distributed nature of SaaS data across vendor infrastructures poses unique monitoring challenges. Native access controls within platforms often lack granularity. Activity logging by vendors generates massive noisy event volumes, making it hard to detect anomalies and prioritize alerts.

Reasons SaaS security lags on-prem defenses:

  • Reliance on vendors to handle security, despite customers retaining data responsibility
  • Lack of visibility into user permissions, access policies, and sharing settings
  • Failure to monitor user activities, data access patterns, and system events
  • Limited logging, attribution details, and context for effective incident response
  • Misconfigured APIs and over-privileged integrations that expand the attack surface

For securing SaaS, traditional security tools also fall short. They can't provide tailored governance of intricate SaaS permission structures, APIs, and access policies. Off-the-shelf products treat SaaS as impenetrable black boxes rather than providing inside-out monitoring.

Closing the SaaS Security Gap Through Audits and Testing

Organizations must invest in governance, auditing, monitoring, and testing specifically customized for their unique SaaS environment. Key initiatives include:

  • API and Integration Audits: Identify misconfigured APIs and overbroad partner integration access.
  • In-Depth Activity Monitoring: Analyze admin, user, and system events for anomalies using machine learning.
  • Proactive Incident Response: Develop SaaS-specific playbooks and access attribution details.
  • Attack Surface Reduction: Eliminate unmanaged legacy integrations, orphaned accounts, and unnecessary extensions.
  • Continuous SaaS Pen Testing: Uncover new vulnerabilities from constant changes to configurations, codes, and integrations.
  • Customized SaaS Policy Controls: Fine-tune data access, sharing, and session policies based on user roles.

Moving SaaS Security Forward with a Custom-Fit Strategy

With today's remote and hybrid work environment, businesses rely on SaaS more than ever. But without adequate safeguards tailored to their specific SaaS footprint, data is being left overexposed.

To effectively secure distributed SaaS environments, organizations need to move beyond a reactive to a proactive security posture. This requires custom-fit SaaS governance integrated across people, processes, and technology controls.

On the people front, appointing a SaaS security lead or team provides centralized oversight for managing configurations, policies, and training. They can conduct regular user access and permission reviews to minimize insider threats.

Processes like incident response plans should be adapted for SaaS by including playbooks for scenarios like compromised credentials or malicious insiders. Central logging with detailed attribution and alerts enables swift response.

Technology controls must provide unified visibility and control across fragmented SaaS environments. Core capabilities needed:

  • Activity monitoring to analyze events
  • Access broker tools to enforce least privilege authorization
  • API and integration security analysis to find misconfigurations
  • Cloud DLP and encryption to protect sensitive data
  • Custom analytics to detect anomalies and surface outliers

This integrated approach provides layered inside-out SaaS defense. But security requirements evolve as new risks emerge. Maintaining protection requires regularly reassessing the access landscape via audits and pen testing.

By combining the right blend of people, processes, and technologies tailored to their organization's unique SaaS footprint, companies can effectively govern these critical cloud environments.

The key is recognizing SaaS security as an adaptive process, not a one-time process. Continual auditing for visibility and testing for new exposures is essential for sustainable data protection in the cloud.

Conducting regular audits is not just a proactive measure but an essential aspect of business protection in today's digital landscape. By partnering with a PTA-approved firm like SecurityWall, businesses gain access to expertise, cost-effective solutions, comprehensive quality reports, and ongoing support. Their specialized knowledge help organizations identify vulnerabilities, prevent data breaches, ensure regulatory compliance, and safeguard business continuity.

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