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The SaaS architecture allows companies to focus on their core business while the third-party provider focuses on managing the security. Find out more about what software as a service model means and how you can efficiently protect your SaaS applications and implement cloud SaaS security.

What Is Software as a Service?

Software as a service or briefly SaaS is a business model that provides access to applications over the internet or cloud. It’s an alternative to buying and installing software locally.

SaaS implies a subscription-based and centrally-hosted model of software licensing and deployment. For this reason, it is also referred to as rentware, subscribeware, or on-demand software. Software as a service is part and parcel of the terminology of cloud computing. It is an umbrella term that contains other related expressions of the same nomenclature, namely infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). Other phrases in the field of cloud computing include managed software as a service (MSaaS), data center as a service (DCaaS), information technology management as a service (ITMaaS), and mobile backend as a service (MBaaS).

What Are Some Software as a Service Examples?

Among the variety of applications out there, here are some examples for software as a service you’ve surely heard about:

  • Salesforce;
  • Microsoft Office 365;
  • Cisco Webex;
  • Box;
  • Adobe Creative Cloud;
  • ServiceNow;
  • Workday;
  • And the list can go on.

SaaS applications are also known as hosted software or web-based software, they are usually accessed via a thin client, such as a web browser. However, it is not uncommon for SaaS to be delivered through installed client software as well. Heimdal Security’s own suite of cybersecurity solutions is a prime example of how this works. Our products are installed through a local agent under a unified dashboard where you can check the status of your endpoints, filter requests, and so on. Network admins can also log into the dashboard via browser to facilitate mobile accessibility.

Software as a Service Benefits. How SaaS Helps You

Software as a service can be beneficial because it offers many advantages to customers. Here’s why:

It Can Be Implemented Fast

It’s easy and time-efficient for an organization to subscribe to a SaaS application, unlike on-premises ones which obviously take longer to subscribe to.

The Upgrades and Maintenance Are Effortless

It’s easy to manage and upgrade your SaaS application and here’s the reason why: your SaaS provider takes care for you, handling patches and updates.

Besides Saving You Time, It Saves You Money

You don’t have to spend money on staff or infrastructure, because there is no need for on-site IT staff to take care of maintenance activities. This becomes a plus for small businesses too that can reap the same benefits of enterprise-level applications since the costs are reduced.

Scalable and On-demand Resources

Companies can buy much storage, end-user licenses, and functionality as they need for their applications.

What Is SaaS Security?

Simply put, SaaS security refers to a set of practices put into place by an organization to protect its assets that are involved in the software as a service architecture.

Why Should You Make the SaaS Cybersecurity a Priority?

Threat actors are particularly attracted to environments that deploy software-as-a-service products because of the volume of sensitive data that it’s stored there. Data like payment card numbers or even PII (personally identifiable information) trigger hackers and that is why security for SaaS applications becomes vital, as it’s needed to avoid data breaches, because, even if the platform, network, apps, operating system, and physical infrastructure are all under the control of the SaaS provider, what this does not do is to protect customer data. This means that some SaaS data security best practices should be put in place in order to properly handle the security of your software as a service.

To further emphasize the importance of software as a service security look at this statistic: a data breach costs $4.24 million on average globally, according to IBM. Besides the costs, a data breach comes with a full packet of issues for a company: losses in productivity, potential non-compliance penalties, and even damage to the reputation of the brand.

SaaS Architecture

Most SaaS solutions are developed on the multitenant architecture model, which consists of the same version of an application being deployed to all clients. As per the Gartner Glossary,

Multitenancy is a reference to the mode of operation of software where multiple independent instances of one or multiple applications operate in a shared environment. The instances (tenants) are logically isolated, but physically integrated. The degree of logical isolation must be complete, but the degree of physical integration will vary. The more physical integration, the harder it is to preserve the logical isolation.

The software as a service architecture you choose for your company is also influenced by your industry. According to software researcher Clement Vouillon, there are two main submodules when considering this principle:

  • Vertical SaaS, which answers the needs of a specific industry. Examples include software for the fields of real estate, finance, healthcare, etc.
  • Horizontal SaaS, which focuses on a specific software category regardless of industry. Examples include software for sales, human resources, marketing, etc.

Saas Security Risks. What Are Some Challenges in Implementing Software-as-a-Service Security?

The Challenge with Access Management

Before buying a SaaS product, you should be aware, from a customer perspective, if this shows particular network issues such as the lack of monitoring or an improper patching strategy. Access management is essential because when we talk about software as a service we talk about sensitive data stored in the cloud, therefore its exposure would do no good and cloud SaaS security becomes thus essential.

Misconfiguration Might Represent a Risk for the SaaS Cybersecurity

Because of the large number of complexity layers that software as a service products encompass, this might also trigger the risk of the emergence of misconfigurations impacting consequently the cloud infrastructure.

Check Data Storage Policies

When purchasing software as a service, an aspect that should be considered in terms of software as service security is that data encryption should be available in all data storage stages (in transit, or at rest), how your software as a service provider stores that data whether using a cloud service provider or in a private data center and aspect regarding the files sharing between end-users.

Recovery in Case of Security Disaster

Recovery in case of cybersec disaster is an essential aspect that might challenge the SaaS application security. You need to be aware of some aspects like: what’s the backup plan in case something happens and if and how you benefit from a complete restoration in this kind of situation.

A disaster might mean a data breach, ransomware attacks, malware infiltration, and so on can critically impact a business. That is why you need to know what’s the prevention plan of your software as a service provider and how they can address these types of potential risks and what are the means of proper and timely identification of such a risk.

The Complexity of the Applications

SaaS applications are normally both complex and unique that show features like proprietary data logs, permissions, roles, or configurations. Protecting these applications in an efficient manner means that security teams take into account each particularity which can become challenging and raise some SaaS security concerns if they don’t have a proper overview into the SaaS environment. This can be achieved by giving them more insight into the apps and letting them get access to information linked to SaaS environments.

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SaaS Security Best Practices

What do you need to do to properly implement security for SaaS applications within your organization? Let’s find out which are the top ten security best practices when speaking of software as service security:

#1 Patch Your Software Regularly

Among the NCSC’s general SaaS security advice, updating software on a regular basis is a top priority. Unfortunately, unpatched programs continue to represent a significant cybersecurity risk for your company. To solve this issue, we’ve integrated the Heimdal™ Patch & Asset Management module in our core offering of Heimdal™ Threat Prevention. XPR automatically deploys relevant patches within hours of their release, ensuring that all vulnerabilities in your network are closed. To benefit from both real-time vulnerability monitoring and regular software updates, our recommendation is Endpoint Security Software. A complete suite of cybersecurity solutions, TPE is your one-stop shop for full endpoint detection and response.

#2 Integrate Real-Time Vulnerability Monitoring

When most of your company’s workflow runs through the cloud and is controlled by multiple users, identifying malicious requests retroactively becomes near impossible. Therefore, scanning for vulnerabilities in real-time is essential and can save you, your employees, and your clients from a world of cyber- hurt in the long run.

This is something our Heimdal™ Next-Gen Antivirus & MDM​ can help you with. Its real-time cloud scanning feature ensures that all unidentified files are sent to our database for a closer look. We recommend running this inactive mode to ensure an ongoing and automated process. Nonetheless, if you are worried about resource drainage, you can also schedule your scans or perform them whenever you see fit.

Another reason why you need to never cease mitigating and monitoring threats is that threat actors continually look for techniques to compromise SaaS applications, for instance, leveraging session hijacking for MFA and SSO bypassing purposes.

#3 Train Your Employees on SaaS Cyber Security

Your organization is probably already employing one, if not more, software-as-a-service platform. The SaaS model is used to distribute Heimdal Security’s own portfolio of products. Do your personnel, on the other hand, understand how this particular architecture works? Best practices for SaaS security should be a major focus of the cybersecurity training you (ideally) provide to your employees. Given that human error continues to be a major contributor to data breaches, we cannot emphasize the need of training your personnel enough.

Here are some of the most important topics to cover during the training:

  • definition and key concepts,
  • architecture models,
  • cloud computing,
  • information safety in the cloud,
  • and proper account management.

#4 Extend the Cybersecurity Training to Customers as Well

Does your organization work with customers, contractors, or any other type of third-party collaborator? They should be educated on your use of SaaS applications as well. While they might not have the same level of access your employees have, they need to know how to react in case of a SaaS security rift. Account takeover fraud is an example of a pervasive cybersecurity problem that targets organizations’ clients rather than the firms themselves.

#5 Stick to a SaaS Security Checklist

Make sure you have a clear SaaS security checklist put in place. This helps you understand your company’s specific cybersecurity needs and assess the trustworthiness of your SaaS provider.

#6 Encrypt Your Data in the Cloud

Normally, SaaS applications use TLS (transport layer security) for the protection of data in transit. But what about data at rest? Both data types: in storage and in transit (end-user to cloud or cloud app to cloud app) can be well safeguarded through encryption. This practice can help you, as the saying goes, kill two birds with one stone. This means that, encrypting your data help you both maintain a good level of cybersecurity while supporting you achieve compliance with regulations.

#7 Use a CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker)

You can opt for SaaS security services such as a CASB, which is a cloud access security broker. It sits in the middle of your network to enforce security policies and protect data. A CASB can be used to protect against data loss, malware, ransomware, and other threats. It can also be used as an additional non-native layer of security for your applications. A CASB can be either proxy or API-based, whatever the choice, first make sure you choose an option that works within your IT infrastructure as its role is to address the shortcomings encountered in your software as a service provider security model, not to confound you.

#8 You Can Use an SSPM (SaaS Security Posture Management)

An SSPM guarantees that SaaS apps are configured correctly to prevent them from being hacked, providing you with automatic tracking of SaaS risks and even with automatic analysis.

#9 Adopt a Shared Responsibility Model

Another widely recommended best practice would be the shared responsibility model between providers, product vendors, and customers, each having their role when speaking of SaaS cyber security: the app provider to take care of the physical infrastructure, network, operating system, and application in SaaS, while the customer to remain in charge of data and identity management.

 #10 Grant Users the Correct Level of Access

Another key recommendation from the NCSC is to centrally manage SaaS resources and grant users the correct (and minimum) level of access required for them to perform their duties. This is known as the principle of least privilege and is a cybersecurity essential. But what happens when a member of staff has to complete a task that requires a higher level of access than they have? Naturally, they will either send rights escalation requests to the admin or request that the admin helps directly. Normally, processing such requests on a daily can become quite time-consuming for your network administrator, which is where Heimdal™ Privileged Access Management comes in. Heimdal™ Privileged Access Management is a PAM solution that minimizes the risk of insider threats or account takeovers by providing your business with streamlined access governance. Your network admin can automate a variety of escalation requests through it, as well as approve or decline them on the go.

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Wrapping Up

Most software nowadays is delivered as a service. Office staples such as Dropbox, Slack, ZenDesk, or Hubspot all follow this model, as do household names such as Netflix or Spotify. Our very own Heimdal Security suite of products is SaaS. And when everything is SaaS and SaaS is everything, security for SaaS applications becomes all the more important.

At this point, you might be wondering: how can we secure your SaaS applications when our products themselves are SaaS applications? The answer here is simple and far less of a catch-22 than it might seem at first. Let’s circle back to what the NCSC stipulated that SaaS security is a shared responsibility. This obligation is shared between you, the service consumer, and us, the service providers. As a cybersecurity company with years of expertise in the field, we are not only upholding our end of the bargain but helping you do so as well. Yes, it’s that simple.

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This article was initially written by Alina Georgiana Petcu in 2020 and updated by Andra Andrioaie in 2022.

Author Profile

Andra Andrioaie

Security Enthusiast

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Hi! My name is Andra and I am a passionate writer interested in a variety of topics. I am curious about the cybersecurity world and what I want to achieve through what I write is to keep you curious too!

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