SaaS has gradually become ubiquitous, riding on its twin qualities of flexibility and cost-effectiveness over legacy and on-premise software. Its implementation process is prompt, and employees can readily access the tools from anywhere. 

On top of it, if you are a part of a multi-tenant architecture, you only have to pay for the software; the maintenance cost spreads across all users. 

These are the key reasons why companies with assertive growth use as many as 250+ SaaS tools. It gives them the strength to expand their business at pace while keeping the cost low. 

However, security often emerges as the Achilles’ heel of this shared ecosystem. As per an Adaptive Shield survey, In 2023, 55% of organizations experienced a SaaS security incident. The fallout of such incidents often snowballs into a substantial loss of revenue, reputation and posture.  This emphasizes the importance of SaaS security checklists.

In this blog post, we will dive deep into the definition and constituents of a SaaS security checklist and uncover the best practices for SaaS security.

What is a SaaS security checklist?

A SaaS security checklist is a comprehensive guideline and a step-by-step manual for Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Chief Security Officers (CSOs) to evaluate the company's existing and newly onboarded SaaS solutions. 

Key components of a SaaS security checklist typically include:

  • Data Encryption: Secure data in transit and at rest.
  • Access Controls: Implement strong user authentication and authorization.
  • Regular Security Audits: Conduct vulnerability assessments periodically.
  • Compliance Standards Adherence: Follow relevant legal and industry standards like GDPR, HIPAA.
  • Endpoint Security: Protect all endpoints accessing the SaaS application.
  • Incident Response Plan: Establish and test procedures for handling security incidents.
  • Data Backup and Recovery: Ensure effective backup strategies and recovery plans.
  • Regular Updates and Patch Management: Keep the application updated with the latest security patches.

Prepare specific checklists to ensure your SaaS apps comply with different security standards. For example, create a security checklist for GDPR and another for HIPAA, as they have their own requirements. 

SaaS vendors also extensively use this checklist. It’s a proactive way of assuring the clients that they strictly adhere to the security standards and build their trust. 

What are the major SaaS security risks?

Here’s a list of the most common risks that you should be aware of and prepare your security team accordingly:

Data breaches

A data breach occurs when company-sensitive data is leaked. This occurs when companies rely on the SaaS provider for the complete security of their data.

Last year, as a Thales Group report suggests, a worrying 39% of businesses experienced a data breach within their cloud environment, marking a notable increase of 4 percentage points from the previous year's figure of 35%. This trend is further compounded by the fact that 75% of businesses report that over 40% of their data stored in the cloud is sensitive, representing a significant jump of 26% from the year before.

The ideal way to mitigate this risk is by internally reinforcing strong SaaS security measures. Appoint a security team to monitor how these SaaS tools store data and decide what steps should be taken to add an extra layer of security to the apps. 

Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to using unauthorized applications by employees within an organization, bypassing the IT department's knowledge and approval. It does not include malware, which is malicious software installed by hackers. Shadow IT specifically involves employee-initiated use of non-sanctioned apps.

As a result, the crucial business data stored in these apps falls beyond the purview of IT teams’ vigilance. This creates an easy inlet for hackers to access sensitive information and manipulate it thereafter. 

Risky APIs

When left unsupervised, APIs may invite malicious sources to exploit your data. Once this is discovered, it can erode user trust and damage the company's reputation.

Insecure APIs occur when senior developers fail to perform code reviews or are not configuring the APIs properly. Poorly coded API lends additional visibility to the sensitive data.

Lack of compliance

One tricky part about compliance is if your cloud service provider does not adhere to particular security standards or industry regulations, your private data can be in jeopardy, and you are also liable to penalties. 

For example, a healthcare provider follows the stringent guidelines of HIPAA. However, the SaaS vendor that manages the patient record and sensitive patient information does not comply with the HIPAA. In the unfortunate event of patient data falling into the hands of threat actors, the healthcare provider will face substantial fines from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

To avoid such instances, conduct thorough background checks and prepare more while evaluating vendors. Work with only the vendors that meet the industry standards.

5 SaaS security best practices

To help you get started with reinforcing security for your SaaS ecosystem, here’s a curated checklist of the five best practices you can employ:

1. Conduct regular security audits

Regular audit of your SaaS apps protects against existing and emerging cyber threats, diagnoses errors, and strengthens your security system. Ask your IT team to perform security audits periodically or hire external vendors who are specialists in this task.

If your business functions in a foreign country, ensure that the country-specific regulatory requirements are taken into account.  

For example, the Singapore Standard for Multi-Tier Cloud Security is specific to Singapore and is designed to set the basic security requirements for cloud service providers operating in the country. It covers several aspects of security requirements like scope, risk management, and compliance with local laws.

2. Implement identity and access management (IAM)

IAM acts as the gatekeeper for your SaaS applications, controlling user access and data permissions. It uses user authentication to verify a user's identity, ensuring that individuals are who they claim to be before granting access. 

On the other hand, role-based access control (RBAC) manages user permissions based on their role within an organization. It assigns access rights to users according to the specific responsibilities of their role, determining what data and system modules they can access.

For example, your company has hired a new sales representative. They will initially have access to the customer information and sales-related data only. However, when promoted to sales manager, they will be able to view and modify sales and analytics reports. 

Many companies follow the least privilege access principle, which gives users a minimum level of access to get their job done. Implementing strict IAM rules reduces the chances of unauthorized access and data breaches. 

3. Ensure endpoint security

An endpoint in a company's network refers to any device like laptops, smartphones, or IoT devices that are connected to it. Endpoint security is a critical strategy to shield these devices from external threats, especially since employees can access SaaS applications through them. 

As a result, unauthorized users are blocked from accessing sensitive information, reducing the chances of malware attacks. 

Here are some tips for implementing endpoint security:

  • Use antivirus software: Install antivirus on all devices. This is the minimum requirement for protecting your data from malicious attacks.
  • Check software updates: Regular software updates prepare your device software for the latest cybersecurity requirements.
  • Implement encryption:  Protect your data by enabling full-disk encryption on endpoint devices. Also, do that for communication channels if your teams work remotely. 

4. Data backup and recovery

SaaS backup and recovery entails safeguarding data stored in SaaS applications and restoring it in case of loss due to incidents like human errors, natural disasters, or theft. 

While most cloud providers offer data backup and recovery services, these services often have limitations. Therefore, understanding and supplementing these basic services with additional measures is crucial for comprehensive data protection.

For example, they may not perform backups as frequently as you want. Similarly, the cloud service provider can take many days to restore the lost data. 

Avoid this by working with a backup solution and use these three criteria to evaluate the suitable vendor: 

  • Granular recovery: Give more preference to solutions that can quickly recover even granular data like emails
  • Customer support: Check if the solution provides 24*7 customer support and the quality of their tutorials. 
  • Pricing: Pick the solution within your budget that offers flexible pricing and clearly describes the licensing and maintenance fees.

5. Training and awareness

Your best efforts to secure your SaaS apps can fall short if your employees are not trained and made aware of the steps they can take for SaaS security. 

Human error is one of the most common reasons for cyber attacks and data loss. Therefore, educating your employees about basic security measures goes a long way in reducing risks and preparing them to identify and respond to threats. 

Here are a few measures you can take to train your employees: 

  • Provide deep training to SaaS app admins: The aim is to educate them on the latest hacking tactics. 
  • Counsel employees: This helps you understand what encourages them to use a specific app. This will also take you a step closer to the root cause of shadow IT.
  • Train employees on password policies: Consistently check password requirements in your SaaS apps and prompt them to use complex passwords.

Enhance the security of your SaaS applications using Spendflo 

As a SaaS buying and optimization platform, Spendflo provides a centralized platform for effectively managing SaaS contracts and vendor data, facilitating quicker and more comprehensive compliance processes. This enables IT departments to secure their SaaS ecosystem, strictly adhering to various security standards and regulations. 

Moreover, Spendflo's Security Hub automates vendor risk management, accelerating security reviews and collaboration to minimize risks. It offers a streamlined platform for tracking progress and handling security concerns, enhancing the procurement and onboarding of SaaS tools. 

Find out how Spendflo can prioritize security with faster compliance; book a free savings analysis today.

Guru Nicketan
Content Strategist
Karthikeyan Manivannan
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