The software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry has exploded in recent years, with billions of dollars flowing into cloud-based solutions that help companies streamline operations and reduce costs.
SaaS business owners – both startups and experienced players – are constantly leveraging emerging technology and solutions to help them scale and allocate their resources more effectively.
However, as SaaS technology and automation both spread, these web-based systems have become a prime target for cybercriminals seeking to infiltrate data and disrupt operations. For some startups, that comes at too heavy a financial and reputational cost to feasibly and promptly recover from, meanwhile, established names risk tarnishing the customer trust they’ve built up over the years should their data fall into the wrong hands.
Navigating the evolving cyber threat landscape is no easy feat, especially considering keeping up with new technology trends also requires constant attention and adaptation. However, what can you do today that will ensure your SaaS environment is best protected against the most common types of breaches and threats? That’s what this short guide will explore.
What Types of Cyber Threats Prominently Affect SaaS Organizations?
SaaS providers face a wide variety of cyber threats at the hands of malicious actors looking to disrupt operations, steal data, and extort companies.
Some of the most prevalent and dangerous include:
- Phishing – Fraudulent emails or messages aimed at tricking staff into handing over login credentials or sensitive information. Phishing usually precedes other attacks and is unsurprisingly effective given how most breaches are due to human error.
- Ransomware – Malware (malicious software) that encrypts data and locks users out of access until a ransom is paid, which can catastrophically halt operations and put business leaders at a huge financial disadvantage if they comply.
- DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) Attacks – Attacks where an environment is flooded with traffic (usually from bots) to overwhelm the servers and subsequently disrupt apps or sites, to the point where they need to be brought back online manually.
- SQL Injections – These involve cybercriminals injecting malicious SQL code into web forms to access or destroy databases.
- Insider Threats – Instigatorsare are often via social engineering methods, impersonators or even disgruntled ex-employees or contractors. They interact with unsuspecting staff and team members to execute acts of data theft, fraud or sabotage.
Threats are constantly evolving, so it’s imperative that SaaS companies implement robust cyber security controls and conduct regular risk assessments to identify and prioritize vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities may be accounted for one day but then become a possible entry point the next.
Notable Examples of Prolific SaaS Cyber Breaches and Hacks
Recent high-profile attacks on SaaS providers have shown that insufficient security puts businesses and their customers at risk. However, reviewing these incidents in hindsight can help companies inform future defense strategies.
Some examples include:
- MongoDB – In 2016 and 2017, misconfigured databases exposed over 26,000 MongoDB servers, leading to the theft of massive datasets.
- Canva – In 2019, the graphic design tool suffered a breach exposing 4 million user accounts.
- Robinhood – The popular trading app was hacked in 2021 to obtain 5 million customer email addresses and 2 million customer names.
- Slack – In 2019, the widely-used instant messaging app suffered a breach that compromised user profile data, which went undetected for years.
- Blackbaud – In 2020, this SaaS provider paid a ransom to cybercriminals, which affected thousands of customers, and was later hit by civil penalties for failing to disclose all details.
- Twilio – A configuration error in 2021 allowed threat actors to gain unauthorized access to customer data.
These and countless other breaches illustrate the fragility of SaaS environments. By learning from past incidents and others’ mistakes, organizations can identify their greatest risks and harden systems appropriately.
6 Ways to Strengthen Your SaaS Environment
The incidents highlighted above only illustrate the need for SaaS companies to make security a top priority.
Here are six best practices you can implement immediately to keep your SaaS environment locked down and customers’ data protected.
1. Manage Access and Authentication
With distributed workforces accessing your in-house or external SaaS apps from multiple devices and locations, access management is crucial. Remote working models only facilitate unauthorized access from intercepting cybercriminals.
Follow these concrete rules:
- Enforce strong password policies by ensuring all passwords contain at least 12 characters including special symbols. They should be regularly updated and not repeated across logins.
- Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) using one-time passwords, codes, SMS messages or biometric checks. Use third-party authenticator apps to facilitate this, alongside complex password storage and generation.
- Control user permissions to limit access to sensitive data. Automatically log out inactive sessions and remove users after a certain period.
Only authorize validated and verified users, while ensuring that suspicious IP addresses are monitored and blocked.
2. Encrypt Sensitive Data
Encryption is a must for securing sensitive customer data like financial information and healthcare records.
Ensure that all environments have valid TLS/SSL certification across all programs and software, as unsecured connections using standard HTTP can be intercepted. HTTPS validation ensures that server and application requests are encrypted and inaccessible.
In addition, use robust algorithms like AES-256 to encrypt data at rest in your databases and transit across networks. Consider also encrypting less sensitive data like usernames, emails and profile data, as this can mitigate breaches.
3. Patch Frequently
Cybercriminals aggressively scan for and target known software vulnerabilities. If you leave incumbent software running for too long without installing recommended core updates and scanning for patches, you could be presenting an open door for a cybercriminal to compromise your infrastructure. Therefore, regular patching and upgrading are essential.
- Patch operating systems, databases, applications, libraries and frameworks as soon as updates are released.
- Prioritize critical patches for publicly disclosed vulnerabilities.
- Sign up for vendor notifications about new patches.
- Test patches before deployment to avoid conflicts.
Establish policies to deploy patches on a regular schedule, whether this is weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly. For critical issues, deploy emergency patches within days or hours if possible.
4. Secure Your APIs
APIs enable SaaS integration with third-party apps and services but also introduce risks if not properly secured.
- Authenticate API requests.
- Rate limit API calls to prevent abuse.
- Validate all input data to block attacks like SQL injections.
- Encrypt sensitive data sent via APIs.
- Restrict API permissions to only allow necessary actions.
Use API gateways to centralize authentication, access control, throttling and encryption for all your APIs.
5. Conduct Penetration Testing
While you may think your security is solid, hidden weaknesses are often present.
Outsourcing professional services like penetration testing can be tremendously helpful, in which experts simulate real-world attacks to uncover vulnerabilities and provide you with guidance and recommendations to strengthen defenses.
Schedule regular penetration tests on your:
- Public-facing apps and APIs
- Internal network and systems
- Password policies and MFA practices
- Internal and external devices and endpoints
- In-house or cloud-based servers
- Backups and disaster recovery systems
Remediate all findings to minimize the attack surface malicious actors can exploit.
6. Train Employees
Your team is your first line of defense, and they all have a critical role to play in ensuring the robustness and reliability of your SaaS environment.
This all starts by ensuring that all staff maintain a foundational level of security awareness.
Implement regular security training to:
- Inform employees about policies and best practices.
- Teach them how to spot phishing emails, social engineering and other attacks.
- Ensure everyone knows how to handle sensitive data properly.
- Keep security top of mind and instill vigilance.
Additionally, educate developers on writing secure code, admins on server hardening, and security staff on threat detection. Ongoing training is essential given the ever-evolving threat landscape.
Prioritize SaaS Security Now
SaaS platforms have become high-value targets that require stringent cyber security strategies.
Follow these recommendations to strengthen your critical cloud environment and keep customer data safe from compromise. Don’t wait until it’s too late; take action now to ensure your estate is as secure as can be.
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