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These days, privacy and data protection are impacted by technological, political, and legal challenges. More and more personal information is required for hardware and software to function properly.

For instance, the Internet of Things creates a significant gap between technology and the law. While hardware and software firms advance significantly, the legislative process moves slowly. The creation of legislation to combat fraud and data theft gets harder and harder.

Your personal data leaves a sizable digital trail. No matter the industry, the majority of businesses have at least some personally identifiable or sensitive data about you. Companies collect it for a variety of purposes, including location-based services, health and financial apps, and web browsing.

Global in scope, data protection is governed by recognized international law. However, several nations set up regional oversight organizations that comply with privacy legislation.

Every territory handles the problem from a country-specific perspective. In this regard, if a policy does not have a unifying foundation, political connections and systems might cause problems. Local solutions aren’t always a bad idea, but there have long been problems with this disjointed strategy.

What Is Data Protection?

Data protection and privacy are sometimes used interchangeably. Let’s first recognize the distinction between these two terminologies in order to be more precise. The right to privacy includes the freedom of speech and religion, as well as the right to preserve one’s good name and personal relationships. It’s the fundamental right to autonomy and dignity, to put it briefly.

It appears to be a clear explanation given in simple language, right? Still, privacy isn’t unassailable in terms of the law. If it interferes with free speech, public safety, or national security, the right does not assume control.

Contrarily, data protection is all about using personal data in a fair and ethical manner. In the broadest sense, it is a specific restricted area of privacy. The ways in which third parties use personal information are covered by data protection legislation. This idea relates to how information is processed (shared, stored, used, etc.).

Only business and commercial use is required to abide by data privacy legislation. Personal accounts, social media activity, and correspondence are excluded. The information utilized for domestic, familial, or private purposes is exempt from this requirement.

In other words, privacy has a larger meaning. Within the context of this general idea, data protection is a legal need.

What are the top Data Security Challenges of SaaS Applications?

The data security challenges faced by cloud vendors and their clients are varied. Primary among these is the fact that each SaaS producer is a unique entity with its own structure, priorities, and client base. This makes the job of plugging any security vulnerabilities a significant test for all the parties involved in the process. In addition to the end users, this also includes SaaS company developers, SecDevOps, and sales and marketing departments. ‍

Traditionally, these sectors have had limited interaction, but due to the essential requirement to address these security concerns, greater emphasis is now being placed on internal cooperation. SaaS functionality and business innovation have taken precedence over security, a direction that SaaS companies are now being forced to change.

Another area affected by poor SaaS security provision is regulatory reporting, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 Type II standard. These regulatory standards must also be managed by any cloud vendor/SaaS solution.

Here are a few examples of other data security issues to look out for:‍

Security Misconfiguration

If a computer application component is configured incorrectly, it can become vulnerable to cyberattack. These misconfigurations can result from human error or be created externally by cybercriminals piggybacking into the system via legitimate pathways and corrupting critical elements to enable illegitimate access.‍

Poor Monitoring and Logging

Logging and monitoring are regularly performed by a SaaS company’s Security Operations Center (SOC) using Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM). Weakness in these two focal points will result in increased cyberattack vulnerability. SaaS applications have increasingly moved to the Cloud.

As a result, the way they store data has become distributed, making monitoring data streams in real time a real challenge. This is even more so the case for organizations handling personal data that need to comply with privacy regulations.‍

Limited Cloud Usage Visibility

Serious cyberattacks can occur when a SaaS company lacks the ability to determine whether its cloud service usage and capabilities are robust. ‍

Account Hijacking

The hijacking of a cloud computing account is one of the most common forms of cyber breach, normally called a Ransomware attack. Having gained access to a target network, the cybercriminal is then in a position to extort funds out of a company. Failure to do so can result in data and intellectual property damage and loss. ‍

Lack of Cloud Security Architecture

A company with a compromised cloud security architecture opens itself up to significant damage from cyber threat actors. All companies working in the SaaS space must construct a bottom-up security design that can be integrated with their cloud services supplier.

8 Data Protection Best Practices For SaaS Applications

1. Discover and map your SaaS data

The first priorities for the SaaS security professional are the secure discovery, and classification through tagging, mapping, and monitoring of all data in transit, in use, or at rest. SaaS developers must see, follow, and protect their cloud shadow and unmanaged data.

Read Also: How do You Market a New SaaS Product?

The data navigation process is critical in knowing where your data is at all times and providing it with the maximum level of protection. This is more easily achieved with the Polar Security solution which detects and follows your sensitive known and shadow data and then automates data labeling to continuously highlight valuable and sensitive data stores at scale.‍

2. Data Encryption

Cloud apps are not protected by traditional methods such as firewalls, so they must rely on data encryption and key management. Many customers are not comfortable leaving this vital task to data vendors and prefer to manage their own keys through a local hardware facility. Data “in motion” can be protected using Transport Data Encryption (TDE). Still, other data transfers via HTTP or FTP can be risky, so it should be protected using methods such as Transport Layer Security (TLS). 

3. Matching Controls to Your Risk Level

Security controls can be defined according to the acceptable levels of risk of the SaaS vendor. Any control over data access, processing, and monitoring will inevitably impact on system performance, and SaaS providers will have to match one against the other. In the past, this balance was skewed to business performance, but due to high-profile security breaches, the pendulum has swung back and a more balanced approach is now being defined.‍

4. Effective Identity and Access Management Controls

Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools prove that users are who they are supposed to be. There is a critical requirement for SaaS users to be able to integrate with IAM tools. Enterprise users do not want a different password whenever they access another part of an enterprise-wide platform. Sophisticated access control determining who accessed what and when is an essential element in any IAM system.‍

5. Logging and Monitoring

It is vital to log all access attempts into the SaaS system, both failed and successful. The same is true of any data amendments. Such activity is essential in mitigating data breaches and for establishing future security plan arrangements.‍

6. Use a Key Vault Service

Key vault services, such as Norton’s Norton Password Manager, provide a service where any authentication credentials generated by a user can be securely stored and activated when required. Such services also offer a facility to automatically generate random usernames and passwords.

7. Use a Security-first Software Development Life Cycle

Using a safe security-prioritized Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) brings a security focus into the software development process. In addition, the use of threat modeling and penetration testing can raise the security profile of the SDLC even further.‍

8. SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM)

SSPM is designed to block unintentional vulnerabilities that occur in the SDLC. SSPM provides a unified level of transparency across an entire cloud environment. It avoids the necessity to check multiple discrete endpoints from a range of vendors. This process reduces misconfigurations while increasing time-to-market delivery. SSPM regulates and automates SaaS data security.

How do You Ensure Data Security in SaaS?

Here are some best practices to help secure your SaaS applications.

Use Products that Offer Strong Authentication

Cloud providers offer different authentication options. Some allow you to integrate with a customer-managed identity provider (i.e., OpenID Connect, Open Authorization, etc.). Some offerings support multi-factor authentication (MFA), providing an added layer of security. However, not all providers offer the same capabilities.

You need to understand the alternatives offered by your cloud provider. You can then select the appropriate authentication methods according to your organization’s needs. Where possible, choose a SaaS provider that supports Active Directory Single Sign-On (AD SSO) to ensure account and password policies align with your SaaS application usage.

Encrypt Your Data

Encrypt data to protect it at rest and in transit in the cloud. According to government regulations, sensitive data such as healthcare, financial, and personally identifiable information often requires encryption.

Monitor Data Sharing

Start by checking how users access and use SaaS resources. Use collaboration controls to identify granular permissions on shared files, for example, if external users can access the files via a web link. Authorized users can share confidential files, either intentionally or inadvertently, via team spaces, email, and cloud file storage applications like Dropbox.

Vet the Provider

Review and evaluate SaaS providers before adopting their products. Make sure you understand their security model and any additional security features they offer.

While most customers trust their service providers to handle security, according to research by McAfee only 18% of SaaS providers support MFA and only 10% encrypt data at rest. Review the audits of each SaaS provider to ensure it complies with data privacy and security regulations and meets your organization’s requirements in terms of data encryption, data segregation, and cyber protection.

Keep a Usage Inventory

Regularly identify and track usage of SaaS applications and look out for unexpected or suspicious usage. SaaS enables the rapid deployment of applications, so it’s important to stay on top of usage using automated tools and manual data collection methods. Maintain an accurate inventory of the services employed and who uses them throughout your organization.

Use a CASB

In some cases, SaaS providers cannot ensure the level of security you require. You can use a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) solution to add security controls that SaaS providers do not offer natively. CASB tools can help complement the provider’s security model. When using a CASB tool, ensure you choose the appropriate deployment configuration (i.e., API or proxy-based) for your organization’s architecture.

Maintain Visibility

Monitor all SaaS usage and assess the security logs provided by the service provider and data from security tools like CASBs. Make sure your security and IT teams understand that SaaS solutions are powerful tools requiring a high level of security, like any enterprise application. Combine monitoring with a risk management strategy to ensure that users handle SaaS applications safely.

SaaS Security Challenges

SaaS security problems include holes and threats of data breaches, which cost businesses millions of dollars annually. Threats to cloud-based services are multiplying quickly.

The most frequent problems and dangers affecting SaaS-related cybersecurity result from flaws in cloud computing. Companies that use cloud storage services entrust the security of their data to a third party supplier and make it available online.

The following critical concerns relate to SaaS application security:

  • Misconfigurations—incorrect security configurations can expose computing assets to malicious activity. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) identifies misconfigurations as the most common security issue. You can secure SaaS applications by ensuring proper configuration and timely upgrades of all tools used in the cloud environment.
  • Cross-site scripting—an XSS attack involves injecting malicious code into web pages that end-users view. It is the next most common security issue and affects most applications. You can automatically block XSS with the latest versions of React JS or Ruby on Rails.
  • Inadequate monitoring and logging—electronic audit logs are essential for detecting unauthorized or malicious activity, but many organizations fail to implement or check them in time to discover threats. You should implement sufficient monitoring across your applications and regularly check the logs to identify and contain breaches.
  • Insider threats—negligent employees and malicious insiders can leak data deliberately or accidentally, exposing SaaS applications and the organizations using them. Any data stored in the cloud poses a security risk, especially if you use shared credentials and weak passwords. SaaS security issues often arise from leaving data accessible from all systems or sharing it externally.
  • Compliance—each industry requires specific security and auditing practices, and failure to comply can result in legal or financial penalties. Many organizations are subject to regulations such as  GDPR, PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and SOX, depending on their industry and the type of data they store and process. These regulations cover requirements for protecting data in the cloud, conducting regular audits, and implementing security testing. Protecting sensitive data is thus a priority, and you must monitor your SaaS applications and provide proper logs and audit trails.
  • Identity theft—SaaS products frequently use online payment methods that pose an identity theft risk. Protecting payment card data and user identity requires a combination of security, including Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), firewalls, and data encryption in transit and at rest.

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