SaaS security is the protection of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, to minimise the risk of unauthorised access, shadow IT and any other misuse of them that could result in a data breach or disruption to an organisation’s IT operations. SaaS security requires deep visibility and granular access control.
How secure are SaaS applications?
It depends on how well access to them is secured.
Although SaaS providers do secure SaaS applications themselves through critical measures such as encryption, an organisation is not truly safe unless all of this cloud software is also secured at its points of access and granularly monitored. Applications need tight access controls, such as secure web gateways (SWGs) and cloud access security broker (CASB) solutions, paired with SD-WAN infrastructure as part of a secure access service edge (SASE). Plus, they must also be transparent to IT security teams.
But adding all of this layered cybersecurity must not come at the cost of a diminished user experience. In other words, SaaS security must be fundamentally different from traditional security architectures, namely those built around MPLS WANs, which enforce their protections by backhauling all traffic through a data centre. This setup degrades the usability of key cloud applications such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace.
What unique security challenges do SaaS applications create?
At a high level, every SaaS app is more easily accessible than an on-premises equivalent. This broad accessibility creates major application security challenges for an organisation's security team:
This term refers to the use of applications, typically ones in the cloud like SaaS, that have not been approved by IT. In some organizations, shadow IT may actually represent a majority of all SaaS consumption. This practice carries severe cybersecurity risks, since unvetted applications are not guaranteed to be properly secured, either in and of themselves or at the access level. Personal email domains and social media usage are notable examples in this category.
Cloud applications, including SaaS software, require significant bandwidth, a fact that impacts SaaS security and control in two big ways:
They can over consume limited network resources, impacting performance for everyone else toward no productive end.
They can clash with conventional cybersecurity architectures, like MPLS WAN infrastructure, that lack bandwidth and must backhaul traffic, slowing it down.
Related to the above, unsanctioned apps — or even approved ones that simply lack secure internet access — may leak sensitive information, precipitating a costly data breach. For example, an employee may freely use a personal cloud storage account to upload confidential data and then download it later on a personal device, increasing the chances that it makes its way into the outside world.
SaaS software isn’t bound by specific locations or devices. Broad network access, from virtually anywhere, is an integral part of its value proposition, as well as a risk for the typical IT security team as it struggles to control how employees use SaaS apps. Visibility across all locations, backed by granular access controls, is essential to preventing misuse.
What specific solutions enable SaaS security?
Achieving holistic visibility and granular control requires a specific mix of solutions. A few of the most important include:
SWGs A SWG is a service that filters network traffic, including for SaaS applications, and enforces applicable security policies. IT sits between an end user and the internet, serving as a pivotal intermediary for screening out malware as employees connect to each SaaS vendor’s app.
CASB solutions CASBs consolidate numerous types of access-related cybersecurity. They may enforce single sign-on, device profiling, multi-factor authentication and malware defence, for instance. Like SWGs, they function as a sort of cybersecurity gatekeeper for SaaS access.
Data loss prevention (DLP) tools DLP solutions reduce the risk of data leakage by controlling what types of data users can access on their devices, how that information is transmitted over the network and where and how it is stored. This DLP software curbs the danger of data breaches and SaaS misuse.
All of these cybersecurity tools, alongside others, can be incorporated into a SASE architecture. Such protections work in tandem with SD-WAN infrastructure to deliver predictable and secure application performance from anywhere.
As a Citrix user, Secure Internet Access and Secure Private Access Solutions slot straight into your existing infrastructure to enforce SaaS security for users. Wondering how secure your Citrix environment is? Take our self assessment to find out if your infrastructure is vulnerable.