Compliance and Regulations

5 SaaS Security Risks You Can't Afford to Ignore

SaaS security risks include access management, compliance, and various disasters. Here’s how to address them with data protection, backup procedures, and more.
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Software as a service (SaaS) is affordable, flexible, and easy to set up. Although this form of cloud computing brings a lot to the table, its security issues cannot be ignored, especially in a digital age where cybercriminals are common.

In this article, we will look at five SaaS security risks and related challenges to consider before making a commitment.

1. The Risk of the SaaS Structure

By nature, software-as-a-service eliminates the hassle of dealing with complex IT systems in a data center. You also don't have to worry about the physical and cybersecurity challenges that come with the territory. However, the multi-tenant setup of SaaS makes this cloud infrastructure a risky proposition.

Here’s how this works: SaaS platforms are a lot like apartment buildings. The vendor is the landlord housing multiple customers, who, like the tenants in an apartment complex, are free to furnish and manage their own units however they see fit. Meanwhile, the vendor is burdened with ensuring that each tenant has safe and reliable access to shared resources –— in this case, the SaaS apps leased out to customers.

If one tenant neglects to close the door to the main entrance of the apartment complex, all other tenants in the building could be vulnerable to burglars or vandals. Likewise, a single customer that compromises an SaaS platform via poor security practices could potentially expose all other customers sharing the application in question.

The SaaS market is on pace to reach nearly $200 billion in global revenue by 2024, growing at a rate of 20% each year. Despite that growth, concerns regarding SaaS security risks remain fairly consistent among the business community, according to a survey from McKinsey and Company.

Recommended Security Measures for SaaS Security Risks

A vendor's level of cloud security will determine its ability to provide a reliable service. Would-be SaaS adopters should keep the following security features in mind:

Network Security

SaaS vendors can beef up perimeter security by using a firewall to control the flow of traffic. A firewall will enforce security policies that allow access to specific network resources and block access from potentially malicious traffic.

One advanced security measure includes perimeter defense solutions that analyze any traffic that makes it through the firewall. These intrusion detection systems help mitigate SaaS security risks by detecting possible threats and sending alerts that prompt security teams to respond in a timely fashion.

Data Protection 

A SaaS environment must have security controls in place to safeguard customer data from cyber attacks. Encryption is arguably the best tool for the job. For maximum security, look for a SaaS application that helps you encrypt sensitive data traveling to and from the cloud as well as data that rests on the server.

Patch Management 

Outdated software is like a ticking time bomb that can expose your business to new security threats, system failures, and compatibility issues. Vendors can minimize these risks by applying regular system updates and adopting a patch management regimen that addresses software vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

2. Access Management

One of the most important aspects of cloud security lies in the vendor's ability to effectively manage access to SaaS apps. Slacking in this department could lead to hackers gaining access to managed services and getting their hands on sensitive customer data.

The 2021 ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline is a classic example of the security risks posed by assess management. Leveraging a dormant user account and a cracked password, hackers were able to breach access to the Colonial network, which lies at the heart of the largest fuel distribution chain in the US. This attack netted a hefty ransom fee and nearly 100 gigabytes in stolen data.

Recommended Security Measures

Access controls address SaaS security risks in two ways: authentication and role-based permissions.

Authentication aims to provide secure, easy access through protocols like single sign-on (SSO), Password Authentication Protocol (PAP), and Multi-factor authentication (MFA). Essentially the first line of defense, authentication is an important piece of any cloud security stack.

SaaS security risks can be further minimized by controlling access on a granular level. This advanced take on authentication supports permissions built around the structure of your business. For instance, some vendors offer access controls that grant entry based on the user's role in the company as well as the system and data assigned to them. For maximum cloud security, this feature should be implemented across multiple devices.

3. Compliance Frameworks

SaaS security risks: various icons on wooden blocks

When regulatory compliance is involved, cybersecurity breaches can have far-reaching consequences. Depending on the framework and violation, sanctions for non-compliance may range from heavy fines to penalties that restrict access to lucrative business opportunities. Compliance standards such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR have certain guidelines for processing, storing, and safeguarding sensitive data.

Compliance Considerations

Whether the SaaS provider goes out of business or you simply choose to partner with another company, there's a great chance that you'll be bound to the same set of compliance requirements. 

Add a clause in your use agreement that ensures the vendor mitigates SaaS security risks by properly discarding your data once the service agreement ends.

Compliance regulations aren't exactly flexible. However, you can prioritize a SaaS solution that provides the flexibility necessary to accommodate them. For starters, make sure the vendor will alert you of any security incidents that could potentially impact your compliance standings. The transparency of incident reporting will say a lot about how efficient a SaaS provider is at tracking issues from beginning to end.

Regulators may require an audit to assess the effectiveness of cloud security measures. Keep in mind, however, that whether you have the right to request compliance-related audits from a third party is at the discretion of the service provider. At the very least, demand contractual provisions that require the vendor to perform audits in accordance with service industry security standards as well as specific areas that cover the compliance standard in question.

Further, make sure you can receive timely access to reports that document the findings of those assessments.

4. Disasters and Service Interruptions

IT administrators understand that it's not a matter of if disaster strikes, but when. Even with top-notch cybersecurity measures in place, SaaS providers are vulnerable to a range of potentially catastrophic events. Whether it's a natural disaster, fire, or criminals breaking into the data center, these instances could put your data at risk.

Recommended Security Measures

While disasters are impossible to predict, you can minimize the related SaaS security risks by choosing a vendor that offers solid data backup capabilities. Here are some areas to watch:

Backup Procedures

Some cloud providers will back up your data. Others will provide tools that let you perform backups at your leisure. Make sure you understand exactly how the process works.

Backup Storage 

In most cases, cloud providers will only store your backups for a limited time. That time period may impact your recovery efforts, so you'll need to plan for back-up storage.

Backup Security

Backup data and active data share the same vulnerabilities. Vendors can provide more peace of mind by encrypting copies of your backup data. If the network is breached, encryption can protect backups sent from and stored in the cloud.

5. Cloud Security Credentials

Login screen with a lock icon hologram

Most potential SaaS providers will look the part. You can distance the contenders from the pretenders by keeping an eye out for companies that validate their claims of managing SaaS security risks with the proper credentials. The lack of such credentials could be a sign that a vendor lacks the requisite training and expertise to effectively address security-related challenges as well.

In general, cloud providers may certify in up to five security standards:


Established by the Cloud Security Alliance, CSA STAR prioritizes thorough cybersecurity assessments, service transparency, and compatibility of relevant standards. Vendors can certify at Level 1 or Level 2, which requires more rigorous third-party audits.

2. ISO 22301

Focused on resilience and recovery, ISO 22301 validates that a vendor has taken the necessary measures to react to and rebound from incidents that could impact service availability and access to mission-critical information.

3. ISO/IEC 27001

Made up of more than a dozen standards, ISO/IEC 27001 asserts that a cloud service is suited to securely manage IT systems in multiple industries. This family of standards shows expertise in areas such as information security, assess controls, financial services, and business continuity.


Provides guidelines for developing and testing web applications. OWASP ASVS is particularly vital to cloud adoption, as it aims to eliminate common SaaS security risks before applications are available to customers.

5. SOC 2

Established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, SOC 2 prioritizes data security and privacy by performing assessments of the systems that process customer data. If regulatory compliance is on your list of concerns, consider this a must-have certification.

Tackle Saas Security Risks Head-on

Coupled with an attractive pricing model, the built-in flexibility of cloud computing makes SaaS an attractive option for businesses in just about any industry. Due to the sensitivity of those applications, key decision-makers must take a number of potential pitfalls under advisement. However, most SaaS security risks can be avoided by simply understanding the drawbacks and knowing what to look for on the marketplace.

ThreatKey's automation-driven platform helps you minimize SaaS security risks by rapidly detecting and addressing problem areas in your applications.

Register for a free trial to take it for a test drive.

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