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A Primer on SaaS Security Risks

The SaaS (software as a service) model facilitates new, innovative solutions by reducing the need for heavy upfront investments in infrastructure and software development. The model also provides companies that subscribe to SaaS solutions with lower-cost, scalable apps. 

It’s important to remember, though, that the convenience and overall benefits of SaaS don’t come without any challenges. In particular, SaaS faces a unique set of security risks that are pivotal to understand. Whether you’re part of a SaaS company or your company uses SaaS solutions, here is a primer on some key SaaS security risks. 

Top 9 SaaS Security Risks 

The prevalence of SaaS apps is such that they now comprise 70% of total software use. And with such a large market of companies and businesses to market to, SaaS providers will continue to innovate new cloud-based software solutions. These numbers make the following nine SaaS security risks worth paying attention to.  

Threat actors use various social engineering tactics to dupe users into handing over login credentials, installing malware or unknowingly granting access to SaaS apps. Given the trust that users often place in these solutions, the risk of a successful social engineering attempt is quite high. In 2023 and early 2024, threat actors conducted a social engineering campaign against users of the SaaS communication app Microsoft Teams to install malware on targets’ systems.  

  1. Social engineering targeting users or admins
    Threat actors use various social engineering tactics to dupe users into handing over login credentials, installing malware or unknowingly granting access to SaaS apps. Given the trust that users often place in these solutions, the risk of a successful social engineering attempt is quite high. In 2023 and early 2024, threat actors conducted a social engineering campaign against users of the SaaS communication app Microsoft Teams to install malware on targets’ systems. 

  2. Unauthorized access
    Unauthorized access to SaaS accounts can result from weak authentication processes (e.g., relying on passwords alone), stolen credentials or exploiting vulnerabilities within a SaaS app. Switching on multi-factor authentication is an easy win against many types of unauthorized access attempts. But you’ll also need to tighten up access controls by limiting what users can do or access within the app based strictly on what their role requires.  to SaaS accounts can result from weak authentication processes (e.g., relying on passwords alone), stolen credentials or exploiting vulnerabilities within a SaaS app. Switching on multi-factor authentication is an easy win against many types of unauthorized access attempts. But you’ll also need to tighten up access controls by limiting what users can do or access within the app based strictly on what their role requires.  
  1. Web app vulnerabilities
    Like all web applications, SaaS solutions often have vulnerabilities that attackers exploit to gain unauthorized access or execute malicious actions. Common web app vulnerabilities include SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS) and cross-site request forgery (CSRF). If the SaaS company doesn’t properly secure its code, any subscribing companies/users become at risk of compromise. In 2023, CISA took steps to warn about an exploited vulnerability in the SaaS file transfer solution Citrix ShareFile.  
  1. Shadow IT risks
    Lack of transparency into exactly what SaaS apps your company’s employees use is another big source of risk. Shadow IT is all about the use of software and services without explicit IT department approval. One study found 52% of SaaS apps used at enterprises were unsanctioned. Since IT teams are unaware of these solutions, they can’t vet their security or configure them to protect against common security issues.  
  1. API security flaws
    SaaS applications often rely on APIs to integrate with other services and systems in an IT ecosystem. These APIs open up added capabilities and functions for users and businesses. However, if not properly secured, APIs can also introduce security vulnerabilities. 

    Potential issues include inadequate authentication and authorization controls, lack of encryption and exposure of sensitive data. Attackers can exploit these flaws to access or manipulate data, disrupt service functionality or conduct attacks against other systems integrated with a SaaS platform. 
  1. Data breaches
    Companies often store sensitive data on these platforms, including personal information, financial records, intellectual property, sensitive communications and other critical business data within SaaS solutions. This storage practice is inherent to the SaaS model, which allows businesses to access apps and data from anywhere without the need to maintain the underlying infrastructure. 

    From customer relationship management (CRM) systems storing personal customer details to team collaboration tools with confidential discussions between employees, SaaS solutions are attractive targets for data-hungry hackers. In 2022, a lone hacker breached video game maker Rockstar’s Slack channel (a SaaS tool) to steal and publish data about a hugely popular upcoming video game.  
  1. DDoS attacks
    Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks target SaaS platforms by overwhelming them with a flood of internet traffic to render services unavailable to legitimate users. These attacks cause a double-whammy that affects both SaaS companies and all their subscribers.

    Important solutions being unavailable or disrupted affects subscribers’ business operations. SaaS companies have to deal with not only fixing performance degradations but also the fallout from annoyed subscribers who depend on their solutions for important business or personal use.  

  1. Insider threats
    Insider threats come from people within or closely connected to your organization, such as employees, contractors or business partners, who misuse their access to SaaS applications. This misuse can involve intentionally stealing information for personal gain or sabotage. Some insider risks are unintentional, resulting from carelessness or a lack of adequate security training and awareness. 
  1. Third-party risk
    Relying on SaaS solutions means you have to trust third-party SaaS vendors. This risk also extends to the SaaS vendors themselves, which also rely on third parties for various important functionalities, like web hosting, for their solutions. A lack of transparency stems from inadequate due diligence into third-party security practices. It’s vital to conduct thorough risk assessments that involve having third parties answer thorough questionnaires about their security practices.  

Nuspire offers managed security services, including detection and response, to help SaaS companies make their solutions more secure. We also provide vulnerability management and a detailed security posture assessment.  Learn more about MDR solutions

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