The Essential Guide to SaaS Compliance
The word “compliance” is one of those migraine triggers you probably don’t want to hear at work. It sounds simple: all you must do is adhere to relevant regulations or frameworks. However, compliance is a recurring workload that usually involves auditors, certifications, and laborious processes.
SaaS compliance can be particularly challenging because you have little control over how users handle SaaS corporate data. While 43% of organizations added a new SaaS app that stores sensitive data in 2022, 25% had security violations, and 12% had to pay compliance-related penalties.
Dealing with SaaS compliance is not optional. The stakes are high, with non-compliance adding to costs and legal liability while creating risks to customer trust and brand reputation.
What is SaaS Compliance?
Compliance is about following government regulations and industry frameworks that are mandated or strongly recommended for your business. Most of the time, SaaS compliance means developing, implementing, and checking cybersecurity controls and policies that protect your and your customers’ sensitive data, such as financial and Personal Identifiable Information (PII).
SaaS compliance varies by location and industry. For instance, if you do business in the European Union, you will be bound by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and data sovereignty rules.
It sounds simple enough, but the SaaS “shared responsibility model” can complicate things. With shared responsibility, the SaaS vendor is responsible for compliance regarding its infrastructure. They have to have controls that protect your consumers’ data from breaches in their data centers.
You, on the other hand, are responsible for compliance regarding your SaaS user. If a hacker steals your SaaS login and exfiltrates consumer data, you are on the hook for this compliance violation, not your SaaS vendor.
Why Should You Care about SaaS Compliance?
A business that does not take care of SaaS compliance is at increased risk of SaaS data breaches, which can lead to loss of reputation and tarnished customer relationships. Breaches resulting from a failure to comply with frameworks can also result in fines, penalties, or litigation.
When following regulations and frameworks, avoiding an understandable but counterproductive “box-checking” mindset is wise. Best practices that strengthen SaaS data security must be instilled across the company and followed as part of the broader security culture – regulatory compliance is a by-product.
However, as the regulatory landscape grows and more SaaS apps are connected to your infrastructure, it’s easy to lose touch with the specific regulations that affect your business. A general understanding of these regulations is crucial to stay compliant.
Who Regulates SaaS and Key Frameworks?
Compliance covers different regulations and frameworks developed by governmental institutions or industry associations. Some are legally required, while others are voluntarily complied with to demonstrate trustworthiness. Below are some prominent regulations and the entities that control them.
Data Protection Regulations
Protecting consumer privacy is a priority for many governments, which have taken steps to prevent the misuse of PII. Two regulations currently predominate in this category.
GDPR was established by the European Union (EU). It covers responsibilities for entities that handle EU citizens’ PII in the EU and European Economic Area. GDPR is under the control of the European Data Protection Board, but data protection authorities (DPAs) enforce it in each of the EU’s 27 member countries.
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) became California state law in 2018. Implemented by the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA), this law dictates how companies must protect California consumers’ data. It mandates that companies (SaaS-based companies included) provide total transparency about data management and storage practices, update their privacy policies, and enable customers to opt out of the sale of their data.
Complying with security standards involves applying the specified controls and policies and passing an audit to achieve certification.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) develops and promulgates the ISO 27001 international standard for information security. It is a broad standard, mandating a wide range of controls, many of which are relevant when using SaaS applications.
Security Organization Control 2 (SOC2) is a standard that covers how organizations manage their customers’ information. SOC2 compliance is voluntary, but achieving it and passing a SOC2 audit represents a commitment to information security that many companies are eager to demonstrate. It was developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which still oversees it today.
Some industry-specific compliance frameworks are based on laws, while others are private and theoretically voluntary but have the force of law.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) is a strict set of controls companies must adopt to accept payments from credit and debit cards. PCI DSS compliance requires extensive control implementation and the passing of an audit. The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council and the industry trade group for the payment card industry oversee this standard.
If you are a healthcare company, you must comply with HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is an American federal law that is overseen by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
How to Achieve SaaS Compliance: The Essential Guide
- Understand each regulation’s applicability and draw a “heat map” for SaaS
Full compliance with all security standards is seldom possible, even for large enterprises. Too many rules and controls (and sub-controls) exist, so companies are selective about what they enforce. The best approach is to understand the applicability of a particular regulation or control to your specific business and SaaS landscape.
From there, you can narrow down the most relevant regulations based on the probability of falling out of compliance and the impact of that non-compliance on your business. Some compliance professionals call this a “heat map” that shows which regulations deserve the most time and resources. Once you’ve established your “hottest” controls related to SaaS, you can work on implementing these.
- Map overall compliance and information security controls to SaaS
Your SaaS compliance efforts do not exist in a vacuum. For example, PCI DSS compliance requires companies to “prohibit direct public access between the Internet and any system component in the cardholder data environment.” This control affects all system components, not just SaaS. Determine how you comply with the regulation in general and then map that control to relevant SaaS applications.
- Monitor SaaS compliance across the organization
Most organizations use dozens of SaaS apps. Not all are relevant to compliance, but for those that are, it is essential to monitor them regularly for adherence to required controls. This process may involve a formal audit or automated SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) platforms like Suridata.
Suridata’s SaaS security platform combines SSPM with robust detection and response capabilities, helping you monitor usage across your SaaS apps and instantly detect and respond to any vulnerability.
- Make compliance part of the SaaS lifecycle
One of the significant advantages of SaaS risk compliance is the ease with which you can provision SaaS apps in an organization. It is a good practice to include compliance controls and safeguards into the SaaS lifecycle, such as ensuring that any SaaS app used by the company is subject to secure and compliant configurations and third-party integrations. An SSPM platform can ensure that SaaS users and system owners follow this approach.
- Add SaaS to corporate data governance policies
A great deal of compliance concerns consistent, secure, and effective data management. SaaS should be no exception. If compliance with relevant regulations means encrypting customers’ PII, your SaaS apps must also do that. The same goes for retaining data for time periods determined by compliance policies and deleting data according to those policies.
Getting on the Path to SaaS Compliance
The regulatory landscape includes SaaS, even when you aren’t sure what data your SaaS environment contains. Getting SaaS compliant is difficult, but it’s not mission impossible. You probably already have the foundation for SaaS compliance in your existing controls and policies. The challenge is to port those controls easily to your SaaS apps.
This is where SaaS Security platforms like Suridata can help, offering automated monitoring, policy enforcement, detailed real-time insights, and remediation suggestions for any new SaaS vulnerability. Schedule a demo to learn more.
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