The 7 Must-Have Cyber Security Controls You Can’t Neglect
The classic 1960s TV comedy “Get Smart” featured a fictitious spy agency called CONTROL locked in an unending battle against a devious enemy. Even at that time, when a small computer was about the size of three Coke machines, the concept of control was top of mind.
Today, as we experience a deluge of devastating cyber attacks, we are more focused than ever on the effectiveness of our cyber security controls. Indeed, the fact that 55% of organizations reported a security incident involving SaaS in the past two years reveals that SaaS controls are not working as well as they could be.
Every successful cyber attack is, after all, the result of a control failure. It could be a deficient control or one that didn’t exist in the first place when it should have. The growing use of cloud computing and SaaS applications also challenges the traditional approach to information security controls, making these increasingly difficult to map out and implement.
What Are Cyber Security Controls in SaaS?
Generally, a control is a safeguard that reduces risk to an asset. Every control has an objective and an activity related to it. For instance, a lock on a cash register aims to reduce the risk of losing cash to a thief, and the “activity” encompasses purchasing the lock, installing it, and locking it.
Cyber controls in SaaS are no different – they detect or prevent threats like ransomware attacks from impacting a SaaS asset and its data. Controls are essential in any digital environment but critical for SaaS. The average company uses more than 100 SaaS apps, each with its security options—many of which are at the discretion of end users. The potential for a breach is high without controls that can mitigate cyber risk.
Cyber controls vary in design and execution, but we can divide them into three main categories:
- Administrative controls – Organizational policies that help secure how your users access SaaS data. They include Identity Governance, such as managing identities’ lifecycles, reviewing access controls, and monitoring user behavior.
- Technical controls – Deployment of technologies and security tools to protect SaaS data, including implementing encryption and Web Application Firewalls (WAF).
- Physical controls – Security controls that protect the physical infrastructure that hosts software. In the case of SaaS, your SaaS vendor is responsible for implementing controls such as fences and locks to secure its hosting infrastructure.
The 7 Must-Have Cyber Security Controls You Can’t Neglect
A large organization could employ hundreds or thousands of controls in its IT estate, so they can quickly get overwhelming. A handful of critical controls are deemed vital in SaaS, as they meet the unique security risks affecting SaaS apps.
1. A Software Asset Inventory that Includes SaaS
Building and maintaining a complete inventory of software assets helps prevent attacks on neglected or invisible software. These can include unknown software assets with out-of-date security settings, untracked user accounts due to staff turnover, lack of follow-through on policies and procedures, or shadow IT.
SaaS apps can be challenging to inventory without the proper tooling. Because they are hosted externally by third parties, knowing someone has set up a SaaS may be impossible if they didn’t inform the IT department. A SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) platform like Suridata can scan for SaaS apps and create an inventory of SaaS assets to support this control.
2. Access Controls that Leverage MFA and Apply the Least Privilege Principle
Unauthorized access to a SaaS app can cause severe data breaches and operational disruption. For instance, a hacker can use stolen credentials to log into a customer relationship management (CRM) system and exfiltrate the customer list or corrupt it to become unusable.
Tighter access controls and multi-factor authentication (MFA) implementation can help prevent unauthorized access to SaaS apps. Ensure you also enact a policy of least privilege to reduce the risk of an attacker “moving laterally” through different sections of an application once they have logged in.
MFA and least privilege should be part of a broader Identity and Access Management (IAM) program to achieve the control objective effectively. This may involve the integration of the MFA solution with the company’s IAM platform and related Identity Governance systems.
3. Secure Configuration of SaaS Applications
Malicious actors are constantly looking for insecurely configured SaaS apps that they can exploit. Think of a SaaS storage app set to allow anyone to access the files without being authenticated – misconfiguration vulnerabilities like this are liquid gold for attackers.
You need to monitor SaaS security configurations continuously, flag insecure setups, and alert admins to remediate them. But with a hundred SaaS apps in use and potentially thousands of end users, inspecting security configurations must be done with an automated tool.
4. Data Protection Controls
Encrypting data in transit and at rest and backing it up can prevent data breaches or, at the very least, reduce their impact. However, these controls require security managers to know where all their data is stored. This can be a challenge in SaaS, as the organization hosts the data externally.
For example, how would you know that your order management SaaS app was storing customers’ Personal Identifiable Information (PII), which would cause a compliance problem if it was breached? You need an automated data scanning tool that can identify the location of data and establish who has access to it.
5. Develop and Test an Incident Response Process
Cyber attacks often have extensive, costly, and potentially irreversible business impacts. Even if your data isn’t stolen, unplanned downtime can negatively affect customer relationships and damage your reputation. Developing and testing an incident response process enables rapid recovery of SaaS apps from a cyber incident, ensuring no further damage is done.
Responding to SaaS cyber incidents works best when you have immediate, detailed information about the nature of the threat and the status of your SaaS environment. A SSPM platform can provide the basis for forming an effective incident response plan.
6. Continuous Monitoring and Prioritization with SSPM
To have your SaaS apps under control, you need to achieve comprehensive, real-time awareness of the security status of all apps in your ecosystem. Furthermore, you must be able to react quickly to detected threats and vulnerabilities.
Ensure you leverage the continuous monitoring capability of an SSPM platform to achieve constant, thorough, and up-to-date security awareness of all SaaS apps. This control needs to be coupled with a prioritization of alerts and some automation of remediation processes.
Continuous monitoring can create a too-long list of vulnerabilities, and not all will be equally serious. Some might even be irrelevant to SaaS security. An effective SSPM platform will include a priority list of vulnerabilities to address and automatically remediate as many as possible—referring only those needing human attention to security managers.
7. Third-Party Security Risk Management
Third-party integrations can be a significant source of risk exposure for SaaS apps. Establish a process to inspect third-party integrations, such as those executed with plugins. Identify insecure plugins and integrations and alert critical stakeholders to trigger remediations.
You will need an automated solution to do the groundwork for you, as you’ll likely have an extensive list of third-party integrations and plugins to monitor. Suridata monitors and analyzes all third-party integrations and identifies security problems, such as unsupported plugins that have become insecure or that enable unknown users to access SaaS apps.
Getting Started with Your Must-Have Cyber Security Controls
If you’re neglecting the seven SaaS controls highlighted in this article, now would be a good time to implement them. The risks are too significant to ignore and will continue to grow as your business grows. Even if your team has the basics covered, you should equip them with a comprehensive tool that automates all the monitoring, detection, and remediation processes to protect your entire SaaS arsenal.
Purpose-built solutions like Suridata combine SSPM with robust SaaS Security Detection and Response (SSDR) capabilities, helping you get to the bottom of every SaaS vulnerability without operational overload. Learn more here.
Co-Founder & COO