How Will Zero Trust Change SaaS Security?

Apr 26, 2022
6 min read

SaaS platforms are rapidly being employed for mission-critical applications by many enterprises. As a result, SaaS security is an important aspect of cybersecurity efforts.

SaaS apps, on the other hand, are managed by a third party and are not under the authority of the business. How can companies control access and ensure that their applications and data are protected from cyber-attacks? Zero-trust is a viable option. It's a new security paradigm that, by default, limits access to everything and dynamically checks every connection based on the current security context, enforcing security regulations regardless of where users are or what application they're using.

What is Software as a Service (SaaS)?

SaaS is a software delivery model that allows cloud providers to host programs and make them available to end-users via the Internet.

Software companies usually use third-party cloud providers to host their apps. In some circumstances, cloud companies such as Microsoft or Amazon Web Services (AWS) offer SaaS directly. A software company that builds its own cloud infrastructure to host an application is a third option.

A cloud-based distribution model is used for SaaS. The cloud provider (who may or may not be the application developer) hosts the application and related data on its servers, databases, network, and computational resources. Any device that is connected to the network can use the program. Web browsers are commonly used to access SaaS apps.

As a result, businesses that use SaaS apps don't have to worry about installing and maintaining software. Users usually have to pay a monthly charge to use the software. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) can be used to connect SaaS applications to other software.

What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a theory that believes that a complex network's security is always in jeopardy from both external and internal threats. It aids in the organization and stratification of a comprehensive response to these threats. This is in sharp contrast to the classic perimeter security concept, which believes that bad actors are always on the untrustworthy side of the network and that trusted users are always on the trustworthy side. Zero Trust invalidates these assumptions, and all users are regarded as unreliable.

How Does Zero Trust Security Work and Protect the Cloud Environment?

A zero-trust architecture was created by John Kindervag in 2010 while working as a principal analyst at Forrester Research. It is a comprehensive framework that offers effective protection of an organization's most important assets. It operates on the assumption that every connection and endpoint is a potential danger. Even for those connections that are already inside, the framework defends against these dangers, whether external or internal. In a nutshell, a zero-trust network consists of the following components:

  • All corporate network traffic is logged and inspected.
  • Access to the network is restricted and controlled.
  • It validates and protects network resources.

To summarize, the zero-trust security model guarantees that data and resources are unreachable by default. Users can only have limited access to them under certain conditions, known as least privilege access. Every connection, such as when a user connects to a software or application to a data set via an API, is verified and authorized by a zero-trust security architecture (API). It guarantees that the interaction complies with the organization's security policy's conditional requirements. A zero-trust security strategy also uses context from as many data sources as feasible to verify and approve every device, network activity, and connection based on dynamic policies.

Organizations must connect information from each security domain to successfully deploy a zero-trust architecture. Across the firm, security teams must agree on priorities and access regulations. They must safeguard all business connections, including data, users, and devices, as well as applications, workloads, and networks. This architecture necessitates a well-thought-out strategy and roadmap for implementing and integrating security measures to achieve certain business goals. Adopters must do the following to make a zero-trust model work:

  • Commit from the top down.
  • All IT and data assets should be cataloged, and access privileges should be assigned based on responsibilities.
  • Fix some of the most common flaws.
  • For a data-centric strategy, classify the data.
  • Segment networks to avoid lateral movement, which is a common cause of data breaches.
  • During virtual machine and cloud server cross-movement, isolate and safeguard workloads.

From the outside, it may appear to be a limiting process. However, a good deployment of a zero-trust model can help the security team get context and insight into a fast-evolving attack surface as well as improve the user experience.

How to Protect SaaS Applications Using SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) and Zero Trust?

SSPM (SaaS Security Posture Management) is a new security category that can automatically assess a SaaS application's security posture, detect weaknesses, and assist administrators in implementing secure setups. SSPM's major purpose is to keep data safe and prevent unwanted access to SaaS services.

Complex setups are common in SaaS services, and default settings are frequently insecure. A business can't rely on its users to remember to utilize secure configurations all of the time. Even if configurations may be applied centrally, administrators find it difficult to master each SaaS service's user interface and check configurations regularly. In a large company with hundreds of SaaS applications, this can be very difficult.

Continuous monitoring and visibility into vulnerable setups across all SaaS applications utilized by a company are provided by SSPM technologies. They can also make recommendations for security improvements and, in some situations, automatically fix vulnerable configurations.

Every user is verified and authenticated using a combination of authentication methods in the zero-trust security model (multi-factor authentication). Limiting and monitoring network traffic is made easier, and credentials are protected using layered and secure authentication. Devices remain password-protected, and only authorized individuals have access to them.

IP allow-listing and location-based geofencing can also aid in tighter network access control. The flexibility and cost-effectiveness of zero-trust security in cloud-based architecture are greater. Organizations of all sizes can use a zero-trust approach to protect the cloud while avoiding the need for on-premise hardware.

How to Enforce Zero Trust Security Across SaaS Applications?

In a world with zero trust, access policies are often set by determining who is attempting to access a system (authentication) and what access and privileges they should be granted (authorization).

Single sign-on is a practical approach to putting up this identity-centric security solution (SSO). In this sense, SSO refers to the process of maintaining identity across numerous platforms. For example, with a consistent authorization policy, a user can have only one user account and use it to access all of an organization's systems, both on-premises and in the cloud.

Using Single Sign-On (SSO) to Guarantee Zero Trust

SSO integration is currently supported by the majority of SaaS providers, allowing enterprises to centralize identity management rather than build a separate store of identity data. When choosing a SaaS solution, make sure it supports SSO in a way that makes sense for your identity management system. Some SaaS suppliers charge for SSO integration, while others require costly bundle updates to enable particular functionalities.

To be effective, an identity management system must take into account the enterprise's dynamic character. Employee access requirements fluctuate as jobs change and people come and go. Connecting your identity management system to an HR system that serves as a trustworthy source of employee roles and responsibilities is one method to overcome this challenge. Personnel changes in the HR system are automatically propagated to the SSO provider, and permission decisions are automatically implemented into the integrated SaaS application once the two systems are live.

Access is Granted Based On the Security Context

The choice to give access depending on the status of a connected endpoint is another crucial component of a zero-trust architecture. The security team must take into account not only the identification of the user but also the larger security context, such as the device's health.

Each connection request is analyzed in a zero-trust environment. The sort of data an individual accesses or the type of activity they want to perform is compared to the security policy via access control systems. The connection may be blocked or accepted depending on the context, such as the user's device, current location, time of day, and authorization policies.

Integrating your SSO provider with your endpoint IT or secure proxy is one way to accomplish this. When a user attempts to log into an application, the provider verifies their identity and checks their level of access. Before providing access, it verifies with the endpoint agent to ensure that the device's health is acceptable.

Conclusion

In this article, I covered the basics of zero trust and how it might help SaaS security:

  • By offering a standard platform for remote user access and authorization, zero-trust can improve cloud security.
  • Security posture management (SSPM) systems for SaaS applications can help provide granular access control within apps, ensuring that users are not given excessive rights.
  • SSO integration, in particular, helps ensure that the same authentication and authorization policies are implemented across the hybrid environment with zero trust access control.

I hope you find this information useful as you consider whether or not to employ zero trust in your cloud applications.