Learn the security issues of SaaS

SaaS (Software As A Service) is often regarded by IT managers as the way to keep IT costs under control, while still being able to use the applications they need. While there is no doubt that SaaS is a great service, one of the most common concerns customers have about SaaS has to do with security issues. This comes as no surprise – security is way too vital to be neglected and when your sensitive data is concerned, you can't take any chances. But is it really true that SaaS is such a big risk for your data?

What Kind of Security Issues Are Related to SaaS?


When security issues of SaaS are being discussed, usually two type of threads are mentioned: unauthorized access and physical peril. Each of these issues is very serious and if either of them occurs, your data and your company might be put at risk. In a sense, you are right to be worried that when you use SaaS you don't have control over the whole process. This is somewhat of a security compromise.

  • Unauthorized access. Unauthorized access is one of the two greatest data risks, regardless if you use SaaS or not. However, because of the specifics of SaaS - i.e. you store your data on the remote server where your SaaS application is deployed - the risk of unauthorized access increases. Your data can be accessed while in transit over the Internet, or on the remote server where it is stored. The most common risks related to unauthorized access are captured passwords, data viewed by people who shouldn't view it, and modifications to your data. The worst is that these crimes are stealth and very often you don't even know about them.
  • Physical risks. In addition to unauthorized access, your data can be physically destroyed. The risks here include floods, fires, earthquakes, and all other sorts of natural disasters. 

The security issues of SaaS can look a tad frightening at first glance. On the other hand, you face the same dangers in house. What is more, it is a safe bet that when you store your data in house, you protect it less adequately than the protection a professional SaaS provider can offer. There are many measures a SaaS provider can, and do, take in order to minimize the security risks of SaaS. Some of these measures are described next.

How Can The SaaS Security Issues be Resolved?

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When one reads about the security risks of SaaS, he or she might think that SaaS is a security suicide. Actually, this is not at all how it is. SaaS can be many times more secure than in house data storage - all it takes is a professional SaaS provider, who knows how to protect your data and rigorously apply the necessary measures. The security issues of SaaS can easily be neutralized, if the internal regulations and practices of your SaaS provider provide for this. Here are some of the most trivial steps a SaaS provider must take in order to ensure that your data is safe with them:

  • Encryption. Encryption is a way to protect data while in transfer over the Internet and hence prevent unauthorized access. When data is encrypted, even if a wrong-doer captures it, the data looks bogus. There are many encryption tools and even though in theory there is no unbreakable encryption, there are encryptions that are so strong that it should take decades to break it. If your SaaS provider uses encryption, then you shouldn't have to worry about your data being captured while in transit. Encrypted storage is also common, so if your SaaS provider uses it, you can rest assured that your data is protected on the provider's servers as well.
  • Rules regarding access to data. Unauthorized access happens not only because your data travels and is stored in plain text, but also because curious eyes illegitimately peep at it. While there is no 100% secure solution against this risk and you can never be sure that nobody who is not authorized to see/modify your data hasn't got access to it. However, if there are rules regarding access to data, then the risk at least is minimized. This risk is also present with in-house installations. One of the best approaches to data access is to use the least privilege rule - i.e. you give access to particular data only to those employes, who need to have such access in order to do their jobs.
  • Regular backups. Backups are the way to ensure that even if a copy of your data dies, you still have a nackup to this data. Backups are a standard industry best practice and there is hardly a respectable provider, who doesn't do regular backups. Backups can be done daily or weekly and in some cases even in real-time, which means that you get total protection against data perish. Additionally, it is also a common practice to make backups of the backup, so even if something happens to the backup, there is still one more copy of your data. Better safe than sorry.
  • Measures against natural disasters. Another common precaution all reputable SaaS providers take is to protect their premises against natural disasters. In this aspect hardly any company or individual can compete with the measures the average hosting company takes. Physical protection against natural disasters is very important because even though your data might never die in an earthquake, fire or flood, the risks for this happening are not to be underestimated.

The above listed measures does not contain all the steps a SaaS provider can take in order to protect your (and the other customers') data. As you see, a SaaS provider has a lot of tools at their disposal and the question is not if they can protect your data but if they are following the best practices for that. If your SaaS provider doesn't treat security in a responsible manner, there is no force on Earth that can guard your data. That is why it is simply vital that you don't make compromises when choosing a SaaS vendor. 

Written 2010-02-03 (Updated 2016-10-10)
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stratogiccloud,  17 November, 2010

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