3 ways to tackle misconfigurations in your SaaS and cloud

by | May 15, 2023

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, public cloud security breaches due to misconfigurations have become a growing concern. A recent survey conducted by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) revealed that 43% of the surveyed companies had experienced a public cloud security breach within the last year, primarily because of misconfigurations in their environment. This figure could be even higher, considering that 20% of respondents weren’t sure about their security status. As companies continue to migrate their workloads to the cloud, addressing these vulnerabilities and ensuring the security of critical data and systems is crucial.

The survey identified two leading causes of misconfigurations in public cloud environments: 

  1. The responsibility of non-technical departments in managing SaaS user access and security configurations 
  2. The need for more visibility into SaaS security settings and access 

This article delves into these causes and provides practical recommendations for security teams to address SaaS security issues, bolstering their cloud security posture.

Non-technical departments and security vulnerabilities

As organizations adopt a wide array of SaaS applications to support various business functions, non-technical departments increasingly find themselves responsible for managing user access and security configurations. For instance, HR personnel might grant access permissions and configure security settings for HR-related applications. However, these non-technical staff members often don’t fully grasp the implications of their actions, like providing admin-level access to multiple accounts, thus increasing the risk of security breaches.

This situation inadvertently creates weak points in a company’s cybersecurity defenses. Cybercriminals quickly identify and exploit these vulnerabilities, as non-technical users are often easier targets than their more security-savvy counterparts. These individuals are more susceptible to social engineering tactics, such as phishing emails or malicious links, because they are less likely to recognize threats or have the knowledge to secure their accounts adequately.

Trust, but verify

To effectively mitigate the risks associated with non-technical users managing SaaS user access and security configurations, it is essential to make cybersecurity training a top priority for these individuals. Additionally, security teams should diligently oversee all accounts created and managed by non-technical staff, ensuring that permissions are appropriately allocated, and security settings are configured correctly.

Did you say “user education”?

User education plays a crucial role in bolstering cybersecurity defenses. Organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of successful cyberattacks by providing non-technical users with the necessary knowledge and training to identify potential threats and adhere to security best practices. In addition to covering the company’s security policies, the education should include advanced topics such as the current security threat landscape, recognizing social engineering activities and phishing emails, and the importance of multi-factor authentication.

Survive in the wild west of cybersecurity: Overcoming obstacles

Implementing these measures in real life can be complicated. Security teams often face budget constraints and an overwhelming workload, while non-technical staff may resist learning new security protocols. Moreover, the sheer number of non-technical users who require monitoring and training makes this task even more daunting. Despite these obstacles, mitigating risk through diligent monitoring and continuous education is essential to fortify an organization’s cybersecurity defenses and result in a more robust and resilient cybersecurity posture.

Lack of visibility in SaaS security management

One of the primary challenges in securing SaaS environments is the lack of visibility into security settings, access permissions, and potential risks within the system. As organizations increasingly adopt cloud and SaaS solutions, data and identity management become more decentralized, adding unnecessary complexity to managing access permissions across multiple applications. Here, we explore the top two:

Navigating the SaaS labyrinth: A world of intricate interconnections

Modern SaaS applications often integrate with thousands of other apps, creating a complex web of interdependent systems. Each integration represents a potential entry point for attackers, and as the number of integrations grows, so does the attack surface. For instance, a company with 5-10k employees may have around 1,200 integrations with the Microsoft tech stack, which keeps increasing as the organization expands.

Off the radar: Addressing unsanctioned integrations and privileged permissions

Developers, DevOps teams, and shadow IT often set up integrations without consulting the security team to streamline their work processes. While this may accelerate their projects in the short term, it can lead to security vulnerabilities that are difficult to detect and manage. Additionally, many of these integration applications may have access to privileged or sensitive permissions, increasing the potential impact of a security breach.

To address these challenges, organizations must manage SaaS security settings, access, and integrations proactively and rigorously. This includes ensuring that only authorized integrations are connected to the organization’s applications and that appropriate access permissions are in place for both human users and integrated apps. Security teams must also regularly review and update access controls to minimize privilege creep, which occurs when users accumulate more access permissions than required due to changes in their roles or departments.

Top 3 strategies for improving SaaS security

To improve security management in the face of growing challenges with SaaS environments, organizations should adopt the following three general strategies:

#1: Continuously monitor settings inside applications

Ensuring that security policies are enforced within each application is critical. For example, tracking whether multi-factor authentication (MFA) is enabled for users can help protect your SaaS apps in case of a credentials leak. By closely monitoring these settings, security teams can identify and correct potential weaknesses before they lead to security breaches.

#2: Track SaaS-to-SaaS access controls

 Maintaining an inventory of all connected applications and their respective permissions is essential for managing and securing access across the organization’s entire app ecosystem. This information allows security teams to verify that only authorized apps are connected and have the appropriate permissions, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access or data breaches.

#3: Maintain least privilege access with account, role, and group permissions consistency

 Understanding and controlling the access permissions of individual accounts, roles, or groups is crucial for minimizing the risk of misconfigurations. By ensuring that users only have the minimum necessary access to perform their duties, organizations can limit the potential damage caused by compromised accounts or malicious insiders. This practice also helps prevent privilege creep, where users accumulate excessive access permissions over time due to changes in their roles or departments.

How can Zilla Security help?

In the face of growing security challenges and the complexities of managing SaaS environments, Zilla Security offers a comprehensive solution to address these concerns. It connects to an organization’s entire app suite, encompassing cloud, SaaS, and internal applications, enabling security teams to gain complete control over security settings, integrations, and permissions.

Zilla Security streamlines the monitoring process by aggregating information on accounts, roles, resources, groups, and their associated permission sets. By mapping these elements back to individual user profiles, it automatically detects and notifies security teams of violations of the company’s access policies, facilitating prompt remediation.

One of the solution’s key features is the ability to compile a comprehensive list of all integrations within an organization’s app stack without exceptions. Security teams can verify that only authorized application integrations are connected and then monitor the permissions granted to each app, ensuring minimal required access level. When Zilla detects new integrations, it automatically recommends enrolling them and provides continuous monitoring of any and all applications and associated SaaS accounts in your environments.

With Zilla, organizations can gain better control over their SaaS ecosystem, ensure adherence to security policies, and raise the bar for their cybersecurity readiness.

Conclusion: Tackling the invisible threats

The increasing reliance on SaaS applications has introduced new challenges for security teams, as misconfigurations pose a significant threat to an organization’s cybersecurity posture. To effectively combat these challenges, organizations must adopt security management strategies that encompass monitoring and education and employ purpose-built tools to streamline and automate these processes. Without a scalable approach, monitoring will continue to miss critical information as the company adds new applications and integrates them with one another.

Echoing the old IT saying, “you can’t fix what you can’t see,” scalable visibility is key to maintaining a robust and resilient cybersecurity infrastructure in a world where SaaS adoption continues to grow. Contact us to learn how to prevent misconfigurations while scaling your SaaS security.


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