Data Security Challenges for SaaS Applications

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By Ben Davies, freelance writer.

Software as a Service has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Trello, Google Workspace, Slack and Adobe Creative Cloud all favour the same business model. It’s a way of doing things that poses several inherent security challenges.

What is SaaS?

Software as a service is a method for delivering applications over the internet. Typically browser-based, it represents an alternative to traditional on-premises models. SaaS can be easily customised to suit the needs of a particular business, often without the need for any coding to take place.

The challenges for SaaS security

Often, Software as a Service models find themselves in conflict with data protection, from both a legal and ethical standpoint. At the heart of the problem is the fact that technology is developing much, much more quickly than the accompanying legislation.

There is still some ambiguity about who is responsible for security. In some cases it might be the organisation providing the service, in others it might be the customer using it. As the platforms grow and develop, security policies will therefore need to change alongside them.

Among the data security challenges faced by SaaS platforms are access management, data storage, and disaster recovery. The length of time that data is held by the system might be a concern, as might the sheer volume of data being transmitted and stored.

How to enhance SaaS security

There are a few reliable ways to make SaaS more secure. Let’s run through them.

Encryption

If data is encrypted, it cannot be intercepted and abused by malicious third parties. Encryption naturally comes in many forms, and it should be baked into every layer of your stack. That way, a breach won’t result in customer data being exposed.

Logging and monitoring

If you’re keeping track of every movement within your service, then you’ll be able to identify malicious behaviour and attacks that much more quickly. It’s best to do this with the consent and collaboration of your customers. Let them know how they’re being monitored, to what extent, and why.

Seek expert advice

This is an often arcane and rapidly-evolving field. As such, it’s reasonable to expect that there will be gaps in your expertise. Even if you know everything there is to know about SaaS, you might not be well-versed in data protection law. By bringing in an outside expert in data protection, you’ll gain an impartial new perspective on your operations, and the things you might do better.

Data backup

By performing regular automated backups to servers in several locations, you’ll help to ensure that there is no single point of failure, and that no disaster can cause a loss of customer data.

Use a key vault service

A key management system will make it much more difficult for malicious outsiders to gain access to the keys which underpin your encryption system. By using a service of this kind, you’ll not only make your application more secure – you’ll probably make it perform better, too.

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