Opinion: Tightening up SaaS security is vital

Mathias Thurman looks at an important IT security manager's task - securing SaaS apps

An issue vying for my attention early on is the company's heavy use of software as a service (SaaS). At my last company, we used four SaaS vendors. This company far exceeds that number, because it tends to choose a SaaS option ahead of either building applications in-house or buying them. As a result, we currently use more than 30 SaaS offerings. It's a nightmare from a security perspective, for many reasons.

For example, each SaaS relationship requires connecting some aspect of our trusted network infrastructure with the vendor's network. In doing this, security has been an afterthought. We're using a VPN, but that only addresses encryption. The associated firewall rules are pathetically weak, and in some cases the connections are wide open.

I also have a problem with single sign-on (SSO), since many of the SaaS tools that we are using can be accessed freely from the public Internet. I want access to be restricted to the company's trusted network. As it is, employees can access many of our SaaS applications from, say, an Internet kiosk in Moscow. People from outside of the security realm think I'm being paranoid when I say that I want more restrictions on things like survey tools and corporate travel sites. But it's not all about the content of the sites. With SSO, credentials that are compromised while accessing some innocuous SaaS site can put a good deal of our infrastructure and data at risk. And employees often do things that make compromise all too easy, such as clicking "remember my username and password" on a public computer or simply neglecting to sign off.

But even if employees are well trained about security risks and don't do those sorts of things, there are still keyloggers, sniffers, screen-capture tools, cameras and other methods of capturing domain credentials. For example, we currently, change passwords every 90 days. That means that if someone were to capture an employee's enterprise credentials, the hacker would have as long as three months to figure out what other SaaS applications he could access. He would only need to do a quick query of our external DNS to discover our Outlook Web Access site, which currently isn't protected with two-factor authentication. What's more, many people these days (including me) use e-mail as a complete data repository, leaving all of that data -- and their calendars, contact lists and personal notes -- wide open to hackers who have the proper credentials.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will write a policy on remote access that will include two-factor authentication and other ways of safeguarding access to our SaaS-based applications. If you have some advice, I would love to hear from you.

This column is written by a real security manager, "Mathias Thurman," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious reasons. Thuman can be contacted him at mathias_thurman@yahoo.com

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