Software as a Service Security #

The seven security issues which one should discuss with a cloud-computing vendor:

  1. Privileged user access —inquire about who has specialized access to data, and about the hiring and management of such administrators.
  2. Regulatory compliance—make sure that the vendor is willing to undergo external audits and/or security certifications.
  3. Data location—does the provider allow for any control over the location of data?
  4. Data segregation —make sure that encryption is available at all stages, and that these encryption schemes were designed and tested by experienced professionals.
  5. Recovery —Find out what will happen to data in the case of a disaster. Do they offer complete restoration? If so, how long would that take?
  6. Investigative support —Does the vendor have the ability to investigate any inappropriate or illegal activity?
  7. Long-term viability —What will happen to data if the company goes out of business? How will data be returned, and in what format?

To address the security issues listed above, SaaS providers will need to incorporate and enhance security practices used by the managed service providers and develop new ones as the cloud computing environment evolves. The baseline security practices for the SaaS environment as currently formulated are discussed in the following sections.

  • Security Management (People): One of the most important actions for a security team is to develop a formal charter for the security organization and program. This will foster a shared vision among the team of what security leadership is driving toward and expects, and will also foster “ownership” in the success of the collective team. The charter should be aligned with the strategic plan of the organization or company the security team works for. Lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and agreement on expectations, can result in a general feeling of loss and confusion among the security team about what is expected of them, how their skills and experienced can be leveraged, and meeting their performance goals. Morale among the team and pride in the team is lowered, and security suffers as a result.
  • Security Governance: A security steering committee should be developed whose objective is to focus on providing guidance about security initiatives and alignment with business and IT strategies. A charter for the security team is typically one of the first deliverables from the steering committee. This charter must clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the security team and other groups involved in performing information security functions. Lack of a formalized strategy can lead to an unsustainable operating model and security level as it evolves. In addition, lack of attention to security governance can result in key needs of the business not being met, including but not limited to, risk management, security monitoring, application security, and sales support. Lack of proper governance and management of duties can also result in potential security risks being left unaddressed and opportunities to improve the business being missed because the security team is not focused on the key security functions and activities that are critical to the business.
  • Risk Management: Effective risk management entails identification of technology assets; identification of data and its links to business processes, applications, and data stores; and assignment of ownership and custodial responsibilities. Actions should also include maintaining a repository of information assets. Owners have authority and accountability for information assets including protection requirements, and custodians implement confidentiality, integrity, availability, and privacy controls. A formal risk assessment process should be created that allocates security resources linked to business continuity.
  • Risk Assessment: Security risk assessment is critical to helping the information security organization make informed decisions when balancing the dueling priorities of business utility and protection of assets. Lack of attention to completing formalized risk assessments can contribute to an increase in information security audit findings, can jeopardize certification goals, and can lead to inefficient and ineffective selection of security controls that may not adequately mitigate information security risks to an acceptable level. A formal information security risk management process should proactively assess information security risks as well as plan and manage them on a periodic or as-needed basis. More detailed and technical security risk assessments in the form of threat modeling should also be applied to applications and infrastructure. Doing so can help the product management and engineering groups to be more proactive in designing and testing the security of applications and systems and to collaborate more closely with the internal security team. Threat modeling requires both IT and business process knowledge, as well as technical knowledge of how the applications or systems under review work.
  • Security Monitoring and Incident Response: Centralized security information management systems should be used to provide notification of security vulnerabilities and to monitor systems continuously through automated technologies to identify potential issues. They should be integrated with network and other systems monitoring processes (e.g., security information management, security event management, security information and event management, and security operations centers that use these systems for dedicated 24/7/365 monitoring). Management of periodic, independent third-party security testing should also be included. Many of the security threats and issues in SaaS center around application and data layers, so the types and sophistication of threats and attacks for a SaaS organization require a different approach to security monitoring than traditional infrastructure and perimeter monitoring. The organization may thus need to expand its security monitoring capabilities to include application- and data-level activities. This may also require subject-matter experts in applications security and the unique aspects of maintaining privacy in the cloud. Without this capability and expertise, a company may be unable to detect and prevent security threats and attacks to its customer data and service stability.
  • Third-Party Risk Management: As SaaS moves into cloud computing for the storage and processing of customer data, there is a higher expectation that the SaaS will effectively manage the security risks with third parties. Lack of a third-party risk management program may result in damage to the provider’s reputation, revenue losses, and legal actions should the provider be found not to have performed due diligence on its third-party vendors.

Cloud Security Challenges
Security Architecture Design