Data Security in the SaaS Age: Thinking Small

Our last post in Data Security in a SaaS World discussed how the use and sharing phases of the (frankly partially defunct) Data Security Lifecycle remain relevant. That approach hinges on a detailed understanding of each application to define appropriate policies for what is allowed and by whom. To be clear, these are not – and cannot be – generic policies. Each SaaS application is different and as such your policies must be different, so you (or a vendor or service provider) need to dig into it to understand what it does and who should do it. Now the fun part. The typical enterprise has hundreds, if not thousands, of SaaS services. So what’s the best approach to secure those applications? Any answer requires gratuitous use of many platitudes, including both “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” and that other old favorite, “You can’t boil the ocean.” Whichever pithy analogy you favor for providing data security for SaaS, you need to think small, by setting policies to protect one application or service at a time. We’re looking for baby steps, not big bangs. The big bang killed initiatives like DLP. (You remember DLP, right?) Not that folks don’t do DLP successfully today – they do – but if you try to classify all the data and build rules for every possible data loss… you’ll get overwhelmed, and then it’s hard to complete the project. We’ve been preaching this small and measured approach for massive, challenging projects like SIEM for years. You don’t set up all the SIEM rules and use cases at once – at least not if you want the project to succeed. The noise will bury you, and you’ll stop using the tool. People with successful SIEM implementations under their belts started small with a few use cases, then added more once they figured out how to make a few sets set work. The Pareto principle applies here, bigtime. You can eliminate the bulk of your risk by protecting 20% of your SaaS apps. But if you use 1,000 SaaS apps, you still need to analyze and set policies for 200 apps – a legitimately daunting task. We’re talking about a journey here, one that takes a while. So prioritization of your SaaS applications is essential for project success. We’ll also discuss opportunities to accelerate the process later on — you can jump the proverbial line with smart technology use. The Process The first SaaS app you run through the process should be an essential app with pretty sensitive data. We can bet it will be either your office suite (Office365 or G Suite), your CRM tool (likely Salesforce), your file storage service (typically Dropbox or Box), or your ERP or HR package (SAP, Workday, or Oracle). These applications represent your most sensitive data, so you’ll then want to maximize risk mitigation. Start with the app with the most extensive user base. We’ll illustrate the process with CRM. We get going by answering a few standard questions: What’s the data? Your CRM has all your marketing and sales data, including a lot of sensitive customer/prospect data. It may also have your customer support case data, which is pretty sensitive. Who needs to see the data? Define who needs to see the data, and use the groups or roles within your identity store – no reason to reinvent the wheel. We discussed the role of federation in our previous post, and this is why. Don’t forget to consider external constituencies – auditors, contractors, or even customers. What do they need to do with the data? For each role or group, figure out whether they need to read, write, or otherwise manage data. You can get more specific and define different rights for different data types as required. For example, finance people may have read access to the sales pipeline, while sales operations folks have full access. Do you see what we did there? We just built a simple entitlement matrix. That wasn’t so scary, was it? Once you have the entitlement matrix documented, you write the policies. At that point, you load your policies into the application. Then wash, rinse, and repeat for the other SaaS apps you need to protect. Each SaaS app will have a different process to implement these policies, so there isn’t a whole lot of leverage to be gained in this effort. But you probably aren’t starting from scratch either. A lot of this work happens when deploying the applications initially. Hopefully, it’s a matter of revisiting original entitlements for effectiveness and consistency. But not always. To accelerate a PoC, the vendor uses default entitlements, and the operations team doesn’t always revisit them when the application goes from testing into production deployment. Continuous Monitoring Once the entitlements are defined (or revisited), and you’ve implemented acceptable policies in the application, you reach the operational stage. Many organizations fail here. They get excited to lock things down during initial deployment but seem to forget that moves, adds, and changes happen every day. New capabilities get rolled out weekly. So when they periodically check policies every quarter or year, they are surprised by how much changed and the resulting security issues. So continuous monitoring becomes critical to maintain the integrity of data in SaaS apps. You need to watch for changes, with a mechanism to ensure they are authorized and legitimate. It sounds like a change control process, right? What happens if the security team (or even the IT team in some cases) doesn’t operate these apps? We’ve seen this movie before. It’s like dealing with an application built in the cloud by a business unit. The BU may have operational responsibilities, but the security team should assume responsibility for enforcing governance policies. Security needs access to the SaaS app to monitor changes and ensure adherence to policy. And that’s the point. Security doesn’t need to have operational responsibilities for SaaS applications. But they need to assess the risk of access when

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