Man working on laptop with virtual lock showing zero trust for SaaS

How Zero Trust Secures Business-Critical SaaS Application Data

The basis of zero trust is the concept that organizations have to assume anyone and everything can cause damage, and anything and everything must be verified before granting access. Today, decentralized workforces and increased cloud migration continue to be a staple of industry evolution in a post-pandemic world, exacerbating the problem businesses face when it comes to unmanaged data and Software as a Service (SaaS) sprawl. SaaS applications have proven to be a great method for streamlining information and asset sharing. However, a key question every business leader should be asking themselves is: am I doing enough to limit the inherent risks of sharing data so freely?

It’s no secret there is a significant problem facing any organization that leverages SaaS apps to reshape and modernize their business. Every year, the number of applications being used continues to rise at warp speed. With this rise, the amount of access granted becomes unmanageable, and the risk of overexposure of sensitive data and files moves to an all-time high. In fact, Netskope’s Cloud and Threat Report found that the average organization with anywhere between 500 and 2000 employees now deploys an average of 805 distinct apps and cloud services, with 97% of those being “unmanaged” and often freely adopted by business units and users.

The time is now for business leaders to implement zero-trust protocols to address cloud misconfigurations beyond the identity layer and into the SaaS app ecosystem, as doing so has become critical for organizations to be able to maintain a good security posture. Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) does just that.

The rise in cloud use and security vulnerabilities

Today, most organizations, both private and public, are leveraging the cloud to become more agile. Ensuring these organizations are adequately secured is more important than ever before. As with anything, incorporating any tool or technology that enables the business will bring security implications, and the cloud is certainly no exception. Security must be at the forefront of enabling the business. Otherwise, you inherently introduce technical debt that is hard to get in front of as the business continues to grow and scale.

It’s vital for organizations to secure the sensitive data that is being accessed, manipulated, and shared within and across SaaS tools. Why is this so important? According to Okta’s Businesses at Work Report, the average enterprise leverages nearly 200 applications, multiplied by the number of internal and external users accessing those apps and multiplied yet again by the number of files and data generated within these platforms. The reach is tremendous. Because of this, data rapidly becomes unmanageable and permanently accessible by too many users, some of which shouldn’t have access, to begin with. Ultimately, this increases the risk of data breaches and exfiltration tenfold.

Today, SaaS applications are one of the most preferred methods to share data – sensitive or otherwise. It’s imperative that security teams monitor and control access, as well as automatically remediate the loss, leakage, and misuse of sensitive company data. To better protect themselves, business leaders must ensure data is shared only with those who need it and only when they need it. For example, ensuring customer information, such as a financial document shared on Box, is only available for the day and timeframe referenced. Flagging high-risk events is vital in preventing data from falling into the wrong hands or moving outside the enterprise ecosystem.

This can be put into practice by taking a “risk-based approach” to security. For example, in the case of flagging a recently terminated employee. Once the employment status change of this individual becomes triggered within an HR application (i.e. Bamboo HR or Workday), the individual’s insider risk profile will be elevated as, more often than not, departing individuals will try and take data with them before they leave the organization. This will allow for the appropriate balance of putting security measures in place where it needs to be, making it easier for IT/Security teams to navigate threats without slowing down business workflows.

Lastly, preserving productivity and securing SaaS data without hampering the productive sharing of information and assets is critical to ensure the cure of managing data is not worse than the disease of undermanaging it.

What is ZTDA, and how can it better secure your organization

ZTDA takes the principle of least privilege and the concept of micro-segmentation that business leaders are likely already familiar with and extends it throughout SaaS application environments. This is one of the most critical environments for an organization trying to align to the zero trust model. Because ZTDA requires continuous monitoring of all user activities and events, businesses will have a more targeted security policy that can be applied to end users and entities, both internal and external, across every single SaaS application they interact with.

To better protect an organization, ZTDA provides deep, multi-leveled micro-segmentation across the entire SaaS application stack and data layer, which includes; identity/user classification (i.e., internal employee vs. external vendor), data/file type and location, event type, and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). In order to mitigate the risk of an attack without impacting business continuity, business leaders must incorporate controls that go beyond the “identity,” device, and network layers. By introducing granular data access controls, organizations will improve their security posture and experience a more complete zero-trust architecture throughout SaaS applications that will ultimately help drive the business forward in a secure way.

Overall, as organizations of every size continue to leverage the cloud for increased agility, continuously updating and auditing your security program to ensure the organization is as protected as possible is vital. Zero Trust programs will continually evolve, and business leaders must stay on the pulse of tools and technologies that need to be evaluated, integrated, and adjusted over time to effectively mitigate the risk of a cyber breach and the long list of negative outcomes that come along with it.