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SaaS Security

Lorna Jones

Lorna Jones, Senior Cyber Security Consultant
Oct 20, 2023

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Enhancing Protection with Penetration Testing

You're a business owner. After graduating from university and achieving a degree in computer science, it was time for the next step, a new adventure. You always were fascinated with business. You decide; what better to use your degree and the value you gathered over the years than to start a business, not any business but a leading business in the innovative industries. Why not while all other enterprises are adopting what your business can offer? (Between you and us, they are all potential customers).

Especially that the adoption of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions has skyrocketed in recent years as organisations seek the benefits of cloud-based applications like reduced costs, flexible scalability, and streamlined maintenance compared to traditional on-premises software. By 2025, over 95% of new software investments will target SaaS platforms. However, the convenience of SaaS comes with unknown security risks that many businesses need help to grasp fully.

SaaS customers are responsible for securing these environments without visibility or control over the underlying infrastructure. Unfortunately, misconfigurations, over-entitled user accounts, and insecure access are commonplace with SaaS apps. Preventative security measures are essential for identifying risks before someone gains access and exploits them in an attack. In these situations, targeted penetration testing provides immense value for proactively finding and remediating vulnerabilities in SaaS applications.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, also referred to as pen testing or ethical hacking, is the practice of simulating cyber attacks against a system or application to evaluate its security posture in an operational environment. Under strict controls, authorised penetration testers use many tools and techniques that real-world attackers employ to probe for weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Pen testing aims to take an external perspective in identifying security flaws, configuration issues, or procedural gaps, just like a malicious actor would. However, pen testing is conducted with an organisation's explicit permission and coordination to help strengthen its security. Standard testing methods include network attacks, social engineering techniques, and application attacks using fuzzing, injection attempts, and other approaches to find potential avenues for compromise.

The penetration testing findings enable organisations to understand their proper risk exposure objectively. Security leaders can then make data-driven decisions on enhancing defences based on vulnerabilities that attackers could actively exploit. It is far more impactful than just running automated vulnerability scanners that may yield thousands of theoretical risks and false positives. The insights from pen testing exercises also facilitate meaningful improvements to policies, processes, awareness programs, and technologies.

Types of penetration testing that your business can explore

Various kinds of focused penetration testing are applicable for securing Software-as-a-Service environments:

Network Penetration Testing

Network pen testing targets the network perimeter and infrastructure underpinning a SaaS application. Testers act as outside attackers and attempt to identify weaknesses that could enable deeper access for exploitation. This testing examines exposed services, unpatched vulnerabilities, insecure network protocols, weak encryption, and inadequate access controls.
Network penetration assessment provides visibility into risks that exist at the network layer. For example, flawed network ACLs or firewall rules could permit unauthorised traffic and access. Vulnerable software in the technology stack, like web servers or databases, may be exploitable for lateral movement if left unpatched. Insufficient protection of administrative tools or dashboards also poses a threat. Additionally, network pen testing evaluates the efficacy of security technologies like next-gen firewalls, web proxies, intrusion detection systems, and DDoS mitigation solutions deployed to protect the SaaS environment.

Application Penetration Testing
Whereas network testing focuses on infrastructure, application pen testing targets the SaaS application layer. Skilled testers analyse the web application itself and attempt to identify flaws in coding or logic that could lead to compromise of user accounts, data exposure, or remote code execution.

Typical targets include injection vulnerabilities like SQLi and XSS that allow malicious commands to be inserted into backend databases or executed in a user's browser. Testers check for proper input validation on forms and APIs, robust authentication mechanisms and session management. Weak access controls that fail to restrict privileged actions properly can also provide an opening.

Application testing exercises verify that developers appropriately built security measures like rate limiting, bots detection, and encryption into the software. Cybersecurity experts can use black box fuzzing to detect potential memory corruption, crashes, or buffer overflow weaknesses for complex SaaS apps. This testing meets essential compliance requirements for identifying and remediating application security defects.

API Penetration Testing

Modern SaaS platforms almost invariably expose APIs to enable integration with other tools and workflows. Unfortunately, security is often an afterthought, leaving APIs vulnerable to attackers. API penetration testing helps assess these risks.
Testers will examine API authentication mechanisms like OAuth and API keys to confirm they cannot be bypassed or compromised to gain unlawful access. They probe the API endpoints for vulnerabilities like injection flaws, improper input handling, or other weaknesses that could lead to data leakage. They access control policies and evaluate them to ensure APIs do not grant overly permissive access to data or actions. Then they check availability factors like rate limiting and load shedding for effectiveness. Testing verifies that API secrets and keys are protected correctly from exfiltration or misuse.
For organisations that rely on API-driven SaaS apps, API penetration tests have a staggering advantage in preventing account takeover, data loss, fraud, or Denial-of-service.

Social Engineering Testing

The human element is a central factor in most security incidents and breaches. No assessment of an organisation's security posture is complete without evaluating susceptibility to social engineering. SaaS users often have access to sensitive data assets and elevated permissions. Social engineering penetration tests examine if someone can manipulate users into giving up credentials or information.
Skilled testers attempt phishing, vishing (voice phishing), smishing (SMS phishing), and USB drop attacks that mimic real-world techniques used by criminals. These tests help tangibly evaluate policies, processes, and awareness related to information security and data protection. IT team can also assess Technical controls like secure email gateways to gauge their effectiveness at stopping deceptive messaging from reaching end users. And they can remedy any identified weaknesses before actual social engineering threats exploit them.

Statistics, incidents, and what we learned from them

According to penetration testing firm Cobalt, 73% of Software-as-a-Service applications failed security assessments in 2021. The most prevalent findings included flawed single sign-on (SSO) implementations permitting account takeovers, multi-tenant weaknesses allowing data exposure between customers, and widespread vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS), sensitive information disclosure, and improper access controls.
Research group RiskRecon analysed over 115,000 SaaS applications and found 92% contained risky misconfigurations, 68% had overly permissive user permissions, and 49% exhibited vulnerable software. Verizon's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report highlighted that vulnerabilities within web applications play a role in 43% of breaches, second only to credential theft. 

"Ubiquiti Networks: In 2021, Ubiquiti Networks, a networking equipment and IoT device manufacturer, experienced a data breach that exposed customer account credentials and other sensitive information."
"Accenture: In 2021, Accenture left at least four AWS S3 storage buckets unsecured, leading to the exposure of user credentials such as names, email addresses, passwords, and vulnerability data points."
"Sina Weibo: In 2021, Sina Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, experienced a data breach that exposed the personal information of over 538 million users."

So, if you think your business can serve your software as a service without any complications, we got bad news for you, and do not worry; we will share solutions shortly. With data from penetrations tests like this, companies relying on SaaS cannot afford to ignore the threats posed by underlying vulnerabilities in their environments. Proactive action is required to avoid preventable compromise.

What should your business do to safeguard security over its system?

When you first started your SaaS company, the decision probably was to rely on enormous cloud infrastructure providers like AWS, Google and Azure along into your infrastructure, and for organisations adopting SaaS solutions, implementing annual penetration testing provides significant risk reduction benefits:

  • Establish a clear baseline of vulnerabilities and risk posture across networks, applications, APIs, and end users.
  • Address high-severity flaws immediately and create a remediation roadmap for other findings.
  • Meet compliance requirements related to application security, vulnerability management, and security assessments.
  • Maintain ongoing testing cadence to tackle new threats and risks as environments evolve
  • Combine network, application, API, and social engineering testing methods for comprehensive coverage.
  • Leverage SaaS-specific automated scanner tools like MicroSaaS to augment more thorough manual testing.
  • Demand and validate remediation evidence from providers when your company identifies inherited risks.
  • Create, implement, and refine policies and processes based on lessons learned.
  • Train users on the most potent security practices and raise awareness of social engineering threats.
  • Beyond just penetration testing, organisations should adopt a defence-in-depth strategy to secure SaaS. Core tenets of this approach include:
  • Enforcing least privilege permissions and implementing separation of duties.
  • Mandating multi-factor authentication and strong password policies.
  • Configuring access restrictions, IP allow listing, and automated account lockouts to prevent unauthorised access.
  • Encrypting sensitive data both in transit and at rest.
  • Monitoring user activity for anomalies and threats.
  • Hardening SaaS configurations and turning off unnecessary functionality.
  • Adopting Cloud Security Posture Management platforms to gain visibility.

Companies can effectively manage risks and protect data within SaaS environments with point-in-time penetration testing and continuous security monitoring measures.

Microminder's role in protecting and ensuring the safety of your data

The convenience and efficiency of SaaS solutions offer undeniable advantages for modern businesses. However, SaaS also introduces new security challenges around visibility constraints, access controls, and shared responsibility models. Without diligence from customers, misconfigurations, overly permissive settings, vulnerable software, and a lack of user awareness can leave SaaS apps dangerously exposed.

Targeted penetration testing provides a powerful mechanism for proactively finding and remediating security flaws, misconfigurations, and policy gaps before a hacker exploits them in an attack. Network, application, API, and social engineering penetration assessments comprehensively evaluate vulnerabilities using real-world adversarial tactics. Addressing these issues is essential for securing customer data, maintaining compliance, and ensuring a robust security posture in SaaS environments.

Protecting data might not be easy, and for businesses that are starting or even senior companies, it takes time and involves a lot of risks to get the hang of it; in the end, your IT team can only learn so much from an attempted attack on your business, or reading about incident reports. To correctly manage security risks, you must partner with organisations and firms that are used to dealing with vulnerabilities and risk assessment daily. It is where MicrominderCS comes in, we took the heavy road so your business won't have to, and we offer all the knowledge gathered in our services to ensure a better future for your business so you can focus on building and scaling it! See, choosing Microminder is a no-brainer at this point, and to get your other foot in the door, we offer you a free consultation call and a free penetration test for your web application. Contact us today and claim your hard-earned reward. 

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