SaaS Access Management

Gain and maintain control with
SaaS access management

Keeping your data safe is an essential part of running your business — and access control tools will help you stop it from falling into the wrong hands.

Our SaaS access management guide has all you need to know about this vital aspect of cloud strategy. Plus, find out how Vertice can improve visibility into user access within your organization.

What is SaaS access management?

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) access management refers to the process of controlling user access to SaaS applications, to ensure that only individuals with the necessary permissions or authorization can access the SaaS solution and any associated data.

There are many approaches to SaaS access management, and making sure your systems are watertight requires a multifaceted strategy that covers all bases. Some key aspects of SaaS access management include:

  • User authentication – This is the process of verifying the identity of users requesting access to the SaaS application. Common methods include passwords, multi-factor authentication (MFA), biometric authentication, and single sign-on (SSO). 
  • Account provisioning – When employees join an organization, provisioning is the act of creating a user account with the appropriate access rights. Access control policies are used to define permissions and privileges of each user account, such as what data or services they can access. Likewise when employees exit the organization, the deprovisioning process handles the disabling of accounts and revoking of access rights. 
  • Usage monitoring – Effective SaaS access management requires consistent, ongoing monitoring to detect and respond to suspicious access attempts. Logging of events can be used to investigate security incidents, and provide an audit trail for accountability and compliance reporting.   
  • Data encryption – Encrypting data in transit or at rest is an essential part of SaaS access management, ensuring only those with the necessary permissions can decrypt and subsequently view or edit the data.

Why SaaS access management is important

There’s an abundance of reasons why organizations should take SaaS access management seriously. Whether it’s ensuring sensitive data remains confidential or preventing bad actors from harming your systems, putting a robust access control process in place is invaluable. 

Here’s why you should give your SaaS access management strategy some consideration:

  • Data security – Proper use of user access review tools and encryption means only authorized individuals can access sensitive data within your SaaS applications, helping prevent data exfiltration, unauthorized modifications, or otherwise malicious uses. 
  • Risk mitigation – Unauthorized access to SaaS apps or data can pose significant risks to organizations, such as financial loss or reputational damage. Mitigating these risks through security policies, monitoring, and detection of suspicious events is a primary goal of SaaS access management.
  • Insider threats – Whether it’s through negligent behavior, the actions of a disgruntled employee, or even a compromised account, proper SaaS access management can limit the risks and potential damage of security incidents from within the organization through practices like role-based access control (RBAC) and least privilege.
  • Intellectual property – There’s a good chance your business’s SaaS applications contain valuable intellectual property or proprietary data. User access review tools can help prevent unauthorized disclosure or theft of this information. 
  • Compliance – Many industries have complex regulatory landscapes, with strict rules regarding data privacy. SaaS access management can help your business stay on top of compliance with regulations like GDPR, SOC 2, HIPAA, and ISO 27001.
  • Operational efficiency – Effective access management streamlines processes like user provisioning, reviewing access rights, and reporting and auditing, reducing the associated administrative burden.

SaaS access control challenges

SaaS access control is a different beast to traditional on-premise IAM practices, requiring a collaborative approach between both organization and vendor. Security teams must contend with various hurdles in the pursuit of optimized SaaS access control: 

  • Decentralized access management – SaaS access control across a tech stack is challenging due to the fragmented and decentralized landscape generated by each vendor managing user access via individual portals. Organizations can face difficulties in tracking user activity, managing privileges, and maintaining access control policies with such disparate SaaS ecosystems.     
  • Shadow IT and unmanaged accounts – Subscribing to SaaS applications can take mere minutes, leading to some employees potentially taking matters into their own hands to get a job done. Shadow IT may arise as a result, where applications are used without authorization, slipping through the SaaS access management net. 
  • Permission creep and over-provisioning – SaaS onboarding processes often grant broad access permissions in one go to streamline initial workflows for incoming users. While this can generate greater efficiency at first, these permissions can easily become outdated or excessive over time. Without regular reviews and access adjustments, this so-called permission creep creates an environment where users have privileges exceeding their actual needs, increasing data breach risks. 
  • Weak password management – One of the most common yet hard-to-address SaaS user management challenges is employees using weak or reused passwords. This increases the attack surface for security vulnerabilities, particularly regarding unauthorized attempts. Organizations must devote significant time, energy, and budget towards password education and review policies. 
  • Limited SaaS stack visibility – Businesses must ensure complete stack visibility to help SaaS access control processes. Granular reporting for each application’s permissions and access history is fundamental, but not all SaaS vendors offer this as standard. In these cases, organizations will need SaaS security integrations and third-party reporting software to fill visibility gaps. 
  • Integration challenges – Integrating various SaaS access control systems with existing on-premise security infrastructure is a complex undertaking. Incompatibility issues and fragmented data can hinder centralized management and a holistic SaaS user management strategy. Additionally, integrating SaaS applications within your stack can create conflicts with existing access protocols, potentially leading to user workflow and security disruptions.
  • Workflow obstruction – Lengthy access request procedures create bottlenecks, hampering workflows and reducing operational efficiency. New hires or users requiring access to additional applications can face delays, hindering onboarding and slowing down critical workflows. This frustration may decrease productivity and impact overall user satisfaction. It can also increase shadow IT as employees grow frustrated with SaaS access control barriers. 
  • Tight compliance obstacles – Appreciating how SaaS user management intersects with compliance regulations is vital. Regulatory frameworks like GDPR or HIPAA generate additional complexity, with organizations requiring a clear understanding of data residency, user access controls, and audit trails. It can become a significant burden without adequate attention and optimal tactics. 
  • Inefficient onboarding and offboarding – SaaS user management can suffer from inefficiencies if onboarding and offboarding processes are not carefully designed. Balancing thoroughness with speed is crucial. Rushing access provisioning to meet deadlines or streamline workflows can lead to security breaches due to overlooked steps or overly broad permissions. Conversely, overly complex onboarding procedures can delay user access and hinder productivity. Organizations need to find the right balance and ensure both security and efficiency. 
  • Siloed departments – Departmental silos significantly impair SaaS access control, creating inconsistent approaches and disconnected access control policies across an organization. This creates confusion among users, increasing security risk and driving suboptimal work practices. For example, a marketing department could have different access control protocols for a CRM system compared to sales, muddling the overall strategy and creating potential chinks in an organization’s armor.  
  • Updating software – Keeping SaaS applications updated is crucial for efficient workflows and security posture, but doing so can also mess with secure access settings. Organizations face a challenge to adequately monitor whether software updates alter SaaS access management, especially when these updates are automatic. 
  • Complex administration models – Larger enterprises can have intricate and extremely complex administration models across teams and departments, leading to irregular SaaS access controls. Not only does this pose security risks, but it can also create far less efficient workflows as employees struggle to implement SaaS user management across their tech stack. Increased shadow IT may also arise as a byproduct.
  • Sub-par employee SaaS access control management – Employees need astute training to understand the best practices regarding SaaS access control. A lack of awareness can have potentially catastrophic consequences. Users could share credentials, download sensitive information without proper authorization, or leave themselves logged in — all factors that can significantly increase security risks.

SaaS access management best practices

How can organizations protect the various services and data within their cloud footprint? 

Here are some best practices for SaaS access management, many of which can be taken care of with a dedicated user access review tool:

  • Strong authentication – Along with strong password requirements, implementing multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security that helps ensure access requests are only granted to the actual account holder. Biometric authentication is also worth considering.  
  • RBAC – Role-based access control is a principle whereby permissions and privileges are assigned based on users’ roles within an organization. This makes it easier for administrators to manage access rights in a standardized manner. 
  • Least privilege – The principle of least privilege is the practice of granting users the minimum level of access they need to perform the responsibilities of their job, reducing the potential impact of security incidents. 
  • Compliance – A thorough understanding of local or industry standards and laws is indispensable. Access management practices must comply with all relevant regulations, such as GDPR or HIPAA, and these frameworks themselves can also inform a robust access management strategy. 
  • Centralized identity and access management – With tens or hundreds of SaaS applications in use within an organization, a single source of truth for user identities and permissions is invaluable. A centralized IAM system can streamline user access processes across your business, ensuring consistent enforcement of policies.
  • Single sign-on – Implementing single sign-on (SSO) allows your employees to access multiple SaaS applications without having to log into each one separately. This improves not only security by reducing password fatigue, but also the user experience and admin overhead. 
  • Incident response strategy – While proper SaaS access management aims to prevent incidents before they occur, outlining a comprehensive response strategy means you’ll be better prepared to respond to any security issues that do arise.
  • Regular reviews – Periodic evaluation and auditing of user rights and permissions is essential to minimize risk exposure over time. Regular reviews help identify access concerns like dormant accounts or over-privileged users before they can cause a more serious problem.

How to manage SaaS user access

Successful SaaS access management requires careful attention to several key areas. Follow the step-by-step guide below for best practices and guidance on how to get started.  

1. SaaS application inventory and assessment 

Establish complete SaaS visibility to discover all active and dormant applications across your organization. Evaluate each provider’s access control features and identify any sensitive data storage within each application. Categorize applications by security risk for efficient and targeted evaluation.    

2. Establish centralized IAM software and processes 

Leverage proven IAM software to centralize SaaS access management control, streamlining the process and reducing the capacity for error. These tools help organizations manage user access across their stack from a single command center. Establishing centralized SaaS user management processes for areas like permissions and user access controls is also essential. 

3. Implement role-based access control (RBAC) 

Following on from the last point, organizations must also implement RBAC policies to safeguard sensitive data with predefined roles and permissions. Role-based SaaS access control is a semi-automated strategy, where employees are assigned roles (e.g. administrator or editor) depending on their security clearance and ranking. Organizations can then set automatic access controls and permissions for these roles across their SaaS stack. 

4. Automate user provisioning and deprovisioning 

Automation is a fundamental SaaS access management component for modern enterprises. Repetitive manual tasks like user provisioning and deprovisioning during the onboarding and offboarding processes are perfect candidates for automation, reducing human error and streamlining the process. Use IAM tools and SaaS application APIs to implement a comprehensive strategy. 

5. Continuously monitor user activity 

The foundations of SaaS access management are built on assessment and control. Once these are in place, organizations can turn to actively monitoring their tech ecosystems. Leverage built-in monitoring tools and dedicated IAM solutions to track user actions, access attempts, document or data modifications, and more. Actively analyzing activity logs is essential for a proactive security strategy, maintaining overall SaaS security posture far better than a reactionary approach. 

6. Create a proactive SaaS renewal and update schedule 

SaaS software updates present a notable access control challenge, and the same can be said for contract renewals. Create a schedule to ensure you don’t miss these events, or SaaS access control can suffer as a result. This will also engender a more proactive attitude. For example, SaaS contracts could be renegotiated for more optimal pricing if organizations identify software where access is currently over-provisioned.  

7. Educate employees on SaaS access control policies 

Implementing a strategic employee training program is another proactive SaaS user management step that can pay significant dividends in the long run. Educating your employees on access controls, data security best practices, and phishing red flags will keep overall security vulnerabilities to a minimum. 

8. Circulate SaaS secure access white papers 

Circulate white papers detailing SaaS access control blueprints and updates to build on the knowledge derived from employee training and encourage a holistic strategy followed by each individual user. 

9. Periodically repeat the entire SaaS access control lifecycle 

As with many SaaS and cloud management areas, SaaS access control is an iterative challenge that you must consistently engage with for optimal upkeep. Undergoing regular inventory assessment, checking RBAC, implementing automation, and the other steps above should all be repeated to ensure adaptable and proactive security posture.

The best access control tools

There’s a broad array of SaaS access management tools on the market, from comprehensive security suites to niche solutions that deal with specific areas. Here’s a look at some of the best access control tools currently available. 

Microsoft Entra ID

Microsoft’s IAM solution, Entra ID, offers multiple features for SaaS access management. App integrations, SSO, and passwordless authentication simplify access for your employees, while self-service identity management reduces friction around access rights. Machine learning can be used to reduce identity compromise risks, identifying high-risk users and automatically revoking privileges on detection of suspicious activity. 

Okta Workforce Identity

Workforce Identity from Okta places emphasis on streamlining IAM across your organization, using tools like adaptive MFA, SSO, and passwordless authentication to ensure the right users can securely access everything they need. Automation tools are available to optimize the on- and off-boarding process, and Secure Partner Access makes it easy to collaborate with external organizations. 

JumpCloud

With JumpCloud, you’ll get a range of access control tools to protect your SaaS applications.  Centralized identity features make it easy to manage users across your entire stack, while reducing friction so your employees get access to the right resources. It’s also simple to track every device within your organization — whether managed or unmanaged — so endpoints are thoroughly monitored and compliance requirements are met. 

Cisco Duo

Cisco Duo is another leading SaaS access management tool, providing features like phishing-resistant MFA thanks to FIDO2, adaptive access for more granular permissions control, and SSO to reduce your attack surface and improve the user experience. Device tracking features can be used to verify trustworthiness before access is granted while also providing real-time security health status reporting. 

IBM Security Verify

IBM Security Verify delivers an AI-powered approach to IAM. Adaptive access evaluates user risk continuously, leveraging machine learning for greater accuracy. Passwordless or multi-factor authentication is available, as is SSO, and powerful identity analytics tools make it easy for your administrators to make data-based decisions.

Maintain SaaS access visibility with the Vertice platform

Along with saving you money, the Vertice platform can help your team manage and review SaaS access across your organization. With our solution, you’ll get full insight into your tech stack through detailed software usage analytics and reporting, so you can see which users are engaging with applications within your footprint — whether sanctioned or not — and reduce your risk by eliminating unused software and shadow IT. To get started, simply get in touch!

See how much you could save with Vertice

Use our calculator to estimate how much time and money your business could save on SaaS by using Vertice.

Number of employees
250
50
5000
Number of applications
50
20
150
$181,481cost savings
466hours saved
Annual Cloud Spend
$50
$250,000
$20,000,000
Number of Cloud Engineers
3
0
10
$11cost savings
2hours saved
$181,492cost savings
468hours saved

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Further reading

The ever-evolving cloud and SaaS software landscapes are both fascinating and challenging, consistently forcing businesses to adapt and optimize their strategies to take the most advantage. 

Aside from offering the Cloud Cost Optimization and SaaS Purchasing Platform solutions, Vertice is also a one-stop shop for expert guides and resources. Check the following resources for more knowledge surrounding SaaS reporting and control. 

  • SaaS integrations Get to grips with integrating SaaS applications and learn the benefits of broadening your integration horizons;
  • SaaS spend management – Understand the core principles driving optimal Saas spend management and how to enact them;
  • SaaS operations – Gain clarity into what SaaS operations entail, the main benefits, best practices, and how Vertice can help.