SaaS Identity Management

SaaS Identity Management Definition

SaaS identity management allows security teams to control access to SaaS applications. These tools and processes are critical to maintaining compliance, efficiency, and security for digital operations.

Strong SaaS identity management enables authorized employees to access only the resources they need at critical times for valid, job-related reasons—and limits access there. The goal is to reduce unmanaged and insecure access to sensitive data.

The image depicts an employee using a SaaS identity & access management tool to access SaaS applications needed for work in a more secure way.

SaaS Identity Management FAQs

What is SaaS Identity Management?

Cloud-based identity and access management (IAM) processes and tools control user identities and access to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, mostly using the same basic tools. Identity-as-a-service (IDaaS) security systems, for example, use online computer power, database storage, and many of the core concepts that drive SaaS identity management to improve business processes.

Those core concepts are:

  • Identity. Identities in SaaS applications can be human or non-human actors who interact with the application or its APIs to conduct business operations
  • Directory. Directories are an important part of managing identities and store information about users, organization or departments, devices, roles, and preferences.
  • User authentication. Verify user identity before granting access to the SaaS application.
  • User authorization. Determine what resources and actions a user is allowed to access or perform within the application.
  • User provisioning and deprovisioning. Add new users. Remove access for users who no longer need it.
  • Single sign-on (SSO). Allow users to log in once to access multiple applications.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA). Enables a multi-step secure authentication process that goes beyond passwords to authenticate users with any combination of time-based one-time passcodes (TOTP), biometric scans, or tokens on trusted devices
  • SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language). An industry standard mechanism to pass user authentication information between and identity provider and web applications to simplify the sign-on process and usually used with SSO.
  • Role-based access control (RBAC). A way to configure permissions and privileges to users based on their role within the organization. Example: Administrators, Sales, Managers, Executives. Permissions are mapped to roles to facilitate easy assignment and revocation of privileges.
  • Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP). A core principle in security that states that users should only have the minimal privileges and access to resources to perform their tasks
  • Zero Trust. A core concept that states that trust is never implicitly granted based on a user’s role or function, but that it is always verified continuously based on the principle of least privilege.
  • Access management. Continuously monitor and manage user access rights to ensure they are role-appropriate.
  • Federation. Integrate identity management across different domains or organizations, using standards like SAML or OAuth where appropriate.

Key Challenges in Cloud and SaaS Identity Management

There are several key challenges inherent to SaaS identity management, including:

Ensure scalability. As organizations grow, user management and access privileges become more complex. The security team must ensure that the SaaS identity management system can scale to accommodate sufficient growth.

Complete visibility to identities. The human and machine identities that transact with the SaaS applications are constantly changing. It is important for security teams to have a clear understanding of who has access to what, and which actions have they performed during any given time.

Implement robust security measures. Protect user identities and credentials from unauthorized access and breaches of escalating volume and complexity. Any tools in use should specifically guard against phishing, credential theft, and other cyber threats.

Integrate identity management with SaaS applications. This includes those with different APIs and authentication mechanisms. Ensure seamless integration for single sign-on (SSO) and unified identity management.

Protect user experience. Provide a smooth, user-friendly authentication experience while maintaining robust security to avoid user frustration.

Compliance with regulatory requirements. Identity management practices and tools must comply with GDPR, HIPAA, SOC 2, and any industry-specific regulations.

Manage the user identity lifecycle efficiently. This includes onboarding new users, updating user information, and promptly revoking access as necessary.

Grant access based on the principle of least privilege. Define and enforce granular policies that reflect the organization’s security requirements and business needs.

Extending zero trust architectures to SaaS. Organizations have spent a lot of money securing their networks with zero trust network access (ZTNA) to control access to applications with security solutions at the network edge. However, these controls don’t extend to the SaaS application itself. Remote users, misconfigurations, internet exposures, and SaaS to SaaS connections can bypass these controls, leading to compromises of SaaS apps. 

Manage federation. Using different standards and protocols requires careful planning and execution to ensure interoperability and security.

Shadow IT. Address risks associated with unauthorized use of SaaS applications.
Continuously audit and monitor. Ongoing attention to access activities and maintenance of audit logs is essential, but can also be resource-intensive. Traditional IAM policies are static and do not take into account real time behavioral characteristics or anomalies of identities (both human and machine).

Is There a Difference Between Identity Management (IdM) and Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Most SaaS identity management platforms and tools really focus on identity management and identity and access management, but here is the basic difference.

Identity management focuses primarily on administering and managing each unique user identity throughout its lifecycle with an organization, including:

  • User registration. Creating and maintaining user accounts.
  • Identity data management. Including personal information, credentials, and user profiles.
  • User provisioning. Adding, updating, and deactivating user accounts.
  • Directory services. Storing and organizing user identity data.

Identity management focuses primarily on administering and managing each unique user identity throughout its lifecycle with an organization, including:

  • User authentication. Verify user identity, typically through passwords, biometrics, or multi-factor authentication.
  • User authorization. Determine appropriate resources for a user to access and which actions they can perform.
  • Single sign-on (SSO). Allow users to authenticate once to access multiple applications.
  • Access control. Define which resources users can access, and enforce when and under what conditions that access can be granted.

What are Cloud-Based Identity Management Systems?

These systems hosted and delivered through the cloud provide several key benefits:

  • Scalability and price. Cloud-based systems allow organizations to grow without investing in maintaining an on-premises system, and a subscription-based model is predictable.
  • Secure, remote access to resources. Cloud-based systems are accessible anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Advanced security features. Most cloud-based identity and access management (IAM) solutions offer multi-factor authentication (MFA), encryption, and continuous threat monitoring.
  • Seamless integration with SaaS applications. Identity and access management (IAM) systems support SAML, OAuth, and OpenID Connect standards.
  • Compliance. Audit trails and access logs support adhering to standards such as ISO 27001, SOC 2, and GDPR.
  • Centralized management. Cloud-based identity management SaaS applications simplify user provisioning, password management, and access control. This reduces administrative overhead and improves efficiency.
  • Robust disaster recovery and availability. Cloud providers typically offer high availability features and ensure that identity management services remain operational even in the event of local outages or disruptions.
  • Rapid deployment. Cloud-based solutions deploy more quickly than traditional on-premises systems.
  • Continuous updates. Cloud-based identity management SaaS applications offer new features and security enhancements regularly, and users have no need to manage updates themselves.

Best Practices for SaaS Identity Risk Management

SaaS identity risk management takes a holistic approach to security in SaaS environments, addressing risks that extend beyond the capabilities of traditional cloud-based solutions.

Some best SaaS identity management practices, strategies, and tools include:Multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all users, especially those with access to sensitive

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all users, especially those with access to sensitive data and critical applications
  • Strong password policies, requiring complex, unique passwords and regular updates
  • Password managers
  • SSO allows secure access to multiple applications after authentication using a single set of credentials
  • Monitor and respond to suspicious behavior in real-time
  • Automate tasks such as role changes and user provisioning and deprovisioning
  • Integrate lifecycle management with HR systems
  • Implement role-based access control and least privilege principle; regularly review and adjust access permissions
  • Enforce conditional access and security measures based on user device, location, and behavior
  • Provide regular education and training for users on security risks, proper use of SaaS applications, and best practices for phishing prevention
  • Stay informed about GDPR, HIPAA, and other relevant regulations to ensure identity management practices comply with them
  • Perform regular security risk assessments to identify and address potential vulnerabilities in identity management processes, and adjust policies and controls accordingly

How Does AppOmni Approach SaaS Identity Management?

AppOmni’s SaaS security platform simplifies SaaS identity management by complementing IAM solutions used by customers. By detecting threats, anomalous user behaviors,  identifying data exposure and risks, and mapping compliance requirements, AppOmni prevents breaches from business-critical SaaS applications.
With AppOmni, you can see what’s risky in seconds, identifying critical risks and prioritizing them for remediation. Learn more about how AppOmni’s SaaS security posture management platform and its integrations with IAM solutions simplifies SaaS identity and access management.