What is SSPM? The Definitive Guide

Imagine a modern home entertainment system with a series of devices such as a television monitor equipped with every streaming service. There’s also a projector, cable television receiver, several video game systems, and surround sound speakers. Each device is controlled using its own individual remote.

But here’s the catch: there’s no standardization of button functionality for each remote. A triangle-shaped button could mean “play” on one device but “fast-forward” on another.

This time-consuming and energy-draining process is similar to how many organizations manage their on-average 50 to 100 sanctioned SaaS applications in use. The solution to this piecemeal, unsustainable process is a control center. Similar to how entertainment center owners often use a universal remote with standard button configurations, SaaS applications need a virtual command room where security teams can manage their complex SaaS estate securely and holistically. This requires a robust SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) solution.

What Is SSPM?

First, SaaS security posture encompasses the overall security measures and readiness of a SaaS provider. This includes its basic ability to protect applications against misconfigurations, potential threats, and data breaches.  

In this context, what is SSPM security?

SaaS security posture management proactively assesses, maintains, and enhances security measures and protocols within an SaaS environment. It generally includes continuous monitoring of the SaaS application to identify potential security risks, implement relevant controls, and respond to incidents.

SSPM tools aim to address misconfigurations before they cause data breaches, help organizations to comply with regulations, and robustly protect data and services.

Where does SSPM fit within the larger context of SASE?

A comprehensive secure access service edge (SASE) framework combines networking and security capabilities into a single, cloud-based service model. SASE architecture often integrates multiple security and networking functionalities.

Some SASE functionalities such as cloud access security brokers (CASBs) may be used with and overlap with SSPM solutions. Other functionalities associated with SASE architecture merely interface with SSPM tools, such as secure web gateways (SWG), and zero trust network access solutions (ZTNA).

SSPM vendors specifically address security posture of SaaS applications and ensure they adhere to access controls, compliance measures, security policies, and threat protection aligned within larger security goals of broader SASE architectures.

What is the difference between SSPM vs CASB?

CASBs protect internal resources from external threats and broker secure cloud access and work well in many settings—including in tandem with SSPM systems. However, while CASBs can inspect the volume of network traffic moving through proxy/access gateways, they lack visibility into other traffic.

SSPMs go further, identifying misconfigurations that could expose data without user creation or registration.

What is the difference between SSPM vs CSPM?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) solutions monitor the security posture of public cloud applications (for both standard and custom SaaS apps) deployed in public cloud environments. They also typically feature DevOps, compliance monitoring, and dynamic cloud integration functionality.

However, while these cloud services may help secure configurations in a cloud ecosystem, CSPM neglects the security posture of SaaS applications such as Microsoft 365, Salesforce, and ServiceNow. This leaves SaaS apps and their data—which may be highly sensitive—open to noncompliance, configuration drift, and security compromises.

Check out our discussion below and other educational pages for more information on SSPM vs CSPM and SSPM vs CASB.

What is the difference between SSPM in-house solutions?

Larger SaaS providers may offer native security tooling for specific applications. However, levels of security functionality are inconsistent, and each app has its own terminology and interface. And even the average mid-sized enterprise owns over 185 SaaS applications yet lacks clear roles for ensuring security compliance for these apps.

What is the difference between SSPM vs SIEM?

Like SSPM, security information and event management (SIEM), is a critical component of cybersecurity strategy. Unlike the more narrow SSPM focus on securing SaaS environments, SIEM more broadly collects and analyzes data from sources across the organizational IT infrastructure to identify potential threats and anomalies that signal unauthorized activity or security incidents.

SSPM cybersecurity incorporates features of other solutions, such as compliance and data security software, and builds on the strengths of existing solutions like CASBs—while keeping pace with the rapidly changing SaaS environments and addressing the unique challenges associated with each stakeholder’s responsibilities.

SSPM and Its Key Capabilities

SaaS security posture is an overview of the application security of an organization’s SaaS stack and data. Through features like: threat detection and configuration management, an SSPM platform can securely manage an organization’s SaaS estate by identifying potential misconfigurations and potential threats — and detecting security risks that may compromise sensitive data. By continuously monitoring your SaaS applications for risks, a SaaS Security Posture Management solution can mitigate potential security issues such as malware and phishing before they turn into significant and costly data breaches.

In 2022, Gartner ranked SSPM as highly beneficial and predicted SSPM would have a high impact during the next five to 10 years in its annual Application Security Hype Cycle. Companies are becoming more dependent on SaaS applications to function. With intricate SaaS configuration settings, security policies, and countless SaaS-to-SaaS connections, it’s increasingly difficult for internal teams to manage how these apps are used every day.

When evaluating SSPM providers, look for a complete SaaS security solution to provide comprehensive security to SaaS applications. A holistic and robust SSPM platform should have these five key capabilities:

  1. Configuration management
  2. Threat detection and activity monitoring
  3. SaaS-to-SaaS app management
  4. Identity and Access Management
  5. Governance, risk, and compliance

Configuration Management

Enterprise SaaS applications like Microsoft Office 365 are intricate, incorporate numerous security policies and settings, and can host multiple users from a company’s employers, contractors, and outside partners. These configurations can change thousands of times if an app is used frequently, which may lead to unintentional over-provisioned users or shifts from the set security baseline.

On top of constant changes by the customers, these SaaS applications receive frequent new feature updates for end-users, better functionalities, and security updates to ensure the smooth and safe delivery of services. A centralized SSPM manages these apps collectively and ensures the security features and settings are correctly optimized for each user, preventing configuration drifts that may create vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

Configuration drift occurs when gradual changes are made to SaaS applications that render the apps inconsistent with an organization’s business intent. This can disrupt an organization’s established security standard and introduce security threats. If an SSPM platform detects configuration drift, it’ll offer steps for remediation, enabling IT or security staff to access and change affected settings.

For example, employees (often without the knowledge of the security or IT teams) download, modify, and uninstall various apps frequently, making it difficult for teams to monitor or visualize the complete picture of their SaaS estate. This can lead to configuration drift and leave apps vulnerable to compromise.

What is SSPM configuration drift

Threat Detection & Activity Monitoring

Cybersecurity changes and evolves every minute because threat actors constantly adjust their attack strategies. To counter this, a robust SSPM solution will continuously monitor SaaS policy settings and permissions to detect suspicious activity. For example, repeated failed login attempts are probably not a threat, but rather an employee forgetting or mistyping a password. But repeated failed login attempts from unknown IP addresses or locations may suggest that an attacker is attempting to compromise a SaaS platform. In such cases, a SaaS Security Posture Management solution will provide guided and distributed remediation steps on how to address and mitigate these risks to reduce the chances of a cyberattack.

Guided remediation gives users full control while ensuring the SSPM remains securely connected to SaaS apps. Step-by-step assistance and intelligence are shared on handling a threat, and security teams can decide how they want to address the issue based on the suggested remediation steps provided by the SSPM. Distributed remediation allows for individuals to be assigned remediation tasks that lessen the burden of security team leadership.

Guided remediation provides a higher level of security compared to automated remediation. For remediation to be automated, the SSPM solution must be intricately embedded in the inner workings of SaaS apps, generally through granting read/write access. Giving an SSPM that much access to your inner mechanisms isn’t recommended and isn’t always conducive to a safe or smooth workflow as it may disrupt security best practices, such as least privilege access principles.

Identity and Access Management

Data security is paramount to any security stack’s infrastructure, and SaaS platforms are no exception. Keeping track of how data is created and shared can be a monumental task for a security team charged with constantly changing organizational security needs.

An SSPM solution consistently monitors data leakage gaps created through misconfigurations such as expired or shared user credentials. These forgotten or improper credentials can lead to SaaS data breaches. A proper SSPM solution will offer customizable policies to alert teams of any publicly exposed data records in SaaS environments.

For example, an organization’s HR department hires summer interns to help manage multiple tasks in Workday. To simplify the year-to-year transition process, an HR employee creates a shared user credential named “summer-intern.” However, a former intern may still have the password and username on notes they’ve jotted down and taken with them. This potential breach exposes confidential personnel information and should be monitored or changed using SSPM.

What is SSPM - Credentials

An SSPM solution will enforce the principle of least privileged access. This means that non-admin users are granted only the minimum access required for their job functions. This could lessen the damage caused by a breach of shared credentials. A robust SSPM solution continuously monitors for abnormal activity, such as over-privileged user access, to safeguard sensitive data from theft or unauthorized access. SSPM is one tool used in data loss prevention (DLP). DLP encompasses software, processes, and policies to safeguard sensitive data from theft or unauthorized access.

SaaS-to-SaaS App Management

Customer relationship management (CRM) software, such as Salesforce, boasts thousands of third-party app integrations. These are designed to be simple installations that take a few seconds and don’t require technical expertise. But, employees will frequently install these apps and forget to remove them once they’re no longer needed leaving these inactive SaaS-to-SaaS connections with access to your data.

For example, when a marketing employee connects Salesforce to an email management platform like ActiveCampaign, the security team may not know the employee is using the app or what will happen when ActiveCampaign is no longer needed. This is a form of “shadow IT,” where a company’s security and IT teams don’t have the knowledge or control of all apps being used within a company. Instead, employees without security knowledge are deploying these programs, which can serve as entry points for security incidents. Once a SaaS-to-SaaS connection is compromised, a threat actor can gain access to the data stored in your SaaS ecosystem – especially if users are over-permissioned and those permissions are inherited.

What is SSPM Downloads

SaaS security would solve this issue by monitoring who uses apps and precisely how they’re being used. An SSPM can see which apps haven’t been used in a long time and remove them, modify, or remove access to users, unlike traditional cloud-focused security toolings such as Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) and Secure Web Gateways (SWGs). Due to these SaaS-to-SaaS connections existing outside of the firewall, traditional security solutions can’t monitor these connections and understand the access rights they have. Since organizations often need customized solutions, an SSPM platform that manages custom-built apps is important to reduce the chances of data exposure.

Governance, Risk, and Compliance

Strict governance and compliance rules protect sensitive data to ensure that it doesn’t land in the wrong hands. An SSPM tracks these changes and makes risk assessments to protect employee and customer data. A powerful SSPM solution can track due diligence and deliver compliance frameworks. This is important because it could be used in the finance sector to prove appropriate security configurations are in place to meet regulatory standards or to meet requirements for cyber liability insurance.

For example, companies should remain compliant with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). This legislation is intended to keep accounting departments compliant with reporting regulations and prevent fraud. SSPM should maintain consistent reporting to ensure companies stay SOX compliant.

SSPM Compliance

CSPM and SSPM – A Powerful Partnership for Protecting Cloud and SaaS Apps

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) manages and monitors the security posture of cloud services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud. Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) work alongside CSPM to provide security measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and firewalls, making them important tools in fighting threats from attackers to the cloud.

However, CSPM doesn’t protect or monitor individual SaaS applications. While SaaS applications incorporate cloud-based technology, a CSPM is limited to data exclusively within the cloud’s overall infrastructure and can’t account for the risks associated with the makeup of individual SaaS applications. With the widespread increase in the adoption of SaaS services, organizations may consider using both CSPM and SSPM to bolster their security infrastructure and provide the ultimate defense.

If you continue to adopt SaaS apps, relying only on a CSPM solution without an SSPM to monitor your SaaS apps may increase your potential risk factor.

Risks of Not Having SSPM

SaaS misconfigurations are responsible for more than 99% of cloud security breaches. The consequences are dire and can range from damage to a brand’s reputation to significant financial losses. On average, a company could spend $4.35 million to recover from a data breach. But the fallout doesn’t end there. Productivity loss and penalties for non-compliance are all significant impacts of a data breach.

SaaS app functionality is intended to be agile and user-friendly. This ease and flexibility can mean a greater risk of data security gaps, especially when dozens of applications are being used across an organization. The more SaaS apps used that are left undetected increases the risk of security breachesFor example, significant Salesforce misconfigurations were identified in April 2023, exposing sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, names, and addresses from large organizations.

Cybercriminals can take advantage of the vulnerability this increase in risk provides. They can steal personal information, such as names, email addresses, and passwords. Depending on the apps’ functions, bad actors can also obtain product data, project management information, protected health information (PHI), financial operations data, and the like.

One of the biggest problems not having an SSPM solution presents is the lack of cohesion in a company’s SaaS stack. Using the native apps’ settings is an option, but that requires going into each app individually, much like managing different remotes with unique button configurations to manage a home entertainment system.

There are simply too many apps, not enough visibility, and very little time to manage them all securely. Without an SSPM solution, the workload of security teams’ would significantly increase as they grapple with managing complex SaaS apps, and can reduce their time spent on addressing other cybersecurity issues within their organization.

Beyond reducing time and effort for security teams, an SSPM solution offers several other benefits to enhance an organization’s SaaS security strategy.

Benefits of Using SSPM

SaaS apps like Salesforce and Microsoft 365 are vital to organizations and have revolutionized how companies create, store, and share data. Protecting that data is mission-critical to every organization. Having a comprehensive SaaS security solution like an SSPM means gaining control of a company’s lifeblood – its sensitive data, work, product, and employee communication, just to name a few critical pieces of tech infrastructure.

Instead of security teams moving from app to app and juggling the various settings and configurations in each one, an SSPM solution provides an in-depth overview of the entire SaaS estate, meaning an overview of the SaaS apps being used within the company. It’s like having all of the critical information in one command center, making it easier to monitor for threats from malware and multi-factor authentication compromise.

A proper SSPM platform can provide these services while maintaining minimal app access. When evaluating SSPM tools, look for one that connects to SaaS apps using an OAuth token to an app’s application program interface (API). An OAuth token gives specific and limited access by request to a server’s resources.

The right SSPM platform is a vital tool in a company’s security plan and provides intelligence on protecting an organization’s SaaS ecosystem using a risk-based approach to SaaS security. There is a single interface with continuous monitoring of potential breaches and guidance on staying secure and compliant. It provides visibility and shines a light on darkened areas of a company’s SaaS infrastructure.

Does AppOmni Provide a Solution to SSPM?

Yes. SSPM is the foundation of the AppOmni approach to SaaS security. 

The AppOmni approach ensures universal coverage of all SaaS applications in several comprehensive steps:

Identify security trends. AppOmni Insights are continuously updated with new best practices and detections from the experts. This real-time data allows users to prevent configuration drift, and rapidly discover and manage existing misconfigurations and other security risks. 

Analyze open policy Issues coherently with a unified view. View open issues across all SaaS applications, including their location, severity, exposure to the public internet, and effect on overall security posture. 

Monitor controls continuously. Consolidate findings and metrics across all monitored SaaS applications to reveal permission levels for internal and external users and risk levels for all connected third-party applications.

Investigate third-party SaaS apps. Understand the potential users or permissions that may have been granted to the 3rd party applications.  Have a better understanding of the unapproved legacy applications vs the corporate approved apps.

Detect and act on threats immediately. Automatically normalize event logs and aggregate SaaS activities to enable better, more rapid decisions. Develop custom rules for threat detection to address unique organizational scenarios.

Route alerts to trusted tools. Use existing workflows to respond to potential threats . Events that may indicate potential threats should route directly into data management tools such as SIEM, security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR), and user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) solutions.

Continuously monitor compliance. View a snapshot of adherence and compliance policy across SaaS applications that may be filtered by common frameworks for compliance with industry standards such as APRA CPS 234, ISO 27001, NIST CSF, NIST 800-53, SOX, and SOC 2.

To learn more about the importance of a SSPM solution, contact us for a demo of our SSPM software or get a complimentary risk assessment of your technology stack.