Security Guidance
6 minutes

Navigating SaaS Security in the Financial Sector

Financial institutions are rapidly adopting SaaS solutions to meet surging demand for online experiences. While this shift brings considerable advantages, it also introduces substantial complexity and risk.

Over the past decade, attacks against the financial sector have nearly tripled, prompting significant cybersecurity expenditure–anticipated to reach $195.5 billion by 2029. Despite this investment, many organizations struggle with managing the intricacies of SaaS security.

And so, the question remains: how do institutions deliver seamless online experiences while ensuring the security of customer data and assets? 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the sequence of actions commonly involved in a financial sector attack. We’ll then explore steps you can take to protect your organization.

Decoding Financial Attacks

Attacks tend to unfold in two distinct phases. During the first phase, the attacker works to gain access to systems and services. Once secured, they can embark on phase 2–exploiting their newly acquired access.

Phase 1: Gaining Access

Despite the growth of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and centralized authentication via Single Sign-On (SSO) providers, SaaS continues to unlock new avenues for infiltration. 

Social engineering tactics remain the most common methods for gaining access. This can range from indiscriminate “spray and pray” attacks to more sophisticated spear-phishing campaigns. Threat actors frequently capitalize on these opportunities to seize session tokens, leveraging thin reverse proxies. This gives them unrestricted access to systems due to centralized authentication via SSO providers. 

Attackers will also employ social engineering to target users with elevated access, such as system administrators or application owners. Typically, all it takes is a LinkedIn search for attackers to pinpoint and target these individuals. 

Supply chain attacks are also rising. Here, adversaries target centralized vulnerabilities within an organization’s supply chain, allowing them to progress downstream and compromise user accounts. This is often done with particular stealth, making detection exceedingly challenging. Notable examples of this include the recent Sunburst and Okta breaches.

Phase 2: Leveraging Access

After infiltrating critical systems, attackers can exploit their new-found access. We often see this in the form of ransomware attacks. Here, the malicious actor encrypts files on targeted devices, preventing users from accessing critical systems and data. This tactic poses a severe threat to various industries, with banks and financial institutions being particularly vulnerable.

Ransomware attacks on financial entities not only result in financial losses but also have far-reaching consequences, including reputational and regulatory implications. When systems are compromised, employees may find themselves unable to execute business-critical transactions, and clients may be denied access to their online accounts. In the highly regulated financial sector, a single breach sets off a series of reporting and remediation tasks, leading to a costly and resource-intensive process.

Practical tips to secure your organization

Before investing in SaaS security tools, you should conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA). Here, you analyze the consequences of a security breach on business operations and critical systems. Doing so will help you prioritize initiatives and resources more effectively. It will also ensure your efforts maximize business impact and strengthen your defenses against potential attacks.

Once you’ve completed this assessment, you can take action to secure your SaaS. See our tips below:

Assess potential vendors upfront:

Before adopting a new SaaS tool or application, make sure to conduct a comprehensive vendor assessment. You’ll want prospective vendors to provide detailed responses to questions like this:

  • What security measures have they implemented to safeguard data and business assets?
  • How robust are their configurations?
  • Are they compliant with industry-relevant standards and regulations? If not, what gaps need to be addressed?

Fortunately, there are tools that can help you navigate this process by surfacing insights that might otherwise be difficult to uncover. This encompasses details regarding vendor integrations, including aspects such as hosting, data storage, and authentication practices. Understanding these elements is crucial for evaluating their risk levels. 

Gain comprehensive visibility:

When evaluating SaaS services, it’s equally important to account for the many applications that fly under the radar. This encompasses free tools, trials, and low-cost applications that can be effortlessly deployed throughout your organization. These applications carry significant risk which is why it’s crucial to maintain an up-to-date inventory of them. This will also help you address compliance requirements and risk management.

Leverage an SSPM platform for a live view of all your applications and critical context on each within minutes. Additionally, gain insight into how your users interact with applications so you can proactively manage risk.

Reduce privilege: 

Managing access in the financial sector poses significant challenges due to the intricate web of individuals with access to highly sensitive data. Embracing the principle of least privilege (POLP) is crucial in this context. This involves limiting user privileges to the bare minimum required, mitigating potential risks and unauthorized access. Restricting access to essential functions not only strengthens data protection but also reduces the potential impact of security breaches.

Ensure robust encryption:

End-to-end encryption safeguards data throughout its journey–from transit to storage. Utilizing encryption algorithms like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), endorsed by NIST can be especially helpful here. They provide an added layer of protection, preventing data from being accessed without the relevant decryption key. This is particularly important given how easily financial data can move across systems–ranging from online banking to mobile payment systems. 

Focus on continuous compliance:

After understanding your environment, you can tackle compliance. This is no easy feat in the financial services industry. This complexity is amplified by stringent and evolving standards like NIST, ISO, and PCI DSS, coupled with the dispersion of data across diverse SaaS applications. That’s exactly why an ‘always-ready’ approach to compliance is essential. 

Historically, teams have leaned on traditional GRC tools to help them with audit preparation. However, these tools often fall short in a SaaS-forward world as they lack the capabilities required to meet more complex requirements such as secure system account management, specific multi-factor authentication (MFA) requirements and GitHub branch protection. 

Fortunately, there are tools that automate SaaS compliance, eliminating lengthy and resource-intensive audit preparation.

Implement an incident response plan:

Establishing a real-time monitoring system is essential for identifying and mitigating potential threats. You can implement robust incident response plans like this to address these vulnerabilities. Regularly updating and testing these plans ensures teams have the tools and intel they need to effectively combat threats.

Prioritize employee education:

Conducting regular training helps employees adopt a responsible, security-conscious approach to SaaS usage. Through ongoing education, employees learn to identify and not fall victim to threats–reducing your organization’s susceptibility to malicious attacks. 

Securing SaaS in the financial services sector is complex. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to safeguard your organization today. Learn how Obsidian can help you do this by scheduling a demo.