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The Danger of SaaS Sprawl: How Unsecured Apps Compromise Your Security

This blog is part one in a three-part series exploring “What is SaaS Management?” In this installment we’ll dig into the rise of SaaS and its incremental impact on identity security and how IT teams are being impacted.

If there’s one thing that every modern enterprise has in common, it’s that software as a service (SaaS) is absolutely everywhere. As companies embrace digital transformation, the ease of SaaS adoption has enabled them to scale faster, react quicker, and control costs better. And the pace of adoption is only accelerating, with an estimated 90% of businesses expected to rely almost entirely on cloud-based apps in 2022.

The agility that SaaS apps provide has empowered employees to be more productive, especially during the pandemic when nearly every company on earth had to pivot to a remote-first environment. Driven by necessity, employees have been signing up in droves for cloud-based tools in order to get their work done, while IT departments are scrambling to keep up with this flood of new SaaS apps.

More SaaS Means More Risk

With so many new applications in play, the difficult task for IT and security teams is how to support this newfound flexibility while at the same time securing the enterprise and protecting its assets. How does an IT department get visibility into (much less control over) the hundreds of unsanctioned apps – often 3-4 times more than what IT teams are aware of – that their workforce is now using?

How do you tackle this rapidly growing issue of “shadow IT”?

What’s clear is that doing nothing is not an option. SaaS sprawl is only increasing, a runaway train with the potential to get even more out of control without guardrails in place. And failing to act leads directly to an exponential increase in risk: With more employees integrating sensitive data to unsanctioned SaaS apps (as well as giving them unrestricted access), countless third-party organizations likely already have inappropriate access to your corporate systems.

That means you could be facing breaches from vendors you didn’t even know had access to your data — what’s known as supply chain attacks. As regulation increases around data privacy, this could spell disaster for your team. Your organization could be facing a sudden loss or theft of critical data, along with serious privacy issues and substantial compliance fines, all because employees are using ungoverned SaaS applications you’re not aware of.

In addition to security risks, there’s also the issue of wasteful spend. The average mid-sized company spends approximately $4,379 per employee per year on SaaS. But it’s estimated that 30% of those licenses actually go underused or in some cases unused entirely. That’s an alarming example of how overprovisioning may also be leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars – millions for a large global enterprise – in unnecessary expenses. And if this seems crazy, I can assure you this is all too common for even the most sophisticated IT teams.

Get Your SaaS House in Order

So how do you get started? First of all, taking a manual approach is setting yourself up for failure. There’s simply no way that a human using a tool like a spreadsheet could stay on top of things; the SaaS landscape at an enterprise is changing on a daily basis. By the time any sort of survey is completed, it’s already out of date. And even if there were a way to conduct manual audits faster, what about those apps that employees have forgotten about (or won’t disclose)? How would all of those be discovered?

The answer is automation: specifically automated discovery and management. By leveraging an automated tool with these capabilities, organizations can finally get continuous and accurate visibility into their entire SaaS environment — a complete, real-time picture of every single SaaS app in use. This is called “SaaS Management” and it’s something every enterprise needs to get a handle on. Because this visibility provides the foundation companies need in order to have a successful cybersecurity program.

It’s a degree of insight that allows controls to be put in place to govern all SaaS access, manage identities across every app, control software spend more effectively, and ultimately reduce risk. And that risk includes both the danger of having sensitive data stored in unsecured applications as well as employees being overprovisioned with access they don’t need or shouldn’t have.

SaaS Management addresses these issues head-on, allowing enterprises to take a pro-active approach that has a positive ripple effect across the company. Imagine IT, Finance, Procurement, Sales, and Marketing all being in total alignment around what apps are in use, who’s using them, how they’re being used, and how much they cost. That’s a powerful competitive advantage for any company looking to innovate and grow.

The Path to SaaS Security

Before taking action, some strategy is needed since a quick-fix solution won’t pay off in the long term. What companies need to do is think holistically – how does SaaS Management fit into an overall cybersecurity program? – and that means incorporating it as part of a comprehensive identity security strategy. The good news: Not only does a fully automated solution like this already exist, but its success has been proven again and again by leading global brands.

It’s the secret to permanent SaaS security you need to know about.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series: “Why SaaS Management Matters for Your Identity Security.”