The Hidden Dangers of SaaS Sprawl

Post Author

Julissa Caraballo

April 9 2024

Post Image

The widespread adoption of ‘best of breed’ point solutions within enterprises has led to significant underutilization of resources, with 53% of SaaS licenses remaining unused, even as organizations average the use of over 300 SaaS applications. According to Forbes, the SaaS market is growing by nearly 18% yearly.

As strategies have evolved to emphasize the adoption of cloud point solutions, Many executives now face the growing challenge of SaaS Sprawl. Notably, many of these apps have been introduced into the organization’s cloud infrastructure without the direct involvement or oversight of either central IT units or the organizational security teams, compounding the complexity of this creeping issue. 

Software as a Service (SaaS) became ingrained in business operations due to its simple deployment model over traditional applications. Organizations can purchase cloud-based apps, getting scalability and flexibility by simply providing credit card information. They often pay for licenses as needed, avoiding the need for upfront bulk purchases and estimations. Cloud adoption grew rapidly due to this convenience. Many organizational units acquired SaaS solutions to meet their individual needs.

However, this convenience comes with its challenges. Organizations lack visibility into the SaaS Sprawl and the attack surface that expands with it. 

What is SaaS Sprawl?

SaaS sprawl is a natural result of organizational units adopting many cloud-based applications without centralized oversight or IT integration. Apps become part of the IT enterprise but are not adequately tracked or managed. This expanding volume of apps all have their own services, user identities, and policy management practices, leading to inconsistent practices that create risk. 

Each additional apps introduces potential entry points for threats, complicates identity and access management, and increases the risk of data breaches. 

The Scale of SaaS Sprawl

The number of SaaS apps organizations use has dramatically increased, reflecting the broader adoption of cloud services across various business functions. This growth is unique, as the definition of a SaaS apps can vary significantly from one organization to another, complicating the issue further. Recent studies highlight that large organizations may use hundreds of SaaS apps beyond what IT departments can effectively manage or even track. This explosion in SaaS usage necessitates reevaluating management and security strategies to keep pace with the evolving digital ecosystem.

Types of SaaS Sprawl

Organizations face different varieties of SaaS sprawl. It’s more than just the number of applications; it’s about how they are used. 

Service Sprawl

With numerous SaaS services, it’s easy to have overlap and redundancy in their services, especially considering that many organizations have almost as many SaaS apps as they have staff. Simplifying and standardizing services provided can streamline operations.

Identity Sprawl

The number of user identities in an organization’s digital systems often far exceeds the number of employees. This is due to the inclusion of external contractors, vendors, and automated bots in the digital workspace. The discrepancy between identities and employee headcount introduces significant identity and access management challenges, increasing the potential for unauthorized access and data breaches.

Account Sprawl 

With the growth of SaaS apps, users frequently have multiple accounts, each with varying access levels and privileges, creating a complex web of access rights that IT departments must manage. These include specialized accounts with elevated privileges, such as those used by administrators. Without tight controls, these accounts can become security risks, becoming easy targets for attackers who use lost or stolen credentials.

Policy Assignment Sprawl

The governance of digital assets through policy assignments has become increasingly complex, with many policies governing who can access what resources and how. The challenge lies in the sheer volume of policies and in managing the intricate relationships between policies, user accounts, and digital assets, making ensuring comprehensive security and compliance challenging.

The Impact on Organizational Cybersecurity

The unchecked growth of SaaS apps, especially those not vetted or managed by IT or cybersecurity teams, can significantly weaken a company’s security posture. This is due to the increased complexity and potential for overseeing numerous apps and user accounts.

Business Challenges and Security Vulnerabilities

The sprawl of SaaS solutions leads to substantial administrative overhead, complicating the management of user access and security protocols. This complexity often results in user friction as employees navigate a maze of apps and access controls, potentially leading to workarounds that compromise security. 

The presence of unmanaged and dormant accounts magnifies the risk of security breaches, as these can serve as entry points for unauthorized access. From a business perspective, such breaches can disrupt operations, lead to financial losses, and damage the company’s reputation. On the security front, they pose significant risks to data security, including potential data breaches and compliance violations. To mitigate these risks, organizations must adopt a strategic approach to the provisioning and de-provisioning of SaaS services, ensuring that access is closely aligned with user roles and responsibilities and promptly revoked when no longer needed.

Missing the Security Mark

There is a notable absence of global best practices or standards tailored explicitly for SaaS deployment at scale, which complicates the development of a cohesive security strategy. This gap is particularly evident in managing the sprawling number of SaaS apps and the varying security standards each may have. 

The situation is further complicated by the lack of specific security standards addressing the widespread adoption of SaaS, leaving organizations to navigate these challenges without clear guidance. Mitigating this requires regular review of account and policy distributions across the workforce to ensure access rights and security policies align with organizational needs and industry best practices. This will help identify and mitigate potential security vulnerabilities arising from SaaS sprawl.

Gaining Control Over the SaaS Sprawl

Savvy is designed to help organizations gain visibility and control over the vast SaaS sprawl of their organization. Savvy leverages the power of its browser extension and APIs to detect SaaS apps as users go about their work. This seamless integration detects anomalies in identity usage and high-risk scenarios without adding friction to user workflows. It offers real-time remediation capabilities, ensuring that organizations can quickly address security issues as they arise, maintaining the integrity and security of their SaaS environment.

Learn how Savvy can transform your organization’s approach to SaaS identity security and schedule a demo to see Savvy in action. 

Embracing Savvy is not just about solving current challenges—it’s about future-proofing your SaaS security.