SaaS vs. Cloud-Native: Definitions and Security Best Practices

There’s a disconnect in how we talk about applications that are no longer hosted within our own data center. When speaking with customers, we’ve observed that “software as a service” (SaaS) and “cloud-native” are terms that tend to be bundled together and used interchangeably at times.  

There are instances where we hear that SaaS tends to be “all things cloud” — but that is not necessarily true. It’s important to discuss the differentiation between these two terms because they do mean different things.  

The Difference Between SaaS and Cloud-Native 

As the industry has evolved, the concept of SaaS and cloud-native have been poorly understood and communicated within the security realm. Technically, software can be SaaS, cloud-native, both, or neither.  

To dive deeper, SaaS applications can be cloud-native — for example, the LogRhythm Axon SaaS SIEM platform is both. But what might surprise people is that not all SaaS applications are cloud-native, or you can have cloud-native applications that are self-hosted.  

SaaS and cloud-native are related concepts in the context of cloud computing, but they refer to different aspects of software development and deployment. When SaaS originally came to market, it launched as a delivery model. As SaaS gained prevalence, technology companies realized they could architect software so that it is more efficient and scales better when developed in cloud-native technologies and methodologies. A large driver for leading with a SaaS model, is to shift the management overhead from the customer to the vendor that owns the technology. 

The difference between SaaS and cloud-native is that SaaS refers to a specific cloud delivery model where software applications are provided as services over the internet, while cloud-native is a broader approach to software development and deployment that leverages cloud technologies and principles to build and run applications in a scalable and efficient manner. For more context, let’s dive a little deeper into SaaS verses cloud-native characteristics, as well what to consider when securing your applications in the cloud 

SaaS Overview 

SaaS stands for “software as a service.” It is a cloud computing model in which software applications are delivered over the internet as a service. In this model, users can typically access the software through a web browser without the need to install or maintain the application on a local device. 

Here are some key characteristics of SaaS applications:

  • Accessibility: SaaS applications are accessible from any device with an internet connection and a web browser. This allows users to access the software remotely from virtually anywhere. 
  • Multi-tenancy: SaaS operates on a multi-tenant architecture, meaning that multiple users and organizations share the same software instance while keeping their data and configurations isolated and secure from one another. 
  • Automatic updates: SaaS providers are responsible for maintaining and updating the software so that the consumer has access to the latest version without needing to download and install updates. 
  • Subscription-based pricing: SaaS typically follows a subscription fee to use the software, which eliminates upfront costs and allows for scalability based on user needs. 
  • Scalability: SaaS applications can easily scale to accommodate varying numbers of users, making them suitable for businesses of all sizes or future growth. Plus, they can scale without intervention by the user or subscriber — maybe even without awareness that anything happened. 
  • Integration: SaaS applications are designed to integrate with other cloud services and on-premises applications, facilitating a seamless flow of data and information across different systems. 

Popular examples of SaaS applications include Google Workspace, Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce, Dropbox, Zoom, Slack, and many others.  

Cloud-Native Overview  

Cloud-native is an approach to building and running applications that leverages cloud computing principles and technologies to take full advantage of the benefits provided by cloud environments. It is an ever more prevalent methodology and is associated with modern software development practices.  

There are several benefits to developing a product using cloud-native methodologies that can lead to major efficiency gains with scalability, flexibility, and continuous product delivery. The term “cloud-native” refers to an application that was designed to reside in the cloud from the beginning and is characterized by the following principles: 

  • Microservices architecture: Cloud-native applications are typically composed of small, coupled services known as microservices. Each microservice represents a specific business capability and can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. This architecture promotes modularity, flexibility, and ease of maintenance. 
  • Containers: Cloud-native applications are packaged and deployed using containerization technologies like Docker. Containers encapsulate an application along with its dependencies, providing a consistent and isolated runtime environment. They enable seamless deployment across different cloud platforms and ensure consistency between development, testing, and production environments. 
  • Orchestration: Cloud-native applications are often managed and orchestrated using container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes. Kubernetes automates the deployment, scaling, and management of containers, making it easier to manage complex applications and ensure high availability and scalability. 
  • DevOps practices: Cloud-native development embraces DevOps principles, fostering collaboration between development and operations teams. Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) practices are commonly used to automate testing and deployment processes, enabling rapid and frequent updates to the application. 
  • Resilience and fault tolerance: Cloud-native applications are built with resilience in mind. They are designed to handle failures gracefully, recover quickly, and maintain high availability even when individual components experience issues. 
  • Cloud-native services: Cloud-native applications make use of cloud-specific services and APIs provided by the cloud platform they run on. These services may include databases, messaging systems, identity management, and more, allowing developers to focus on business logic while leveraging the underlying cloud infrastructure. 

Overall, the cloud-native approach aims to maximize the benefits of cloud computing, such as elasticity, scalability, and rapid deployment, to deliver agile, efficient, and scalable applications suitable for modern cloud environments. 

Pros and Cons of SaaS Applications 

With so many organizations leveraging a variety of SaaS applications throughout day-to-day business operations, there are many pros and several cons to consider, and it’s important to understand how these topics may impact common cloud security challenges.  

In our webinar, “Entering the Cloud-Native Security Era,” we break down the pros and cons thoroughly within the video highlight below.  

SaaS Security Best Practices 

To better deliver secure code and technology, software vendors shift to the left to focus on CI/CD and DevOps perspectives, but for consumers using a SaaS application, the focus needs to shift right to monitor the behavior and activity once the software is running in the microservices and containers.  

Here are four things to consider when securing your SaaS applications.

1. Take Inventory of Everything 

Understanding everything that exists within your environment is the first step to creating a strategy to secure your critical assets and data. The first thing you need to do is to create an inventory of all the SaaS applications your organization uses and ensure you know all the hosts and users within your network.  

With your completed list, go through it and check to see if they are using Single Sign-On (SSO) or if you are auditing access to all the applications.  

Next, you need to make a second list of all the SaaS applications that you think your employees are actually using that are not on the first list. For example, employees sometimes take the path of least resistance to use applications such as Dropbox, Google Docs, file storage applications, calendar and contact applications, or project management tools — all which may contain sensitive data — so assessing the potential risk tolerance of these platforms and developing a security strategy or company policies around these apps is also important.  

2. Implement Basic Security Controls  

Over the last several years, there have largely been two major causes of breaches with SaaS applications: misconfiguration and social engineering.  

Misconfiguration is a major reason why organizations see a loss of data and intellectual property due to weak authentication strategies or default credentials. When you shift resources to the cloud, always conduct basic security practices like auditing access. 

In today’s digital age, there are more distributed workforces. Hackers take advantage of this by conducting social engineering tactics across a broader attack surface, including your users’ home networks and applications. This is why ensuring you set up the basic controls of Single Sign-On with multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a quick win and major step in reducing risk. 

3. Conduct Red Team Exercises and Pentests 

You need to monitor everything going in and out. SaaS applications are often accessed through user credentials and a web browser, which have to be secured. In addition, most SaaS applications offer an Application Programming Interface (API), and since this is a publicly hosted application, that API is exposed to the internet. It’s important to follow “trust, but verify” principles and conduct red team exercises and include pentesting from your SaaS applications to make sure the controls are in place, because the process looks different than when you are pentesting your local network. 

4. Choosing Who You Partner With 

As a consumer of SaaS applications, there is a level of shared responsibility that you must take on when choosing who you partner with to host your data and customer data. It’s an important and strategic decision that requires careful consideration.  

Here are several things to think about before onboarding any SaaS application: 

  • Ensure you have a way to monitor or audit access to the SaaS application: access can come from your internal employees, outside the organization, or from the SaaS vendor themselves — and you must be able to monitor everyone who is accessing data in the application.  
  • Understand how your organization can deal with disaster recovery: your ability to perform disaster recovery is dependent on the vendor that you choose to work with. You need to consider risk tolerance for investing or operating certain applications that meet business requirements.  
  • Make sure you can perform incident response: Your ability to determine scope and run an investigation is often limited to the tools your SaaS vendor provides. For example, we’ve received feedback from customers and prospects that when working with other vendors, they had challenges with conducting forensic search for an incident. There were constraints with the amount of data they could return, the number of times they could perform searches, and the processes to execute a search was cumbersome. That is why you need to make sure your vendor provides you with the proper incident response tools or workflow to address incidents properly. We recommend you run red team exercises that include SaaS application components to apply more real-world examples to your security readiness.  

Key Takeways on SaaS Security Best Practices in a Cloud-Native Era  

Here are three things for you to consider when securing your SaaS applications in a cloud-native security era.  

  • Cloud-native and SaaS are two inherently different things: these are not competing, and they do not have to overlap — they are truly orthogonal concepts. As stated earlier, you can have applications that are cloud-native, SaaS, both, or neither. Keep this in mind as you adopt technology.  
  • Choosing your vendor is the most important piece: when you adopt SaaS technology, you’re adding that vendor to your circle of trust. Your data is at risk if you don’t follow proper controls and practices for that application, or if your vendor doesn’t properly secure it. 
  • 80/20 rule for SaaS security best practices: if you follow pareto principles, there are handful of quick wins that will lead to a lower volume in opportunities for hackers to attack your organization. 

Securing Your SaaS Applications with Cloud-Native Technology 

Are you managing or moving your data into hybrid and cloud environments? With over twenty years of cybersecurity experience, LogRhythm has been on the forefront of helping our customers evolve to keep pace with the threat landscape.  

We understand the challenges you face to secure data in a digital age. That’s why we developed LogRhythm Axon, our cloud-native SaaS SIEM platform. As stated earlier in the blog, SaaS and cloud-native terms often cause confusion in the market. To clarify this for our readers, LogRhythm Axon is both a SaaS solution and it was 100% developed with a cloud-native architecture. Truly, every single bit of code we used to develop this product was designed to bring our customers the easiest cloud security experience possible. With Axon, security teams do not manage infrastructure or software upgrades and it allows them to focus on monitoring their data and detecting and responding to cyberthreats.  

If you would like to learn more about securing your data with cloud-native applications, read this analyst report called, Why insights Matters for Cloud Application Security. It explains further how you can improve your enterprise’s hybrid IT security posture and enhance your analyst experience through a cloud-native platform. 

And if you’re ready to learn more about how we can help solve your security challenges, visit the LogRhythm Axon product page for insight into how our cloud SecOps solution can help.