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A Complete Guide to Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS


Brendon Rod

Head of Marketing

Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS | Definition, Benefits, Trends


In 2023, organizations will use 130 SaaS products on average, up 18% compared to 2022, a testament to the paradigm shift.

Since 2015, the SaaS industry has grown from $31.4 billion to an estimated $1617.1 billion in 2022, underscoring the value organizations attribute to cloud-based accessibility. Developers are taking control of this digital coordination, enthusiastically using SaaS platforms like never before.

Yet, at the heart of this change is the Shared Responsibility Model. This model involves the balance of responsibility shifting between SaaS providers and users, blending operational efficiency with the symphony of data security.

Let’s learn more about this model and how it works in SaaS. 

What is the Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS?

The Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS defines the division of security responsibilities between providers and users. SaaS providers handle infrastructure, platform security, and uptime while users manage their data, configurations, and compliance. 

Why Does Understanding the Shared Responsibility Model Matter?

Understanding the shared responsibility model in SaaS takes center stage in fortifying data security within the SaaS landscape.

  • Empowers Informed Decision-Making: 
    IT and infosecurity teams make vigilant choices about safeguarding data, aligning seamlessly with the model’s structure.
  • Familiarity with the model: 
    Just as individuals are expected to be aware of and abide by the law, SaaS customers should be expected to understand their responsibilities in terms of data security, operations and compliance within the shared responsibility model.
  • Fostering Collaboration: 
    Encourages a collaboration between SaaS providers and end-users. When each side comprehends its role, the overall security fabric gains strength.
  • Enabling Proactive Security and Compliance: 
    Providing individuals and teams with the necessary tools, data, and insights to make proactive choices about security, compliance, and operational responsibilities.

Unpacking the Shared Responsibility Model

In SaaS environments, the shared responsibility model is based on a crucial set of guidelines that both service providers and users must follow. 

Let’s explore how the model works.

Provider’s Responsibilities:

  • Infrastructure and Uptime:
    SaaS providers are responsible for maintaining the infrastructure’s backbone, encompassing hardware, networking, and seamless service uptime.
  • Physical Security:
    The guardianship of physical data centers and enforcing security measures fall under their purview, including access controls, surveillance, and disaster recovery protocols.
  • Platform Security:
    Providers stand as sentinels of platform security, tasked with fortifying application layers, managing patches, and conducting vulnerability evaluations.

User’s Responsibilities:

  • Content and Data Management:
    From its inception to modification and potential removal, the users govern user access, permissions, and content administration.
  • Configuration and Settings:
    The onus of configuring the application’s security parameters rests with users, covering multi-factor authentication, robust passwords, and settings.
  • Compliance:
    Confirming compliance while respecting industry-specific regulations becomes the end users’ responsibility. They also facilitate user training to avert potential security breaches.

Case Study

A company that encountered data loss due to misconceptions about the Shared Responsibility Model is Capital One.

In 2019, the Capital One data breach had far-reaching consequences, impacting more than 100 million customers across the United States and Canada. This breach emerged from a misconfigured firewall within the company’s cloud infrastructure, granting a hacker access to sensitive customer data stored on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The breach originated from exploiting a firewall vulnerability, enabling unauthorized access to the AWS metadata service, which provided the hacker with credentials to access the cloud-based data.

The Capital One data breach is a stark illustration of how misunderstandings of the Shared Responsibility Model can lead to data breaches.

Cloud service providers, like AWS, employ this model to define provider and customer security roles. In this framework, the provider is responsible for securing the cloud infrastructure, while the customer is accountable for safeguarding the data and applications stored within the cloud.

In the Capital One case, the misconfigured firewall fell under the customer’s domain, whereas the vulnerability within the firewall was the provider’s responsibility.

Insights from SaaS Providers on Shared Responsibility

A series of excerpts throw light on the collaborative framework of the Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS: 

GitHub’s Stance in Their Terms of Service:
GitHub underscores the user’s duty in data security, highlighting that compromised accounts leading to unauthorized access or data alterations fall within the user’s responsibility.

Atlassian’s Trello Disclaimer:
Atlassian acknowledges its implementation of security measures for data transmission yet acknowledges the inevitability of potential data loss.

Xero’s Wisdom on Data Backup:
Xero, an accounting software provider, advises users to perform regular data backups to mitigate loss during service disruptions.

Despite providers’ rigorous efforts to fortify infrastructure, users play a crucial role in data management, access monitoring, and recovery to ensure a holistic data protection approach.


What Does Shared Responsibility Model Hold For the Future?

As SaaS solutions continue to dominate, understanding the Shared Responsibility Model becomes crucial for ensuring comprehensive security. This model emphasizes the joint role both providers and users play in safeguarding data and system integrity.

Let’s delve into the specific challenges end-users may face and the responsibilities that fall under their purview:

Common Risks to End-users SaaS Data

  • User Error:
    Accidental deletions or tweaks to vital data are common pitfalls. By internalizing the Shared Responsibility Model, users gain the tools to preclude such missteps, employing measures like version tracking to thwart mishaps.
  • Insider Threats :
    Departed employees retaining access can trigger vulnerabilities. Acknowledging this, vigilant user access management and swift revocation upon departure emerge as indispensable practices.
  • Provider-Related Issues:
    Instances of data removal or access constraints stemming from provider actions require user readiness. Familiarity with the model empowers users to navigate such scenarios adeptly.

Third-Party App Risks

Integrating third-party apps augments functionality while inviting potential weaknesses.

These apps wield the potential to access and manipulate data, amplifying the risk of data exposure if compromised. Scrutinizing permissions and embracing robust security protocols during app integration remains paramount.

Cybersecurity Threats to SaaS Data

  • Ransomware:
    SaaS data stands vulnerable to ransomware attacks.
    Users must maintain heightened vigilance against phishing endeavors and diligently back up data externally to mitigate the fallout.
  • Phishing:
    Phishing assaults can imperil user accounts.
    It’s crucial to note that the
    shared responsibility model in SaaS doesn’t extend protection against these threats, necessitating user acumen and deploying security best practices.

Steps to Protect Your SaaS Data

Incorporating the following steps empowers vendors, service providers, and users to protect their SaaS data comprehensively:

Conduct a Data Audit

  • Significance of Knowing Your Data:
    Embarking on a comprehensive data audit across SaaS platforms emerges as a cornerstone. This proactive endeavor unveils stored data, locations, and authorized access points, bolstering data management and security.
  • Decoding User Agreements:
    Understanding the intricacies of user agreements reveals the core of the Shared Responsibility Model, ensuring clear alignment of roles, responsibilities, and security protocols.

Adopt the ‘Least-Privilege’ Approach

  • Defining the ‘Least-Privilege’ Tenet:
    The ‘least-privilege’ philosophy dictates granting users the bare minimum access required for their tasks. This prudent approach curbs potential fallout in case of unauthorized access.
  • User Access Management:
    Governing user access through role-based controls curbs risks. Bolstering security via unique passwords and multi-factor authentication adds an extra security layer.

Backup and Store Data Remotely

Popularly known as the 3-2-1 rule, this strategy ensures users create 3 copies of their data (2 production copies) on two different media and one copy off-site for disaster recovery.

Here’s why:

  • Embracing External Backup:
    Sole reliance on SaaS providers for backups proves insufficient. Engaging third-party backup providers ensures data redundancy, irrespective of provider hiccups.
  • Encryption and Distant Storage:
    Encryption of backups coupled with remote storage forms a formidable shield against breaches and localized crises.
  • Mitigating Disruption:
    Third-party backups slash downtime, facilitating swift recovery while mitigating operational disruptions.

Monitoring and Incident Response

  • Vigilant Monitoring:
    Proactive monitoring identifies early anomalies, facilitating swift intervention. This preemptive stance minimizes the potential fallout of security incidents.
  • Forging an Incident Response Blueprint:
    A well-crafted incident response plan delineates roles, protocols, and communication during security crises. Regular testing and updates hone its efficacy in real-world scenarios.

Future Trends in SaaS Security

As the SaaS landscape continues its evolution, data protection and security become increasingly important:

  • IAM Resilience:
    The importance of resilience becomes evident as human errors and misconfigurations pose risks to IAM systems.
    Defending against cyber threats becomes crucial to minimize costs associated with downtime, recovery, and legal implications.
  • AI-Driven Threat Detection:
    The ascendancy of Artificial Intelligence (AI) ushers in an era of real-time threat identification and response. AI algorithms dissect patterns, behaviors, and anomalies, amping up the precision and celerity of threat detection.
  • Zero-Trust Architecture:
    The Zero Trust guiding belief is that no entity, whether within or outside the network, merits inherent trust. This doctrine mandates stringent access controls, ceaseless authentication, and micro-segmentation to thwart unauthorized ingress.
  • Data Anonymization:
    Stripping data of identifying markers before storage and analysis fosters user privacy without compromising informative insights.
  • Blockchain for Data Integrity:
    The blockchain’s immutable ledger architecture safeguards data fidelity. Its decentralized essence fortifies data integrity, curbing tampering or unsanctioned alterations.
  • Multi-Cloud Security:
    Enterprises embrace multi-cloud security solutions as they embrace cloud diversity. These robust defenses traverse diverse cloud platforms and establish a seamless security bastion.
  • DevSecOps Fusion:
    Infusing security practices at the genesis of development (DevSecOps) weaves security measures into an application’s blueprint, slashing vulnerabilities from inception.
  • Continuous Compliance:
    Automation-infused compliance monitoring tools sustain alignment with diverse regulations and benchmarks, simplifying audit rituals.

Future Trends in SaaS Security

As the SaaS landscape evolves, the emphasis on data protection and security intensifies:

Enter Acsense: the Enterprise IAM Resilience Platform. We ensure uninterrupted access, automated backup, and swift recovery. With us, businesses safeguard their identity and access management systems and infrastructure, reduce downtime and associated costs, and proactively defend against evolving risks.


  1. What is the Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS?

The Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS defines the division of security responsibilities between the SaaS provider and users. The provider secures the platform while users ensure data protection, access control, and compliance.

  1. Which model is implemented by SaaS providers for shared data responsibilities?

SaaS providers typically adopt the “shared responsibility model,” which clearly defines the responsibilities of both users and providers regarding data security, infrastructure, and maintenance. This collaborative approach ensures robust protection and management of shared data.

By clarifying security roles, it enhances trust and allows users to concentrate on application usage.




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