Automating Access and File Security: Best Practices for IT Professionals

While an SaaS management platform offers significant flexibility and efficiency, managing access and securing files in this environment can be challenging.

by Erin Geiger, Director of Content at Lumos

Whether you’re partial to Dropbox, Basecamp, Google, Box, OneDrive, or the newest player in the file sharing/collaboration space, it’s become easier than ever to instantaneously create, edit, and share files with colleagues around the globe.

But… is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Yes, it increases productivity. Yes, it enables team members to collaborate on documents in real time. But despite your best efforts (and multiple warnings), many of the files shared via the cloud still contain sensitive or proprietary data. So to be fair, you’re often just a copy-and-paste away from a data breach (we’re looking at you, Chad from Marketing). That’s because these file sharing SaaS apps are built for ease and convenience, not security. And as an IT professional, any issues with these apps land on your plate.

So, besides chastising the entire organization, or just hoping that the latest update will address security issues, how do you reconfigure your IT service management to face this security challenge? An SaaS management platform (SMP) is a good start.

Implementing a SaaS management platform is a strategic move for enhancing access and file security in a modern digital workspace.

Besides automating user provisioning and access governance, a SaaS management platform can provide automated SaaS file security. But where to start? We’ll break it down by exploring the best ways for IT professionals to automate access and file security, covering key principles and best practices.


The traditional approach to access and file security often involves manual processes, which can be error-prone, time-consuming, and difficult to scale. When you’re responsible for managing user access rights, permissions, and ensuring data integrity, automation can significantly enhance the efficiency of these tasks while reducing the risk of human errors. Here’s how that impact plays out:

1. User Provisioning and Deprovisioning: When a new employee joins an organization, IT professionals set up user accounts, grant the appropriate access rights, and configure permissions. And when an employee leaves the organization or changes roles, access must be revoked promptly. Automated user provisioning through provision software simplifies this process (and all access governance) by creating predefined workflows. For instance, when HR adds a new employee to the system, an automated process can create the necessary accounts, configure permissions based on the employee's role, and grant access to relevant files and resources. When the employee leaves, a deprovisioning process can automatically disable their accounts and revoke access.

2. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): This access control strategy assigns access rights to users based on their roles within an organization. Automating RBAC simplifies user access management. Your team can create roles, assign permissions to these roles, and then allocate users to the appropriate roles.

For example, consider a healthcare organization. The IT team can create roles for doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. By automating the RBAC process, users are automatically assigned the appropriate permissions based on their roles. This ensures that doctors have access to medical records, while administrative staff have access to billing information.

3. Access Request and Approval Workflow: This involves users requesting additional access, and IT professionals or managers approving or denying these requests. Automating this process streamlines access governance.

For instance, when a user needs additional access, they submit a request through a self-service portal. The automation system reviews the request and routes it to the appropriate manager or IT professional for approval. Once approved, the system automatically updates the user's access, ensuring that proper documentation and permissions are maintained.

4. Audit Trails and Compliance: File security often involves maintaining audit trails for monitoring who accessed, modified, or deleted files. Automation can assist in creating and maintaining these logs. Whenever a user accesses a file, the system records the activity in an audit log, including the user's identity, the action performed, and the date and time.

This not only helps with accountability but also aids in regulatory compliance. For example, in healthcare, HIPAA requires maintaining records of who accessed patient data. Automation simplifies the process of capturing this information and generating compliance reports.

5. Data Loss Prevention (DLP): These tools aim to prevent unauthorized data transfer or sharing. IT professionals can proactively identify and prevent unauthorized data movement by automating DLP policies and rules.

For example, if a user attempts to email a sensitive document to an external address, an automated DLP system can detect the violation and block the transmission. This automation ensures that sensitive files are not unintentionally (or maliciously) shared.

6. Encryption and Access Control Policies: These policies are fundamental to file security, and IT automation can enforce these policies consistently. Automation can, for example, ensure that files are automatically encrypted when stored or transmitted. It can also notify users of risky behavior, and even automatically unshare files if they contain sensitive information. Alerts to managers or IT are then prioritized based on the severity of the risk posed. Access control policies and workflows can be configured to restrict access to sensitive files, ensuring that only authorized users can open, edit, or share them.

We know, this is the part where you’re thinking: “easier said than done.” There are literally MILLIONS of files being shared on these platforms.

But now that we've discussed the key ways you can automate access and file security, let's delve into some best practices for implementation. While an SaaS management platform offers significant flexibility and efficiency, managing access and securing files in this environment can be challenging. To ensure a seamless and secure transition to SaaS, organizations should consider:

1. Comprehensive SaaS Discovery: The first step in implementing an SaaS management platform is to perform a comprehensive discovery of all SaaS applications in use across the organization. This includes officially sanctioned applications as well as unauthorized shadow IT apps. (Later, you can implement automated tools to identify and manage shadow IT within your organization.) Who’s sharing what? What files contain sensitive information? Are there any risky trends at play? A thorough understanding of your SaaS landscape is essential to ensure all applications are included in your security and compliance efforts.

2. Centralized Identity and Access Management: Establish a centralized identity and access management system that integrates with your SaaS management platform. This integration should allow for seamless user provisioning and deprovisioning as employees join or leave the organization. This ensures that user access is controlled from a single point, minimizing the risk of security gaps.

3. Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Besides automated user provisioning, utilize single sign-on (SSO) for SaaS applications to provide a unified authentication experience for users. Combine SSO with multi-factor authentication (MFA) to enhance security. MFA adds an extra layer of protection by requiring users to verify their identity through a second method, such as a mobile app or SMS code.

4. Data Classification and Encryption: Classify data within your SaaS applications based on sensitivity. Implement encryption policies to protect sensitive data at rest and in transit. Automation should enforce these policies consistently across all SaaS platforms, ensuring that data remains secure.

5. Incident Response Automation: Implement automated incident response workflows for SaaS applications. When unusual activities are detected, such as unauthorized access or data breaches, the system should trigger predefined response actions. This can include isolating affected users or data, generating alerts, and notifying the incident response team.

6. User Training and Awareness: We admit, this one is a bit of a no-brainer, but still needs to be said. Security awareness training is vital for ensuring that employees understand the organization's security policies and the role they play in securing SaaS applications. Regular training and awareness campaigns help users recognize security threats and follow best practices for accessing and sharing data.

7. Regular Updates and Patch Management: SaaS applications are regularly updated by their providers to fix security vulnerabilities and add new features. Keep your SaaS applications up-to-date by regularly installing these updates. Automation can help schedule updates during non-business hours to minimize disruption.

8. Third-Party Risk Assessment: Assess the security posture of third-party SaaS providers. Implement automated risk assessment processes to evaluate their compliance with security standards, data protection policies, and their track record in terms of security breaches.

9. Monitor User Behavior: Implement user behavior analytics to detect deviations from typical user patterns. Automation can trigger alerts and responses when users exhibit unusual behavior that may indicate a security threat or data breach.

10. Encryption Key Management: Automate encryption key management processes for SaaS applications. Ensure that encryption keys are securely stored, rotated, and managed to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of data.

While there are a number of benefits to automated access and file security through an SaaS management platform, there are also some challenges to keep in mind. One is the complexity of integration with your legacy platforms, and how much customization that may require. Another is how many of your SaaS applications store sensitive data off-premises, as this can raise concerns about data privacy and compliance with data protection regulations.

You should also implement with scalability in mind, ensuring that your SaaS management platform can accommodate growth and evolving security requirements. And lastly, you’ve got to get your people on board. Ensure that users are comfortable with and accept the SaaS management platform and associated security measures, as resistance to change can affect the success of the implementation.

By implementing a comprehensive SaaS management platform and following best practices, organizations like yours can efficiently manage user access, secure sensitive files, monitor for security threats, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. LUMOS can help you navigate the app-ocalypse with a smarter, faster, safer way to manage both apps and access.

While challenges may arise, the benefits of a well-executed SaaS access and file security automation strategy are substantial, including enhanced security, reduced human error (we’re still looking at you, Chad), and improved compliance.