Beginner’s Guide to SAP Security: Challenges & Best Practices
What is SAP Security?
SAP applications are critical business systems that businesses depend on for daily operations, and they must be secured as an inseparable part of the organization’s overall security strategy.
However, in many organizations, the SAP data center is a blind spot for security teams. SAP systems operate as a silo outside the visibility and control of security teams. This increases the risk of attack and makes SAP ERP and other SAP applications a prime target for attackers.
SAP applications face serious cybersecurity threats, including unauthorized access, tampering, data leaks, exploitation, and fraud. Attacks on SAP systems can have a devastating effect on business operations, resulting in financial and reputational damage. These systems must be protected from internal and external cyber threats to maintain confidentiality, availability, and integrity.
To address these threats, organizations require consistent monitoring, automated auditing, and centralized security management for all SAP systems. All this must be done in a way that is integrated with the organization’s security operations center (SOC) and security tooling deployed in other parts of the IT environment.
In this article:
- SAP Security Challenges
- SAP Security Technologies and Best Practices
SAP Security Challenges
The global cybersecurity skills shortage means that most organizations are not able to recruit the security talent they need. One of the top three areas where cybersecurity skills are severely lacking is application security. This makes it more difficult to secure business-critical SAP applications.
Dealing with Security Updates
SAP releases a security advisory once per month, with multiple vulnerability patches and procedures addressing security issues at multiple severity levels. For companies managing dozens of business-critical SAP applications, this monthly cadence of updates can be difficult to manage. Without prioritization tools to help automate and streamline the process, teams can spend an enormous effort manually managing software updates.
Visibility is key for monitoring and protecting the attack surface and valuable assets. However, SAP applications are often managed by internal IT teams that focus on performance and availability rather than security. As a result, security teams lack the visibility and context they need to identify vulnerabilities and understand the risks to their business.
In most organizations, security teams are responsible for managing business vulnerabilities across the organization, but their tools do not address SAP applications and often rely on application teams for remediation. This disconnect leads to gaps in an organization’s security posture.
SAP applications are complex. Analyzing security guidelines, prioritizing and implementing patches can be challenging, especially for companies running multiple SAP applications and systems in production. Manually managing patch implementation is a time-consuming and error-prone process. There is no easy way to identify or prioritize patches or systems that are missing patches. In most organizations, this results in a patch backlog, which raises serious security concerns.
Even if patches and updates are addressed in a timely manner, SAP applications, like any complex system, are at risk of misconfiguration. Improper security settings, excessive or redundant access rights can lead to damaging data breaches. Most organizations do not have an easy way to evaluate these areas and ensure that their applications have a secure configuration that follows best practices.
5 SAP Security Technologies and Best Practices
1. Automate Patch Management
Patching SAP systems is a complex and laborious process, and as a result many SAP systems remain unpatched for long periods of time, increasing the risk of security vulnerabilities. To ensure that security updates are applied, deploy patch management solutions that can identify which systems or modules require updates, prioritize their security severity, and deploy the required patches automatically. This can dramatically improve security readiness.
2. Promote Secure Coding
Secure coding practices are critical to prevent vulnerabilities in any application, and SAP is no exception. SAP developers write code on a development machine, and later deploy it to testing and production environments. Developers can inadvertently create vulnerabilities if they are unaware of secure coding practices, and these vulnerabilities make their way to production systems.
To solve this problem, invest in security education for SAP developers, and deploy an automated code inspection tool that is easy for developers to use and integrates well with their existing development process. This can help developers identify code that represents a security risk and fix it before it is promoted to a production environment.
3. Use Extended Detection and Response (XDR)
eXtended detection and response (XDR) solutions automatically collect and correlate data from multiple security products to improve threat detection and incident response. For example, they can combine data points from endpoints, email systems, and network security tools into a single event.
The main goal of XDR is to increase detection accuracy and increase the efficiency and productivity of security operations. XDR solutions centralize and standardize data into a single user interface, increasing the productivity of security analysts and enabling them to detect sophisticated and evasive threats operating at multiple layers of an IT environment.
XDR solutions can combine data from SAP Enterprise Threat Detection (ETD), other SIEM solutions, and non-SAP security tools, to achieve the following:
- Alerts—XDR can create alerts including unified data from SAP and non-SAP environments and notify all relevant stakeholders.
- Configuration changes—XDR integrates with endpoint detection and response (EDR), intrusion detection systems (IDS), and network devices, to automatically monitor access control changes. When suspicious changes are detected, XDR can instantly define network segmentation rules to isolate affected systems from the network.
- Remediation—XDR solutions can use data to automatically identify and resolve critical security issues end-to-end. This involves analysis and triage of security events using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, and integration with multiple security tools to implement the most appropriate response. Thus, XDR provides a solution to the security skills shortage by automating incident response.
4. Leverage Microsegmentation
Microsegmentation is a technology that divides networks into logical, isolated units. It does this by applying policies that determine how data and applications can be accessed and controlled.
Unlike traditional network segmentation, which requires hardware and is mainly intended for North-South data flows (for example, client-server traffic), micro-segmentation relies on software, making it more flexible and easier to operate, and is mainly intended for East-West traffic (for example, data flowing between servers or applications inside the network).
By segmenting the network and limiting the types of traffic that traverses it, businesses can add a critical layer of security, which prevents attackers or insider threats from gaining access to sensitive systems and moving laterally throughout an environment, even if they manage to breach the network perimeter.
In the context of SAP systems, microsegmentation can be used to protect each SAP application cluster. Access to a cluster or server can be severely restricted, allowing only connections that are authorized and absolutely necessary. If monitoring detects suspicious activity, the affected systems can be isolated completely from the network to prevent threats from spreading in the SAP environment.
5. Secure Roles and Authorizations
Do not rely on standard SAP system configurations. It is critical to set customer-specific authorizations, and review access controls to ensure that the principle of least privilege and separation of duties (SoD) is maintained. Keep in mind that in SAP systems, privileges and roles can only be modified through standard SAP methods.
Avoid allocating multiple authorizations to the same user or account, except for “firefighter accounts” used in emergencies for a limited time.
Perform continuous, automated reviews of SAP authorizations to avoid violations. The SAP Test Catalog provides ready-made test cases that let you identify the most common authorization issues. The SAP SUIM transaction lets you perform complex searches across users, roles, and transactions to identify conflicts.
In this article, I explained the basics of SAP security and covered five ways you can improve your SAP security posture:
- Automate patch management – ensure you have an automated method for identifying, prioritizing, and implementing security updates for SAP systems.
- Promote secure coding – deploy a code inspection tool SAP developers can use to identify security vulnerabilities in their code.
- Use extended detection and response (XDR) – leverage next-generation security technology to combine events from SAP systems and non-SAP security tools and improve visibility for security teams.
- Leverage microsegmentation – create a protected network perimeter around SAP application clusters and gain the ability to automatically isolate compromised systems.
- Secure roles and authorizations – automatically review authorizations using SAP Test Catalog test cases and the SUIM transaction to identify excessive privileges and separation of duties (SoD) conflicts.
I hope this will be useful as you integrate SAP security with your organization’s overall security strategy.