Securing SAP systems: Four key risks and how to solve them

The cloud has fundamentally transformed the way we work and is enabling businesses to operate systems more flexibly and intelligently, providing the means of scaling at speed, accelerating innovation, driving business agility and lowering costs.

Many of these merits have been unlocked by new and intelligent platforms that have become the heartbeat of departmental operations, acting as central, productive digital hubs housing business-critical assets, data and information. 

SAP is the king of this new breed of business-critical application, with approximately 87 percent of global commerce underpinned by its systems. Designed to improve the storing and processing of data, it has become a crucial tool, empowering daily operations across almost every part of the value chain.

Despite its benefits, however, SAP presents several headaches for security professionals. The crux of the challenge lies in the fact that SAP systems are essentially independent networks with their own unique set of rules. The logs used in SAP to capture security-relevant events are typically alien to both wider IT networks and even other SAP applications. Further, they also use a unique vocabulary to describe network equipment, leaving IT and security teams navigating SAP essentially trying to decipher a completely foreign and unfamiliar language.

This lack of conformity with typical systems makes it very difficult for SAP to be part of the central security strategy. Where SAP data isn’t typically correlated with other events in the IT network, it’s effectively rendered invisible, leaving security teams with no transparency into what is going on in the SAP landscape. 

Four risks associated with SAP

Organizations can be left blind to a variety of potential threats facing SAP systems, be it fraud, access violations, or system errors, and this distinct lack of visibility can significantly impact the business. For example, if the message transactions between SAP applications (e.g. a sales order sent from system A to B) aren’t delivered correctly, this will impact the entire production chain and potentially lead to bottlenecks, delays, and losses.

Unable to see the way in which SAP systems are performing, security teams can’t head off issues, while patching SAP also creates problems in terms of availability (availability monitoring to avoid outages), integrity (ensuring the integrity of authorisations), and confidentiality (keeping data safe and protecting it from misuse).

SAP’s inbuilt Solution Manager attempts to deal with some of these issues, but it’s an application lifecycle management platform – it doesn’t store historical data, and so can’t make predictions about future incidents and circumvent them. Consequently, it is not really a suitable security solution.

Owing to this disconnect, business-critical applications can leave organizations vulnerable to several risks, each capable of impacting the business in significant ways, such as through:

  • IP protection

Intellectual property (IP) is the lifeblood of many organizations, its protection being a major priority. However, IP is typically stored digitally in SAP systems alongside other business-critical data. Cybercriminals are actively targeting and exploiting SAP applications that can be a weak link in the security chain to access data such as this. And once your IP is exposed, it is out of your control. So, firms can find themselves with trade secrets in the public domain, undermining competitive advantages and interrupting innovation cycles, with years of work being discarded.

  • SAP audit requirements

Organizations using SAP are subject to audits which they must pass. Therefore, when implementing SAP, organizations must go through extensive procedures to outline key processes and build system security. To pass an audit, the auditors need information about system settings, data integrity and processes such as access control to determine if they are compliant. However, if an organization fails a SAP audit, the impacts can be substantial. Not only can their system be shut down immediately, grinding operations to a halt, but hiring external consultants to help correct system deficiencies at short notice can be costly. 

  • Cyberattacks 

Cybercriminals are actively targeting and exploiting SAP systems in the knowledge that these extremely attractive targets are often left unsecured. Breaking into a business-critical application is like hitting the jackpot for threat actors, enabling them to steal sensitive information, disrupt critical business processes and/or perform financial fraud activities. For this reason, any breach of SAP systems can have profound and devastating consequences and even threaten the organization’s entire existence. 

  • GDPR 

GDPR has changed the way in which businesses handle and protect data. Indeed, companies that do not handle data correctly can face large fines. Protecting SAP systems should be top priority to ensure compliance, with approximately 70 percent of global corporate data said to be stored in SAP systems. Critically, GDPR fines stemming from data breaches can be as high as four percent of a company’s turnover. Therefore, it is vital that organizations and their security teams are able to transparently view and manage activities that could lead to breaches in order to remediate them quickly and effectively. 

Overcoming SAP security issues with BCS

Thankfully, solutions capable of addressing the issues associated with SAP security and preventing any of these risks from materializing are available. 

With Business-Critical Security (BCS), SAP data can be extracted, translated and connected with central security platforms to provide full end-to-end security operations capabilities for SAP events. By onboarding SAP data into a SIEM, real-time threat detection, incident response, advanced analytics and monitoring of the entire business-critical system can all be delivered via one central security operations solution.

When the divide is broken down, business-critical applications become empowered to benefit from solutions such as SOAR and UEBA, helping to unlock transformative threat insights, automate compliance monitoring of critical applications, and enable time efficiencies thanks to ready-to-use controls, checks, dashboards and comprehensive reports.  In this way, BCS can help mitigate SAP-associated risks, boost resilience and enable the business to more easily navigate and utilize data.