NetworkSecurity

What Is SSO

IT and management teams in organizations work with hundreds of applications at a time. All of them are password protected, so entering login credentials every time is a difficult and hectic job to do. However, SSO is here to solve all problems by helping them through using one login details for multiple applications.

Here’s what you need to know about Single Sign-on (SSO).

What Is Single Sign-On (SSO)?

Single sign-on SSO is a session and user authentication method to log in to multiple applications and websites using single login credentials for secure authentication. It consists of a name and password as a single set of login details to access several applications simultaneously.

The SSO system is useful for small organizations to help them manage and avoid remembering many user identities and passwords for different applications. It combines all application login screens into a single screen where credentials are entered to get secure access to all applications without logging into them individually.

SSO minimizes the efforts and invested time to sign in and out from websites and access multiple applications. It is an important feature of identity and access management (IAM). When implemented without flaws, SSO enables users to improve security and minimize the risk of forgetting and losing passwords.

How Does Single-Sign-On Work?

SSO, in reality, is an association based on trust between the service provider and the identity provider. It involves certificate exchanges between two parties sent from the identity provider to the service provider to build trust between both. The identity provider takes data from the SSO tokens that hold bits of credentials, usually consisting of a user email and password.

SSO working is like a flow and consists of several steps, including.

  1. The user browser opens an application or website they want to open that can be called a service provider.
  2. A token-carrying credential is created with the username, email, and password. The service provider sends this token to the identity provider as a request to identify and authenticate the user.
  3. The identity provider checks whether the user has been authenticated or not. A one-time password (OTP) is required for authentication if not authenticated. Prompt demanding credentials may be displayed on the user’s screen for identification by the identity provider.
  4. The identity provider then validates the user’s credentials, and the token is sent to the Service provider to confirm that authentication has been successful.
  5. The user browser is the gateway for passing the token from the Identity provider to the Service provider.
  6. Validation of trust between the Identity and Service provider is set up after the token is received.
  7. Now, the user is provided full access to the service provider.
  8. A similar process is repeated when the user goes to a different website. The website becomes a Service provider and must build trust through SSO and log in without entering user credentials next time.

Types Of Single-Sign-On (SSO) configurations

Several configurations and protocols have been developed based on the identification and working. They include:

Security Access Markup Language (SAML)

This open-source language enables the exchange of information related to logging in by encoding text into the machine. The core standards of SSO are based on SAML because it helps the application service and identity providers ensure that the identification requests they send are appropriate.

This markup language is best for SSO systems where web applications are involved, and the information is transmitted through a browser. SAML-based Single Signon systems involve an exchange of data between the user and the identity provider, which maintains a service provider and user directory.

Open Authorization (OAuth)

OAuth is an open standard configuration protocol that allows exchanging information between applications by encryption machine codes and transferring identification information. Users can get application access to their information without manually validating their identity. This protocol makes it easier to switch native apps using a single identification.

OpenID Connect (OIDC)

This configuration runs on the basis of OAuth 2.0 and enables user information to be added during the SSO process. The advantage that OIDC has over other protocols is that it allows using one login session over multiple applications. For instance, OIDC enables users to log in to Facebook using a Google account rather than entering user passwords or user credentials.

Kerberos

Kerberos SSO protocol allows the user and server to verify the identity on an insecure network connection by mutual authentication. The gateway of this protocol is based on a ticket-granting service that provides tokens for the authentication of users and software applications such as wiki servers or emails.

Once the user credentials are provided to the Kerberos-based SSO setup, the ticket is issued to fetch service tickets for other applications that allow user access without re-entering the user credentials.

Smart Card Authentication

Besides traditional SSO, a hardware system like a physical smart card device also facilitates login to various applications through single credentials. These smart cards are plugged into the computers, and the software interacts with the keys on the smart card to authenticate the user.

Smart cards are secure compared to other configurations and require a pin to start operations inside a computer. Moreover, they are handy and easily carried by users. Conversely, they risk getting lost and can be expensive SSO systems.

Advantages Of Single-Sign-On (SSO) Systems

SSO is more convenient and simpler for users and has proven to be secure too. Just signing in once by using a single password instead of adding multiple passwords not reduces the hassle of maintaining lots of passwords but also saves effort and time. Besides these, SSO has many other advantages, including:

Strong Passwords

Users of single sign-on only have to create a single password. So, creating a strong password and remembering it is not difficult for users. This prevents the password from being guessed and enhances security and surety that you always have the password with you. Moreover, it minimizes the need to reset passwords frequently due to forgetting.

No Password Fatigue

When the user has to remember many passwords to log in to different applications and password-protected websites, a condition known as password fatigue is likely to be faced. The user will eventually start using the same password for different applications, decreasing the security protection and providing the weakest password protection. A password-compromised database can lead to the hacking of the entire application network. However, SSO eliminates this fear because a single login is enough to proceed with all logins.

 Multi Factor Authentication

Multifactor authentication means using more than one factor to authenticate the user. You may have noticed that Google requires a code on your phone to log in to different applications inside your laptop.

Physical sources like USBs or Smartphones can become the second factor in opening the applications without adding multiple passwords through SSO. It is possible to activate MFA through SSO at a single point so that activation through different factors is not needed because it can be difficult and time-consuming.

Minimize Attack Surface

SSO eliminated poor password practices because one password is used for all applications. This protects your organization or devices from phishing attacks because one password for all is unique and reduces the likelihood of getting stolen.

Easy Auditing

Single sign-on allows you to ensure that the right people have access to the sensitive data because it configures the user’s access based on the role in the department. Moreover, it ensures visibility and transparency at many levels inside an organization. SSO removes the need for keeping checks manually and provides fast access to several apps using single credentials and a simple one-click.

Less Time Wasted On Password Resets

SSO also reduces the time wasted on recovering a password because all the applications rely on single login credentials. So, in case of password recovery or reset single password is generated, and the user spends less time logging in to the applications to perform their work. In addition to increasing security, a business’s productivity is enhanced this way.

Secure Access When Multiple Users Are Operating

The administration has deep insight into the application being accessed from different places and times with a single sign-on. This helps them to protect the integrity of the system through real-time monitoring. Moreover, with SSO solutions, organizations can also access the security risks associated with the network.

For example, the employee may lose the device on which the applications were running. This will allow the IT teams to disable and remove the device from the allowed devices that could access the system and read sensitive data.

The Challenges Of Single-Sign-On (SSO)

SSO is the ultimate security solution for enterprises and organizations, but it can be a serious security risk if not managed properly. Several challenges can be faced if SSO is not deployed correctly, so the IT team must be well aware of them.

User Access 

If an attacker becomes successful in a phishing attack and gets access to the user’s SSO credentials. They can gain access to every application connected to the system. Therefore, SSO solutions without the deployment of additional authentication mechanisms can be a headache for the company because a single breach can lead to big losses.

Vulnerabilities 

It has been discovered that within OAuth and SAML, many vulnerabilities can give access to web applications and mobile device accounts related to victims of potential hackers or attackers. Therefore, working with a service provider experienced in dealing with these instances is important so that he could pair the SSO with additional authentication factors or identity governance for enhanced security.

Application Compatibility

Sometimes the applications used in the organization or user’s device cannot integrate with a single sign-on solution. The applications to work with single sign-on systems must be equipped with a compatibility factor and could be configured using Kerberos, OAuth, or SAML. No compatibility means that your SSO solution is useless. It becomes yet another burdensome password to remember to work with a few apps on your network.

Is Single-Sign-On (SSO) Secure?

Single sign-on (SSO) is secure if you have complete knowledge about SSO  implementation and how to enhance the security of the authentication process. SSO service provides the best solution to use a single password on all applications and websites, which means a single credential can be used to access all of them. However, in case of any breach or password exposure, the attacker can easily access all applications connected to single sign-on solutions.

Though SSO makes password management easier, many risks are also involved in its usage. To deal with all of them and make SSO service secure, ensure you have a complete backup plan to tackle the issues related to SSO services while handling multiple systems for overall password management.

Choosing The Right SSO Providers

Choosing an SSO service provider might be a difficult task for you. You should look for the following factors in an SSO service provider.

  • Your SSO provider must have access to all key applications on the market. The most important are SaaS and web applications used for enterprise needs.
  • The dashboard of SSO must be customizable to fulfill the branding needs.
  • SSO providers should be able to provide monitoring tools to cover the lags in performance issues in the organization’s IT structure which may be hybrid or on cloud service.
  • SSO providers must be well-versed in providing MFA solutions and capturing factors like user behavior, risk profile, and location.

Conclusion

Single sign-on (SSO) is a complete system that helps you get rid of logging in to applications repeatedly by using credentials. It allows you to have a single username and password to get into the applications. SSO involves the exchange of information between the identity provider and the service provider to authenticate and enable user access to the applications through one credential only. For the proper implication of SSO, the provider must have all backend knowledge about its associated security issues.

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.

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Kanata, Ontario
K2K 3K2
(fax) 647-372-0393

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