Single Sign-On (SSO) is a form of authentication that allows users to use one set of login credentials to access multiple applications, such as a username and password. This is useful for businesses of all sizes, who can use SSO to ease the teething issues of enforcing multiple passwords and usernames.
In its most simplistic form, an SSO service, a defined agent on a server, retrieves the specific authentication credentials for a particular user from a named SSO policy server while authenticating the user against a database of saved and confirmed users. This creates a cohesive, company-wide model for security.
The service then validates the end-user, determining the applications they have been given rights to and then authorizing their login, eliminating the need for future password prompts for individual applications during the same session.
How SSO works
An SSO operates based upon a trust relationship between an application, known as the service provider, and an identity provider, allowing a user such as an employee to log in to multiple applications securely.
The structure of a typical login goes as follows:
- An employee enters the login page of the application or website they want to access.
- The service provider will then transfer information about the employee, such as their phone number, to the SSO system to validate the user.
- The SSO system first checks to see whether the employee has already been confirmed and authenticated. If so, the employee will be granted access.
- If the employee hasn't been previously logged in, they’ll be required to do so with pre-determined login credentials. This could be a username and password or include some other form of authentication such as a one-time password.
- Once the SSO server validates the provided credentials, it will confirm whether it was a success.
- If it was successful, the employee is granted access to the service provider.
Why should your business use an SSO?
The simple answer is that an SSO leads to better security protocols.
1. Enabling stronger security capabilities
One common misconception about using an SSO solution is that it weakens security and makes businesses vulnerable to attack. This misconception assumes that all related accounts will be compromised if a master password is stolen.
While in theory this may be true, in practice it’s a very different story. With users only having to remember one password for all applications, they’re more likely to build a robust, reliable and high entropy login and less likely to write it down or insecurely share it. Which dramatically reduces the risk of password theft.
2. It reduces password fatigue
To avoid being targeted by cybercriminals, security experts insist on unique, high entropy passwords for each and every application.
This has led to the average user having to remember over 100 passwords for office use alone. Unfortunately, this high mental load often leads to password fatigue.
Password fatigue puts your business at risk because it weakens your employees' defense mechanism, leading to repeated, easy to crack passwords. If employees struggle to sign in, they’re more likely to practice poor password hygiene.
3. Streamlined IT teams
Single-sign-on can help streamline IT security processes, which can be incredibly beneficial for remote teams in many aspects:
- Consolidated access management: Tracking logins for numerous systems is time-consuming work and can lead to access points being left open accidentally, exposing your business making it vulnerable to attack. SSO can help admins control user logins for multiple systems in one place.
- Low risk of social engineering passwords: SSO implementation reduces the likelihood that employees will store passwords in un-secured formats, like text documents or handwritten notes. By removing this vulnerability, security increases dramatically.
- Greater control: By using SSO, IT security teams can install unique security protocols across various systems and platforms, such as password strength requirements and session timeouts.
4. Increased uptake of new software
Updating your security systems is crucial to stay ahead of cybercriminals. By implementing an SSO, you take the legwork out of implementation. This increases the likelihood of uptake, ensuring your business' infrastructure remains ahead of the game.
SSO could be the answer to making your business bulletproof, taking the power out of your employee's hands and reducing vulnerability.
To increase security capabilities even further, it’s recommended to implement Multifactor Authentication (MFA) strategies. By pairing these two approaches, you provide several layers of security, as they both require users to provide one or more additional authentication factors.
MFA requires an external element such as a biometric feature (fingerprints, retina scan, face scan) or a security code such as an email or SMS. With these techniques in place, cybercriminals who gain access to an SSO login would still have to provide the additional factors to access sensitive corporate, customer or personal data.
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