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Why your company needs SSO
An average company uses hundreds or more different cloud services. And with hundreds or more employees accessing multiple accounts every day, that means a lot of passwords to manage and protect. This is a challenge for both IT and the employees. The IT department has to manage the many number of applications in the company and increasingly deal with so-called shadow IT. Employees need more and more time to log into different systems. Single sign-on solves these and many other problems.
5 minutes
27. maart 2024

The most important advantages of single sign-on and its significance for companies

What is Single Sign-on (SSO)?

Single sign-on, or SSO for short, is a management solution that helps to increase IT security, improve user-friendliness and reduce costs. Remembering countless, complicated passwords is almost impossible and fiddling with password managers takes time. SSO, freely translated as ” one-time login”, offers a way out of this conflict. It is a session and user authentication service that makes it possible to access multiple applications with just a single set of login data consisting of user name and password.

How does SSO work?

Without SSO, authentication is carried out separately for each website or application. This requires the website to keep its own separate database of user credentials and maintain it accordingly. For companies that combine cloud applications and local networks, the sheer volume of user data represents a considerable administrative workload. The IT department must store and manage separate credentials for each account (e.g. employees, contractors or customers) for each individual website, program or application in their systems. This leads to security risks, high administration costs and inefficiency. SSO simplifies the login and authentication process. In concrete terms, an SSO login process works as follows:

  1. employees access the Service Provider (SP) website or application they wish to access.
  2. The service provider sends this request and forwards the employee to the identity provider (IdP) of the SSO system.
  3. the employee is asked to authenticate by entering the credentials requested by the identity provider for the SSO, such as username and password.
  4. once the identity provider has verified the employee’s credentials, it sends a confirmation back to the service provider to confirm successful authentication. The employee is then granted access to the desired application.
  5. other service providers accessed by the employee confirm the user’s authentication with the identity provider. These service providers do not require a user name and password.

How SSO boosts security and productivity

Every time a user logs into a service, this poses a potential risk. This is because login data is one of the most popular targets for cyber criminals. SSO reduces the attack surface as employees only have to log in once a day, for example, and only use one set of login data. Limiting logins to one set of credentials therefore increases the security of companies. After all, if employees have to use a separate password for each application, they often fail to do so or use passwords that are easy to remember. According to a recent study, for example, 32 percent of all passwords relate directly to the company, such as the company name or a variation of it.)  Single sign-on reduces the cognitive load. Its use also reduces the risk of employees reusing or writing down the same passwords, which in turn reduces the risk of theft.

Minimizing security risks

As in most cases, the use of SSO services is also technically more secure than “normal” login with a user name and password. This is because the login data is much better protected. SSO is based on a trust relationship between the party that has the identity information and can authenticate logins, the identity provider (IdP), and the service or application to be accessed, the service provider (SP). Instead of sending sensitive data back and forth over the Internet, the identity provider sends a confirmation – often via an identity standard such as SAML – to authenticate the login to the service provider.

A common myth about SSO solutions is that they compromise the security of IT systems. This false belief is based on the idea that all associated accounts are accessible if the master password is stolen. However, this can be effectively prevented. A proven strategy to create an additional layer of security is to combine SSO with multi-factor authentication (MFA), for example. MFA requires an employee to provide two or more proofs of identity when logging in. This can be a code that is sent to the smartphone, of course.

Risk-based authentication (RBA) is another established security function for protecting SSO. RBA enables IT managers to use tools to monitor user activity and context. This allows it to detect irregular behavior that indicates unauthorized users or a cyberattack. For example, if multiple logins fail or incorrect IPs are used, IT can request an MFA or block the user completely.

SSO prevents shadow IT

The term “shadow IT” is nothing new in the world of cyber security. It refers to unauthorized downloads from the workplace. In the past, shadow IT was mainly limited to employees using unlicensed or unauthorized software. With the increasing popularity of cloud-based downloads, the potential for risk is also increasing. To solve this problem, IT administrators can use SSO to monitor which applications employees are using. In this way, the risk of identity theft is also minimized, which represents a further plus in terms of security.

SSO reduces costs and increases convenience

Single sign-on also increases employee efficiency, as they spend less time logging in and managing passwords. Given the fact that many employees switch between different applications several times an hour, this time factor should not be ignored. According to estimates by Gartner, password problems are responsible for 40% of all calls to the helpdesk. Another study by Forrester shows that resetting passwords costs companies up to 70 US dollars per problem solution. SSO therefore also reduces support costs, as the process reduces the number of passwords required to just one. In addition, SSO simplifies the work of administrators as they can manage user accounts and access rights in a centralized manner. Last but not least, it increases job satisfaction in general, as employees can work without interruption and access all the services they need more quickly. Easy access is particularly valuable for employees who work in the field or from multiple devices.

What types of SSO are available?

Various methods are used for single sign-on (SSO). The most commonly deployed method is currently SAML-based SSO. This system is popular for various reasons:

  • Widely used: SAML has been on the market for many years and is supported by a large number of identity providers and service providers. Many companies have already invested in SAML infrastructure and are using it successfully.
  • Security: SAML offers robust security mechanisms for the transfer of authentication and authorization data between identity providers and service providers. For example, digital signatures and encryption are used to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the transmitted data.
  • Ease to use: SAML makes it possible to log in once to an identity provider and then seamlessly access different service providers without having to log in twice. This improves user-friendliness and reduces login effort.
  • Interoperability: SAML is an open standard that many organizations support. This allows systems and applications from different providers to work together seamlessly, making collaboration more efficient.

Although SAML is the most widely used SSO method, modern protocols such as OpenID Connect (OIDC) are also becoming increasingly important, especially in web applications and cloud scenarios. OIDC offers additional features such as support for OAuth 2.0 and an improved user experience for modern applications and APIs.

Does SSO have disadvantages?

SSO also has system-related disadvantages. For example, if the SSO system fails or is unavailable, users may lose access to connected applications and services. This can lead to disruption and productivity concerns. When using SSO, companies must also be assured that their SSO provider protects the login data appropriately. Otherwise, there is a risk of attackers compromising or misusing authentication data.

How is SSO implemented?

The implementation and maintenance of SSO is a complex task. It requires careful planning, seamless integration into existing systems and ensuring compatibility with different platforms and authentication protocols.

Conclusion Single Sign On

Authentication processes are a key part of a company’s ecosystem. The larger the organization, the more authentication data it has to manage and store. The advantages of SSO in this context are significant: increased security, improved usability, reduced costs and effort for password management. However, there can also be disadvantages, such as an increased dependency on external services. A thorough assessment of your business needs will help you decide whether SSO is the right choice for your organization.

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