Single-Sign ON (SSO): How Does It Work, How to Implement, Advantages

What is Single Sign-On?

SSO is a system that merges several application login windows into a single screen. To access all of their SaaS services, a user just has to input their login credentials once on a single page using SSO.

SSO is widely used in a corporate context where user applications are allocated and managed by an internal IT team. Remote employees that use SaaS services benefit from SSO as well.

Consider what would happen if customers who had previously been admitted to a bar were required to present their identity card each time they sought to purchase further alcoholic beverages. Some consumers would become upset with the constant inspections and would even try to get around them by bringing their own beverages in.

Most businesses, on the other hand, will simply verify a customer's identity once and then offer the person multiple beverages throughout the evening. This is identical to an SSO system in that instead of establishing their identity many times, a user creates their identity once and then has access to multiple services.

Many identities and access management (IAM) or access control solutions include single sign-on (SSO). Verifying a user's identity is essential for determining which rights each user should have. One example of an access control system that works with SSO solutions for controlling users' identities is Cloudflare Zero Trust.

How Does Single Sign-On Work?

SSO is predicated on the establishment of a trust relationship between a service provider and an identity provider, such as OneLogin. This trust relationship is frequently established by the exchange of a certificate between the identity supplier and the service provider. This certificate can be used to check identity information transmitted from the identity provider to the service provider, ensuring that the service provider is receiving it from a reliable source. This identification data is stored in the form of tokens in SSO, which contain identifying info about the user, such as an email address or a username.

The following is a typical login flow

  • A user reaches the Service Provider, which is the program or website to which they seek to access.

  • The Service Provider transmits a token to the SSO system, or the Identity Provider, as part of a request to authenticate the user. The token contains some information about the user, such as their email address.

  • The Identity Provider initially checks to determine if the user has already been authenticated; if so, the user will be granted access to the Service Provider application, and step 5 will be skipped.

  • If the user hasn't logged in yet, they will be requested to do so by entering the Identity Provider's credentials.

  • This might be as straightforward as a username and password, or it could consist of another type of authentication, such as a One-Time Password.

  • When the Identity Provider checks the provided credentials, it returns a token to the Service Provider, indicating that the authentication was successful.

  • The user's browser sends this token to the Service Provider.

  • The trust connection that the Service Provider and the Identity Provider established during the initial configuration is used to validate the token that the Service Provider gets.

  • Access to the Service Provider is provided to the user.

  • When the user attempts to visit a different website, the new website must be established with a similar trust relationship with the SSO solution, and authentication follows similar steps.

What is the Process for Implementing SSO?

The specifics of how an SSO solution is deployed will vary based on the SSO solution in question. However, regardless of the precise procedures, you must ensure that you have clearly defined objectives and targets for your implementation.

Make sure that you respond to the following questions −

  • What are the many categories of users you serve, and what are their various needs?

  • Are you interested in an on-premises or cloud-based solution?

  • Will this solution be able to scale to your business's needs?

  • What features do you need to ensure that only trustworthy people log in? MFA, Adaptive Authentication, Device Trust, Whitelisting of IP Addresses, and so on?

  • What systems will you have to connect? Do you need API access?

Advantages of SSO

In this section, let's see what are the possible advantages of implementing Single Sign-On.

Helps users to generate, remember, and utilize stronger passwords

SSO prompts users to generate stronger passwords because they only have to use one password. With SSO, most users choose stronger passwords.

How do you know whether a password is "strong"? A strong password is difficult to guess and sufficiently random that a brute force assault is unlikely to succeed. "w7:g"5h$G@" is a decent password; "password123" isn't.

No passwords should be used more than once

When users are required to remember passwords for several applications and services, a situation is known as "password fatigue" is likely to develop, leading to the re-use of passwords across services.

Using the same password for multiple services poses a significant security risk because all services are only as secure as the service with the weakest password protection: if the password database for that service is breached, attackers can use the password to hack all of the user's other services as well.

SSO avoids this problem by consolidating all logins into a single account.

Increased adherence to password policies

SSO allows IT teams to simply enforce password security policies by centralizing password input. Some businesses, for example, require users to change their passwords on a regular basis.

Password resets are easier to accomplish with SSO since users only have one password to change instead of several passwords across many apps and services. (While the effectiveness of frequent password resets has been questioned, some IT departments still believe them to be a critical element of their security strategy.

Authentication with many factors

MFA, or multi-factor authentication, is the use of more than one identification factor to verify a user's identity. A user may be required to connect a USB device or input a code that displays on their smartphone in addition to providing a username and password. The user's possession of this tangible thing is a second "factor" that verifies that they are who they claim to be. MFA is far safer than simply using a password.

SSO allows you to enable MFA from a single location rather than having to do it for three, four, or several dozen apps, which may or may not be viable.

Administrators can restrict password re-entry after a particular period of time to ensure that the same user is still active on the signed-in device.

SSO allows them to accomplish this from a single location for all internal apps, rather than having to enforce it across various apps, some of which may not support it.

Managing credentials internally rather than storing them externally

User credentials are often held remotely, unmanaged, by programs and services that may or may not adhere to standard security practices. SSO, on the other hand, stores them inside in an environment where an IT team has more control.

Less time lost on password recovery

In addition to the security benefits mentioned above, SSO helps internal teams save time. Users spend less time signing into numerous applications to conduct their work, while IT spends less time making users recover or reset their passwords for dozens of apps. This has the potential to boost productivity in the workplace.