Everything Businesses Should Know About Single Sign-On

Remote work has changed businesses and how they operate significantly over the past two years.

While there have been benefits of remote work, such as continuity even in the face of outside disruption, as well as increased employee satisfaction, there are also risks and downsides.

Cybersecurity is one of the general areas of risk. The average cost of a data breach according to IBM, is $4.24 million per incident. Remote work has negatively affected this figure and everything contributing to it. Along with a generally negative effect from remote work, there have been surging costs related to healthcare breaches, and compromised credentials remain one of the most common causes of breaches.

Cybersecurity is a necessity to keep information, data, devices, and users safe.

The number of tasks we as individuals and employees do online continues to grow. Many workplaces are moving toward a complete digital transformation because of automation through cloud-based technology. However, every time a new cloud-based technology or app is added to improve productivity and efficiency, it can also increase organizational risk.

Each tool that becomes part of how we do business can mean another interface where users enter a password. Every app connecting to devices and networks is increasing your attack size.

What does this mean? There are growing avenues for cyberattacks to take advantage of and infiltrate.

As part of these growing challenges and to facilitate safer, more secure, and more productive remote work, it’s essential businesses of all sizes integrate single sign-on. With that, organizations should also consider multi-factor authentication.

Below is a guide to both concepts relevant to businesses of all sizes across industries right now, especially when they have employees working remotely.

What Is Single Sign-On?

Single sign-on or SSO is a method of authentication. With SSO, users can access multiple platforms and applications using one set of credentials. SSO is often characterized under a larger umbrella of concepts called Federated Identity Management or FIM.

SSO works through a trusted relationship with applications and services that work with one another.

Users have one reinforced set of credentials to access all the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.

With SSO, there’s a reduction in the attack vectors your organization has. When you layer SSO with MFA, there are more compliance and security controls.

When you have a comprehensive SSO solution as part of your organizational IT environment, it reduces the attack surface in a couple of different ways, including:

  • SSO reduces the total number of credentials needed by end-users to access resources. That means there’s a limit to phishing potential.
  • Using an SSO solution can reduce the likelihood that credentials stolen in a separate breach, but still related to your end-user, can then be used against you.
  • Layering SSO with MFA makes it almost impossible for credentials obtained through phishing to be used against you.
  • With the right SSO solution, credentials are updated on devices instead of apps or websites.
  • Conditional access policies can help prevent users from authenticating to company resources on devices or networks that aren’t known, adding another layer to overall security.

The big takeaway here is that you are preventing users’ separate logins to each needed resource. Therefore you are substantially reducing attack vectors. When fewer passwords are being created and then used, with one secured primary password as the entry point of resources, you have a better security strategy.

Having one secure password reduces password fatigue and reuse, and it nearly makes it impossible to phish because you’re creating a barrier between your IT resources and would-be cyber attackers.

Along with being part of the larger concept of Federated Identity Management, we also describe SSO as being part of identity and access management (IAM).

Specific Benefits of SSO

There are benefits of SSO for employees and entire organizations. We’ve touched on some of the above but specifically, they include:

  • Your employees’ jobs are made easier, which will allow them to maximize their productivity and feel more engaged in their work. With SSO, your employees log into the platform once, and then they can access the tools they need without facing other login screens. You’re likely to notice an overall more efficient workplace as a result.
  • Your workplace isn’t going to be as burdened by forgotten passwords. Employees can choose more complex, secure passwords without worrying about forgetting them.
  • For IT teams, there will be consolidated access management. Rather than tracking logins for multiple systems, which is time-consuming and tedious, SSO helps admins manage credentials for various systems in one place.
  • With streamlined SSO access, there’s a reduced likelihood of employees securing their passwords in formats that aren’t secure, such as text documents or notes they write by hand.
  • Your IT teams will be able to establish tighter security controls that are customized across systems, including mandating certain password strength requirements.

SSO Login

When a user signs into an SSO service, the service then creates an authentication token. That token will remember the user as being verified. The authentication token is digital information stored in the browser or within the servers of the SSO service. You can compare this to a temporary ID card.

Then, any app a user is accessing will check with the SSO service. The SSO services provide the authentication token of the user to the app. The user is then allowed in.

The SSO service doesn’t inherently have to remember who a user is because it doesn’t store user identities. Many SSO services operate by checking the credentials of a user against a distinct identity management service.

You can think about SSO as an intermediary to confirm if a user’s credentials match with an identity stored in the database but without managing the database itself.

Critical to the SSO process is the ability to pass authentication tokens to external services and apps. This is what separates identify verification from other cloud-based services.

Summing this up, there are three entities involved in SSO.

There’s the user. The user is the individual who requires access to services. Users need to manage their passwords and personal information.

The following entity is the identity provider. The identity provider gives details of the user. The identity provider informs integrated systems about the identity of the person, their role, and the limitations within the system.

Then, the third entity is the service provider. The service provider is, for example,the application a user is trying to access.

What About Multi-Factor Authentication?

There’s another element that you should consider integrating into your access management strategy along with single sign-on, which is multi-factor authentication (MFA). Multi-factor authentication requires users to provide two or more verification factors to access a VPN, application, or online account.

Like SSO, MFA is a core component of an identity and access management policy. Then, users aren’t just asked for a username and password. With MFA, they have to have another verification factor, significantly reducing the likelihood of a successful cyber-attack.

Usernames and passwords are otherwise vulnerable to brute force attacks and relatively easily stolen by third parties.

How Does MFA Work?

MFA works, again, by requiring additional verification information, known as factors. A one-time password or OTP is one of the most frequently used factors. OTPs are a code, usually ranging from four to eight digits. The code can be received via mobile app, email, or SMS. A new code is generated either periodically, or everytime there’s a submission for an authentication request.

With remote and work-from-home situations likely to continue for the foreseeable future, MFA is critical for strong security.

MFA authentication is based on one of three types of information. There are things you know. Things you know can be a PIN or password.

The second type of information can be things you have, like a smartphone.

The third is things you are or inherence. This could include biometrics such as the use of a fingerprint.

Because of the proliferation of cloud computing, MFA is more necessary than ever before. Companies are moving to the cloud, and along with that, have remote workers. They can’t rely on users being physically on the same network as any given security factor. The response to this shift has to ensure that any user accessing the system isn’t a bad actor.

MFA helps ensure that any user accessing systems, no matter where they are, is verified.

When you combine SSO and MFA, it can make it less frustrating for your employees. Your user can log in once with their MFA because of SSO. Then, they have access to everything they need to do their jobs.

If you haven’t already done so, make 2022 the year that you put in place stringent identity and access management protections, including SSO and MFA. With an integrated solution, you’re eliminating a significant amount of risk to your systems and data and making a more secure, streamlined, and efficient workplace even with the continuation of remote work.

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