Single Sign-On (SSO): What Is It & Why Is It Important
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
People log in to multiple applications with a single set of credentials every day without giving it a thought. They just know that they log in once and are miraculously signed in to all the applications they need to do their work. But do you know how it works and why your business needs it?
Passwords, log-in details, and details about a user's identity that hackers can use for ransomware attacks, phishing scams, and identity theft top the list of stolen information. In addition, remote work is the new normal and remote or hybrid models are likely to become more prevalent. Businesses need to adapt to ensure their business operates efficiently and to protect their expanding network. All of these factors make single sign-on (SSO) an essential part of an organization's security.
If this makes you wonder what is single sign-on, you are not alone. Simply put, single sign-on is an identity management structure that solves a plethora of problems common to most businesses.
What Is Single Sign-on (SSO)?
Of course, there is more to knowing what is SSO than the simple explanation above. That is just one of the ways SSO makes logging in easier for users.
SSO technology combines different application login screens into one. Users can then enter login credentials, such as username and password, once and they will be logged into all their SaaS applications. Because it is so simple and easy to log in to all applications, users often don't realize that they are using this technology.
For example, if employees use Slack, Google Workspace, Zoom, Wrike, or another type of project management software, an SSO user authorization tool offers a login page that requires a username, and password workers log into every integrated application.
Users, on average, have to remember at least ten passwords each day and often forget as many as three of them a month. In addition, more than 50% of people use the same password for different accounts, and 44% use their home passwords at work.
Instead of using numerous passwords each day, an SSO solution securely logs employees into the apps they need with only one. Users can easily access many platforms and apps by logging in only one time. Onsite and remote employees who use SaaS applications benefit from an SSO solution.
SSO eliminates the need to remember and enter numerous passwords and eliminates the need to reset forgotten ones. Users don't have to remember a bunch of passwords, or as many do, resort to using the same password for many applications, which can be a security risk. Password fatigue is the main reason people use their pets' names, their birthdate or even password 123 as their password.
Verifying user identity is critical so that the system knows which permissions each user has and allows them access to the right apps and platforms. A key component of numerous identity and access management (IAM) or access control systems, with SSO businesses, don't need to hold passwords in their database. This reduces the amount of troubleshooting needed and decreases the damage that can be caused by a hack. These systems work as an identity provider, like a virtual ID card, that verifies the identity of the users.
How Does SSO Work?
From the user's point of view, they sign in and are automatically signed into several applications. However, behind the scenes, so to speak, there is a lot going on.
When a user signs in, the SSO service supplies an authentication token that knows the user is verified. The authentication token, a piece of digital information, acts as a temporary ID card stored in the user's browser or with the SSO service.
Any application the user uses checks with the SSO service to see if they have the right permissions. The SSO service then sends the user's authentication token to the application, and they are allowed to access it. If the user has not signed in yet, they will be reminded to sign in through the SSO service.
Since the SSO service generally doesn't store the user's identity, they don't actually remember who they are. Rather, they check the user's credentials against an identity management service.
It helps to picture the SSO service as a messenger that can verify whether the user's credentials go with their identity stored in the database, but the SSO doesn't actually manage the database.
Google and its various services are a good real-life example of how SSO works. When you try to get into your Gmail without being signed in, you are redirected to a central service by Google. You'll see a sign-in form and will be prompted to log in with your user credentials. Once you are authenticated, Google takes you back to your Gmail account. If you go to another Google service, such as YouTube, you are already signed in.
Benefits of SSO for Your Business
Users like SSO, if they even aren't aware that they are using it, because it makes working across platforms and applications seamless. However, there are many reasons for businesses to like SSO, not the least of which is the security it provides. This may feel counterintuitive. How can signing in once with one password be more secure than signing in many times with different passwords be more secure?
Key benefits of SSO for businesses include:
Stronger passwords – since only one password is needed to log in, SSO makes it easier for users to create, remember, and use passwords that are random and harder to guess. This means a brute force attack is less likely to succeed. SSO also reduces the likelihood of employees storing their passwords in text documents or handwritten notes.
No duplicate passwords – password fatigue is real. Users tend to use duplicate passwords when they have to sign into numerous services and applications. This is a significant security risk since it means that all services and applications are only as secure as the ones with the weakest password. If the database of that service or application is compromised, hackers can use the password to get into the user's other services and applications. By reducing all logins to one username/password combination, SSO eliminates this risk.
Better enforcement of password policy – with only one place to enter a password, SSO makes it easier to enforce password security rules. For instance, many companies require users to reset their passwords every six months. Without SSO, that means new, unique passwords for upwards of ten applications or services, which is time-consuming at best and causes password fatigue at worst. With SSO, users can create one password and be done.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) – this refers to using more than one factor to authenticate the identity of a user. For instance, in addition to a username/password combination, a user might have to enter a code sent to their cell phone or connect a USB device. This serves as a second "factor" that verifies the user's identity. This is much more secure than using just a password. SSO allows MFA to be activated at a single point rather than for three, four, or even dozens of apps.
Single point for enforcing password re-entry – administrators often time users out and require them to re-enter credentials if a user has not been active on the device they are signed in on. SSO offers a central place that makes it easier to enforce this on internal applications, rather than having to enforce it on many different applications. Especially when some applications don't have this functionality.
Internal credential management – user passwords are usually stored remotely, individually by services and applications that may or may not adhere to best security practices. SSO stores them internally in a managed environment that can be better controlled.
Business productivity – in addition to security benefits, SSO reduces the amount of time wasted on password recovery. Instead of recovering or resetting dozens of passwords, users only have to reset one. In addition, they only have to sign in once to be able to access all the applications and services they need to do their jobs.
Remote Worker Security – gives remote workers secure access to cloud-hosted infrastructure and ensures the same set of credentials are used to access the servers.
SSO Frequently Asked Questions
Is SSO difficult to deploy?
SSO is easy to deploy, ensuring secure and secure access to all applications and services.
Is SSO Secure?
It is a misconception that by requiring a single password, SSO is less secure since there is a single point of failure. In reality, the single point of failure is the user. The necessity to juggle different credentials often causes users to recycle passwords, creating a security risk for businesses. SSO eliminates the need for multiple sets of credentials, allowing the standardization of security protocols.
Are an SSO and a password manager the same thing?
SSO and password managers allow users to easily access multiple applications. But that's the extent of the similarities between the two. A password manager is a vault that stores the user's credentials for different applications or websites. A password manager's goal is to protect passwords, the cause of the majority of security breaches. SSO solutions manage access by creating one domain that handles authentication.
Does SSO work with legacy technology?
This will depend on the age of the legacy technology, whether it is still supported, and if the SSO is cloud-based. Some legacy technology may not have all the integration points needed for SSO.
Importance of SSO Solutions for Your Business
Widespread adoption of cloud-based web applications by businesses created a need to securely login to tens and, in some instances, hundreds of applications without being directly connected to a business's network identity and credential storage. In addition, multiple logins and password management quickly became a roadblock to productivity, while poor password hygiene became a problem for security.
In the digital workplace of today, employees often need access to a business's applications anytime, anywhere, and from any device. Making the login process easier and more secure is critical for productivity and security. For this reason, it is essential to find an IT service company in Boca Raton, such as Flagler Technologies, that can help with SSO solutions and other remote worker security services.