What is Single Sign-On Solution and How Does it Work?

You’ve probably heard of the term “single sign-on solution,” or SSO, and if you aren’t that well versed with the term, you’re undoubtedly wondering what it is and why your enterprise will benefit from it. With high-quality enterprise SSO solutions, you stand to gain a lot, so with that in mind, let’s check out what SSO is, how it works, and why your enterprise probably needs it.

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What is a Single Sign-On Solution?

At its core, a single sign-on solution saves you from remembering potentially hundreds of login credentials by allowing you to use a single set of credentials for multiple applications. Its main goal is to streamline the user experience and offer improved security and ease of use, and such solutions usually do a great job at it.

what is single sign on solution
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How Does an SSO Solution Work?

The thing that allows an SSO solution to work so well is a trust relationship between the application, a service provider, and the SSO service, an identity provider.

A certificate is being exchanged between them, and that certificate is being used to sign the identity information that goes from the identity provider to the service provider.

And here’s a simple login flow, so you have a better idea of how things work:

  • The user tries to access the website or application they want access to.
  • The service provider, who has created said website or application, sends some of the user’s information (such as their email address) to the identity provider, the SSO service. This information is sent with a token, which is a collection of user data or information.
  • The identity provider will check if the user has been authenticated previously, whether for the same app/website or a different one. If the authentication is validated, a token is returned to the service provider, confirming the authentication is successful.
  • The service provider then receives the token and knows that the user should be granted access to the website or application.
  • The beauty of SSO lies in the fact that even if the user has been authenticated for a different website that has the same relationship with the SSO provider, they’ll get access because they can be authenticated for the new website or app, too.

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The Different Standards and Protocols of SSO

SSO works by incorporating various standards and protocols, and your specific enterprise solution may work with any number of them.

SAML or Security Access Markup Language is a standard that enables ID information exchange by encoding text into machine language. It’s one of SSO services’ core standards, and it helps application providers make sure that their authentication requests are appropriate.

OAuth, or Open Authorization, is an authorization protocol that transfers the ID information between multiple apps while keeping it encrypted into machine code. This way, an application can be granted access to a user’s data stored in another application without the user needing to validate their identity manually.

On top of OAuth, we have OIDC, or OpenID Connect, which adds user information, thus enabling the single sign-on process and allowing you to use a single login session across multiple applications. This is how things like logging in with your Google Account work safely and securely.

Kerberos is the other protocol, and it’s in charge of enabling mutual authentication. This is the part of the login flow we mentioned above where tokens are issued to ensure that both the user and the server’s identity are verified if the network connections are insecure.

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Why Should You Use an Enterprise SSO Solution?

If you’re contemplating whether or not you should go for it, here are a few of the most notable advantages a single sign-on solution offers – they’ll help you make up your mind.

The first and probably the main benefit of SSO is that it adds a lot of security. Some people argue that if a single password is stolen, whoever stole it has access to any related applications or software. And while that is true to some extent, that’s only in theory – things are different in practice.

The main reason why people don’t make complex, difficult-to-guess passwords is because of password fatigue. When you consider that most of the best security practices recommend that you don’t reuse passwords, it’s complicated to track them all.

But if you have only a single password to remember, you’ll be more inclined to create a complicated, complex password that’s near impossible to guess. And that’s perfect – you can make it long, you can add cApItAl leTTerS and symb01s, and you don’t have to write it down since you can probably remember a single password.

Then there’s the fact that an SSO service will boost productivity. Users don’t need to log in constantly to different apps with a single password, which saves them time and vastly improves the overall user experience.

And then there’s your enterprise’s side – with a single password, your users won’t need too much help, and your customer support representatives will have a lot fewer calls to deal with.

Last but not least, how many times have you given up on using an app or service just because it came with a complex sign-up process, and you thought that would steer users away?

You’re right – it does steer users away because they feel like it’s a waste of time, but it happens pretty often. And that goes against what technology is all about, which is making our lives easier.

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With a single sign-on solution, the chances of this happening are significantly decreased, and customers will be happy to adopt the apps you’d like to use because they’ll have zero issues logging on to them. They’ll be able to enjoy the benefits you’re offering.

When all is said and done, if you have a larger enterprise that uses various apps that employees and customers have access to, an enterprise SSO solution is a must.

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