Single Sign-on (SSO) has been around for quite a while, but only gained widespread acceptance in recent years. In fact, this technology is spreading quite fast, as more organizations move into the cloud. With SSO, employees can log in once with a single set of credentials and access multiple apps from anywhere, and on any device.
If you haven’t implemented SSO in your organization, we have put together this piece to get you warmed up on this promising technology.
What is SSO?
Single Sign-On is an enterprise user authentication technology that allows users to log into a host of internet applications, websites, and data with a single set of credentials (password and username). It is particularly used by enterprises that not only want to minimize security risks on user data, but also streamline IT login processes and improve user experience.
Large corporations usually have several touchpoints that fall under different brands, so their IT teams can be strained while trying to keep track of all these. Securely managing hundreds or thousands of applications is equally challenging for users.
That is where single sign-on solutions come in to streamline access management systems tailored for their IT teams and customers.
Let’s simplify things using this example. Without SSO, a user of Google, which owns YouTube, Hangout, Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs, would need to have a separate key to access these applications.
How Does SSO Work?
We can simplify how SSO technology works in a few steps:
- The end-user requests access to an application or platform.
- Before granting access, the site checks user identity has been verified with the relevant SSO provider. If it is not authenticated, he/she will be redirected to the SSO login page to enter their credentials.
- The user enters the login info. From here, the SSO solution sends authentication requests from the identity provider.
- Once the identity provider confirms the user’s identity, the SSO solution will then confirm the user identity to the original site and transfer him/her to the site.
- If the user visits another related site or application, the app will check their identity with the SSO solution. Given that the user had already logged in, their identity will be automatically approved on the new site or app.
Now that we know what it is and how it works, let’s now focus on the benefits of single sign-on solutions.
Benefits of SSO
The goal of single sign-on is to simplify the login and authentication process, especially for enterprise users. But there are other single sign-on benefits for both users and enterprises. Here are the main ones:
Reduce Help Desk Requests and IT Costs
Benefit to Enterprises
One of the advantages of SSO is that it saves on help desk costs. But how?
Most of the help desk requests are related to passwords resets. Gartner estimates that up to 50% of employees reach out to help desk for this reason. What this means is that enterprises could be wasting a lot of valuable IT time, which could be invested in other priorities and projects. The more users an organization has, the higher the IT cost. To put it into perspective, each password reset could cost an enterprise $70. If we can be sincere with you, that is too expensive for such a dull task.
Benefit to Users
SSO can also save users from having to remember different passwords for each application. In organizations that implement strict password policy, employees have to scan through their password lists to key in different characters. And if these passwords change more frequently, they will have a hard time memorizing them each time.
SSO therefore will help them save some precious minutes they would have used to reach out to IT departments for login related issues. Using only one password will reduce the login time and chances of failed logins, which in turn, boost the productivity of employees.
Increase Efficiency and User Satisfaction
Benefit to Enterprises
Enhanced user experience is one of the top single sign-on benefits. That is why most web 2.0 sites, such as social media sites, offer SSO to improve their end-user experience. The login screen is the first interaction with users for most of these sites, so a user-friendly login process will improve customer satisfaction. Besides this, SSO tightened collaborations between partnering businesses.
Benefit to Users
With just a single login, users will spend less time visiting several applications. Without repeated logins, end-users will be happier and spend more time on meaningful work.
This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood single sign-on benefits. A common misconception is that using a single password for multiple applications weakens security. But we will soon learn that SSO improves security capabilities and compliance.
Benefit to Enterprises
As enterprise computing grows, so does the security risks. Most businesses today host a number of cloud and on-premise tools. Navigating and keeping track of data across these environments can get dicey quickly. Single sign-on solutions minimize these risks, as organizations can offload user identity data to their more secure third-party SSO platform.
Apart from improving enterprise security, SSO can also help with regulatory compliance. Most regulations, such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), require that organizations put in place adequate measures to protect user data.
In this chase, we can set up SSO as part of your IAM or identity and access management solutions, thus meeting requirements regarding data access. With SSO, businesses can manage user access at a more granular level.
Benefit to Users
Usernames and passwords are usually a target of fraudsters. Each time a user logs into a system, it is an opportunity for cybercriminals to hijack that information. In this case, SSO cuts down on the number of attractive surfaces, as users only have to log in once.
It is a sad reality that about 25% of employees in the US use the same password for all their accounts. So, if an attacker gets access to their credentials through a poorly secured app or websites, these criminals will be able to access other user accounts and wreak havoc. Such security lapses can be sealed by reducing logins to one set of username and password.
Actually, there are more advantages of SSO than we have listed here. Other notable benefits of single sign-on solutions are:
- They prevent shadow IT
- Improve software adoption rates
- Minimize password fatigue
Disadvantages of SSO
SSO Creates a Single Point of Failure
If SSO is down, it might break down access to all connected applications. That is why we emphasize on implementing a robust SSO system. Choose an SSO provider with contingency plans to address unstable connections.
SSO Can be Difficult to Implement
Implementing SSO might take a longer time to set up, as each environment is unique. It is important to consult all stakeholders to understand their different needs. It can also be challenging and even risky for multi-user environments. What happens when a specific user wants to use a machine that another user has already logged into?
Though rare, some SSO-linked sites might share user data with other unauthorized third-party entities. Besides this, all your linked accounts could be vulnerable to attack if an attacker breaches your identity.
Never compromise security
for convenience, choose both!
Bottom Line – Is SSO the End-all of Online Security Measures?
SSO is one of the best access management tools enterprises can use to limit security threats, tighten B2B collaboration, improve data compliance, reduce help desk costs, and boost productivity.
However, it is not a silver security bullet. As we touched on above, it is open to vulnerabilities. Thankfully, none of the above concerns is insurmountable.
Technology should make your life better. Simplifying logins with SSO will, therefore, improve user experience and relieve IT staff of mundane tasks. If you are considering implementing a new or upgraded SSO capability, be sure to engage Teamstack to help you weigh your options.