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When it comes to understanding what SAML is and how it works, there is always a huge knowledge gap in IT companies. Most network administrators and IT experts know the traditional network-based authentication protocols like LDAP, SSH, and RADIUS.

The use of SAML in companies will increase as the shift to cloud-based products and services becomes the new norm.

In this blog post, you will learn more about what SAML is and how it works.

What is SAML?

SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) is simply a standard way of telling external systems and services that users are simply who they claim to be.

In simple terms, SAML makes SSO (Single Sign-on) technology possible by offering a simple way to validate a user once and then use that validation on multiple systems.

You can think of SAML validation as being like a typical identification card: a precise, uniform way of showing who a user is. Thus, as opposed to performing multiple tests to authorize a user’s identity, it’s possible to look at their identity card.

One of the problems in networking and computing is getting devices and systems designed by different manufacturers for different resolves to work together.

We call this feature, ‘interoperability”, or the capability for several machines to interact with one another regardless of their different technical specifications.

What is SSO?

SSO or Single sign-on, is a way to authenticate users for several systems and services concurrently.

With SSO, users can sign into one login screen and then use several systems. In this case, users don’t necessarily have to confirm their identity with every system they use.

To achieve this, the SSO app needs to communicate with each external application to inform them that they are logged in. Here is where SAML comes in handy.

What is the Use of SAML?

Security Assertion Markup Language or SAML streamlines federated authorization and authentication processes for users, service providers, and identity providers.

This offers a solution to let your service provider and identity provider exist individually. In this case, it offers access to SaaS (Software as a Service) systems and centralizes user management.

Additionally, it implements a safe method to pass user authorizations and authentications between the service providers and identity providers.

For instance, whenever you log in to a SAML-enabled system, the service provider usually requests authorization from the correct identity provider.

Generally, the identity provider validates the user’s credentials and then returns the user’s authorization to the service provider. With this, the user can use the system.

As you can see, SAML authentication is a simple process of authenticating users’ credentials (2-factor authentication, password, etc.). It informs the service provider more about the access that the user needs to get.

Who Needs SAML?

Any organization that is managing users’ access to cloud applications and wants to handle it in a secure, scalable, and efficient manner can benefit from using SAML.

If it sounds like all IT organizations, well, probably that’s the scenario. For many years now, web applications have been prevalent. There are perhaps very few companies not using them in one way or the other.

If your IT infrastructure were a physical space, we can comfortably say that SAML-based identity federation offers you an easy movement.

Instead of your staff using one badge to access the main building, another to access your office, another to access the conference room, and another to access the canteen, etc., a single set of credentials guarantees continuous, smooth access.

How does SAML Work?

SAML functions by transferring your identity from one place (the identity provider) to another (service provider).

Usually, this is accomplished via a digitally signed XML (Extensible Markup Language) documents.

Think of this scenario: first, a user signs in to an application that acts as an identity provider.

Next, the user wants to sign into a remote system, like an accounting or support system (the service provider). Here is what happens behind the scene:

  • The user accesses the remote app either via a bookmark or intranet, and then the system loads.
  • The system recognizes the user’s origin by user IP address or application subdomain and then redirects the user back to the IP (Identity Provider), requesting validation. This is an authentication request.
  • If the user does not have existing active browser sessions with the IP, they can initiate one by signing into the IP (Identity Provider).
  • The identity provider creates an authentication response via an XML document that comprises a user’s username or valid email address.
  • It then signs it using an X.509 certificate and finally posts it to the SP (service provider).
  • Since the service provider already recognizes the identity provider and comes with a certificate fingerprint, it retrieves the SAML authentication response and then authorizes it via the certificate fingerprint.
  • The user’s identity is established, and only then can be granted to access the app.

What are the Benefits of SAML?

Improved Security

First, SAML offers a central point of authentication at a safe identity provider.

Secondly, it moves the identity info to the service providers. This means that this type of authentication guarantees to send the credentials directly to the identity provider.

Enhanced User Experience

As a user, you only need to sign in once to gain entry to multiple service providers. Generally, this ensures a quick validation process and little expectation of the user to remember multiple apps’ login credentials.

For instance, you may simply need to click on a single icon on the dashboard and then log in to the system without necessarily remembering your credentials!

Standardization

SAML standardized format is typically made to interoperate with any software.

With this, it provides a more open approach to identity federation and architecture without the interoperability problems linked to vendor-specific approaches.

Centralized User Access Control

First, a single registry of user authorizations with a centralized management interface enables an easy and quick user provisioning and deactivation.

Secondly, with Security Assertion Markup Language, users are created and updated during the login process using the info offered by the SAML identity provider.

Thus, there is no need to have LDAP or JIRA directory to centralize user management.

Lowered Costs for the Service Providers

With Security Assertion Markup Language, your organization does not need to maintain account info across several services. Generally, the identity provider handles this load.

Loose Coupling of Directories

Security Assertion Markup Language does not need user info to be synchronized and maintained between directories.

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Bottomline

With the info above, you can see that SAML is part and parcel of any organization. It does not matter whether you need to provide it as a service to your clients or as an app to your staffs, Security Assertion Markup Language is typically a versatile and independent operating system.

Therefore, you’ll always have all the probable user access under your watch.

Why Teamstack’s SAMLs Services?

If you are searching for the best SAMLs services out there, look no more, because we got your back. Our streamlined interface is simple and easy to use.

Basically, with a single tap, you can easily personalize multiple provisioning, SAML-powered password-free logins and authentication factors.

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