Single sign-on (SSO) solutions enable users to authenticate identity securely and seamlessly with multiple applications, using just one set of credentials. There are many benefits to implementing single sign-on: it is more secure than using multiple passwords to authenticate access, admins can more effectively control which accounts users have access to, and it makes managing credentials much easier for end-users.
Single sign-on solutions are delivered by identity providers, and work by building trusted relationships with third-party service providers to authenticate users across multiple accounts. When a user attempts to log into a service, the identity provider can be contacted to check if the user has been authenticated. If the users ID can be authenticated, the user is granted access with no further questions asked. If the user cannot be authenticated via the provider, they will need to authenticate access and login ––usually enforced with a secure method of authentication such as multi-factor authentication (MFA).
As an end-user, single sign-on means you only need to login once to access all of your applications and services. After logging in, you can access apps as normal within a browser session with data tokens used to carry your authenticated status across applications and services. Users no longer need to remember multiple accounts and passwords, and admins can manage user privileges more effectively to reduce scope for data breach and account compromise.
The single sign-on market has become competitive, with a number of identity providers offering SSO solutions. They are typically tightly integrated with comprehensive identity and access management platforms which also enforce multi-factor authentication, privileged access management, remote access controls, password management and other zero trust principles.
This guide will explore the top enterprise SSO providers and their wider identity platforms. We’ll consider their features, such as third-party integrations, identity management policies, authentication, and auditing, based on our own technical testing and customer feedback.
Single Sign-On: Everything You Need To Know (FAQs)
What Is Single Sign-On (SSO)?
Single sign-on enables users to access multiple applications and services with the use of a just a single set of login credentials, usually authenticated via multi-factor authentication to improve login security.
SSO is commonly used in enterprise environments because it improves both security and convenience for employees. Admins can more easily manage which applications users can access, and users no longer have to manage unique, secure passwords for each of their many different corporate accounts and resources.
SSO is often a component of a larger enterprise identity solution, including many of the services listed in the above article. These solutions are typically deployed in the cloud, or within an organization’s internal network and integrate with third-party services to enable seamless deployment across applications.
How Do Single Sign-On Solutions Work?
SSO solutions utilize a trusted relationship between an application and an identity provider. The identity provider authenticates a user, using a single set of credentials and usually requiring a two-factor authentication process. This generates a token, which is then shared with third-party applications.
This token tells the application that the user has been authenticated, and provisions access to the service. Once the user has been authenticated by the identity platform, it will facilitate seamless access with all third-party applications that are integrated with the identity provider.
The concept of a linked digital identity is known as federated identity. Federated identities can be linked across identity providers, making it easier for organizations to manage single sign-on deployments. For example, admins could provision SSO accounts leveraging existing user identities held in Azure Active Directory.
Why Is Single Sign-On Important?
Account takeover attacks rose by 307% between 2019 and 2021, and continue to increase today. Corporate accounts have access to hugely valuable corporate data, and the cost of stolen data can be crippling to organizations, especially for organizations that collect personal data on customers and users.
Single sign-on is an important step for organizations looking to secure authentication processes and prevent account takeover attempts. SSO enforces strong authentication workflows, including adaptive authentication policies and multi-factor authentication workflows, across all connected corporate accounts.
SSO applications also help end-users, who increasingly have to manage hundreds of different accounts and services. With SSO, users no longer need to manage and remember complex passwords, they simply need to remember one set of credentials to authenticate themselves with the identity provider.
What Features Should You Look For In A Single Sign-On Solution?
The core functionality of a SSO solution is to enable users to log in to all of their corporate devices and applications easily, using a single set of secure login credentials. There are several key features to look for in a single sign-on and identity management solution:
- Pre-built integrations: pre-built integrations ensure that you can deploy SSO across supported apps without needing to build and maintain connections yourself.
- Multi-factor authentication: MFA secures the initial login attempt. The best SSO solutions will support multiple authentication methods, including FIDO tokens, biometrics, OTPs, or hardware keys.
- Adaptive authentication: SSO solutions should automatically identify and block malicious login attempts, such as impossible superman logins, and enforce MFA on suspicious logins.
- Identity and access policies: Admins must be able to configure identity and access policies, including passwords, authentication workflows, and connected apps.
- Identity store integrations: SSO should pull identities from existing identity stores such as Azure Active Directory to provision users and pull existing login credentials.
- Lifecycle Management: Admins should be able to provision and deprovision accounts with automated workflows for new users and employees that leave the organization.
- Device Risk Profiling: Admins should be able to view device risk assessments based on suspicious login attempts. Some solutions will also support endpoint management functionality.
- Reporting: Admins should have access to comprehensive reports and analytics providing full context and visibility to authentication workflows. This supports compliance.
- Self-service credential management: Users should be able to manage their own credentials, MFA options, and password resets to save admins time.
How To Choose The Right Single Sign-On Solution?
Choosing the right SSO solution will come down to your organization’s and users’ unique requirements and use cases. Beyond this, there are many factors to consider. The solutions on this list often share many features, but each will have strengths and benefits suited to particular industries and organization-sizes.
Key questions to ask internally are:
- What level of security do you require for controlling access to corporate applications? Do you require a hardware token, or is an OTP enough to authenticate access?
- Are you looking for a custom solution for internal applications?
- Are there specific or niche features that you need, such as blocking logins from certain countries or devices?
- What multi-factor authentication solutions will your users support? Do they have personal smartphones to authenticate via biometrics, or is this against corporate policies?
Knowing the specific requirements of your organization when looking for a solution can help you to narrow down the options. As SSO is often delivered as part of a wider identity management solution, it is important to consider what other access management features your organization needs to secure users and meet compliance requirements.
What Are The Benefits Of Single Sign-On?
Single Sign-On provides a number of benefits to organizations. It improves account security, ease of management, and productivity for the end user. Other benefits of SSO include:
- Improves security by enforcing continuous multi-factor authentication
- Offers adaptive and secure password policies for the SSO workflow
- Prevents usage of weak passwords and shadow IT accounts which cannot be managed by IT teams
- Enables identity governance, giving admins more control over identities and access management policies
- Saves time for IT admins, improving onboarding/offboarding and automating key identity workflows
- End users can easily access all of their accounts from any device from the SSO portal, improving productivity and user experience
Is Single Sign-On Secure?
Single sign-on (SSO) provides a range of security benefits for both the organization and the end user. Compromised passwords are one of the most common causes of a data breach, with the average user having more passwords than they can reasonably be expected to remember or keep secure.
Single sign-on helps to avoid the security risks associated with weak passwords, as each account can have a complex secure password, frequently rotated, without the user needing to remember multiple passwords. This also improves usability for employees, who only need to authenticate once to have access to all of their applications and services. Coupled with robust MFA and conditional access policies, single sign-on can vastly improve the security of digital accounts.
Single sign-on can help organizations adhere to compliance regulations. These often recommend enforcing strong authentication policies to help reduce the risk of account compromise. Some also require that users are automatically logged out of secure devices when no longer needed – single sign-on can enable this feature.
Finally, single sign-on can help IT teams more effectively monitor and manage account access. They can configure policies as to how single sign-on works, assign access to different applications for different teams, and eliminate the need to deal with endless password reset requests.
Single sign-on can vastly improve your account security, ensuring that users do not have to worry about managing a different password for every account. Your industry may have specific challenges and use cases, but when implemented effectively, single sign-on can be a powerful security tool for reducing the risk of account compromise and improving usability for employees.