If your enterprise or organization is looking into password security and website authentication, you might be well aware of the challenges passwords cause.
In most cases, passwords are the only things protecting our private information online, and unfortunately, if you and your users aren’t using strong credentials, there’s a high chance that your information could be compromised.
In fact, many security experts say that passwords are becoming obsolete because they lack the convenience and security we need.
As a result, you’ve probably started searching for alternative methods to help keep your information secure in an attempt to phaseout troublesome passwords. In your search you may have come across the term SSO authentication, also known as single-sign-on authentication.
But what exactly is SSO authentication? How does it work? And how can your organization use it?
If you’ve asked these questions, you’re in the right place! This article will take you through the ins and outs of SSO authentication to help determine if it’s the right next move for your organization.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The SSO authentication definition
- Steps in the SSO authentication process
- Benefits of SSO authentication
- How businesses and nonprofits can use SSO authentication
Now let’s jump into the first section: defining SSO authentication!
Before we can explain SSO authentication, it’s important to understand how website authentication normally works. Authentication is the process that verifies a user’s identity.
You want to log into your online banking account. When you land on the page, you type in your credentials on the login screen. If your username and password are correct, in just a few seconds you’ll have access to your account.
While it’s a simple process, a lot is going on behind the scenes:
- The system must compare your credentials with all the data on file in the authentication database until it finds a match.
- When a match is found, the information and permissions linked to your account are sent back to the website granting you access to your account.
Perhaps your bank has a financial management tool that’s located on a different domain. If you wanted to access that account, you’d have to complete the login process again (often using a different set of credentials).
As you can see, this just adds to the number of passwords a user has to keep up with, and more passwords can lead to weaker credentials. Plus, it’s not user-friendly if people have to complete the login (and authentication) process multiple times.
SSO authentication creates a centralized login system.
To put it simply, SSO authentication allows users to sign in once to access accounts, services, or products on multiple domains.
A prime example of this type of authentication is when a user logs into their Gmail account. Once the login process is complete, users not only have access to their email but also their YouTube account, Google Drive, and much more. Even though these products and services are located on different domains, the user doesn’t have to complete the login process twice.
To sum it up: SSO authentication is a process that allows users to gain access to multiple domains without needing to enter their credentials again. This allows users to maintain one account verses many.
Now that you understand what SSO authentication does you’re probably wondering how it works. Take a look at this image, to see how the traditional login process works:
When a user logs into a website their credentials are stored in a local operating system or authentication server. If a user attempts to access her account on a different domain (even if the two websites store information on the same server), the individual has to log in again.
You might be wondering why the data stored from Domain 1 can’t be shared with Domain 2, but because of the same origin policy, information can only be accessed by the domain that originally stored or requested the data.
SSO authentication creates a centralized domain that can access the information and send it to separate domains.
Here is the SSO authentication process detailed in 5 steps:
- User lands on Domain 1 and is redirected to the SSO Domain. When the user attempts to log in, they’ll immediately be redirected to the SSO Domain where they will enter their credentials.
- User’s credentials are authenticated by the SSO Domain. The SSO Domain will access the centralized server which contains the credentials for every authorized user and compare the credentials sent with all the passwords on file until it finds a match.
- SSO Domain approves the login attempt and sends a token to Domain 1. Once a match has been found, the system creates a unique token for the user. This token replaces the user’s username and password, so when the user is directed back to Domain 1, they have access to their account.
- Token is used to authenticate user on Domain 1. The token is used to grant the user access to their account on Domain 1.
- Token is stored in the centralized authentication server. The token is stored in the centralized server and can be used again to grant access to Domain 1.
If the user wants to log into Domain 2 the same process will apply, but since all login attempts are made on the SSO Domain, the user doesn’t need an additional set of credentials to log in.
To sum it up: SSO authentication uses a centralized domain that verifies the users’s credentials and sends a token to the correct website to authenticate the account.
As we’ve mentioned before, SSO authentication improves the user’s experience because it removes the need for multiple accounts and passwords. But this process can be even more beneficial for corporations and their internal accounts.
Employees are likely managing several different accounts—email, project management, payroll/HR, computer login, etc.—on a daily basis. Using SSO authentication improves your organization’s productivity and security.
Think about all the time your employees could save if they only had to log in once and still have access to all the programs and software they need.
Additionally, this reduces the number of passwords an employee needs to manage, which can improve your overall password security.
A common challenge that many users face is the sheer number of passwords they have to remember. As a result, users are more likely to create easy-to-remember credentials or passwords that are very similar to each other. This makes our passwords weak, causing the accounts connected to them to be more susceptible to attacks from cybercriminals.
If a hacker gains access to one of your employee’s email accounts, for example, they can do a lot of damage to your website, leaving your company at risk.
Another advantage of SSO authentication is that it can lead to more collaboration between businesses. In fact, many organizations are using SSO authentication and token-based authentication to improve their user’s login experience.
For instance, some websites give users the option to log in with their Facebook or Twitter accounts. This authentication method, called OAuth, works in a similar way to SSO authentication.
With more collaborations like this, users can limit the number of accounts they have to manage so that they can focus on creating one strong password.
To sum it up: SSO authentication can be used by both users and employees as a way to consolidate their accounts and make the login process more user-friendly.
The beauty of SSO authentication is that it can be used for any type of account. Businesses and nonprofits can use SSO authentication for:
- Donation forms
- E-commerce sites
- Billing or banking accounts
- Online products and services
- Virtual communities
Essentially, SSO authentication can be used for everything that is protected behind a login screen!
Some organizations are even taking concepts from SSO authentication to new heights, like our services here at Swoop.
The challenge with SSO authentication is that users still have to create an account with a username and password in order to access any of the connected domains.
With Swoop’s services, users can skip this step and simply sign on with the click of a button in a process known as email authentication.
Our technology works like this:
- When users wish to enter their account, make a payment, or donate, they just need to click the “Login” or “Pay Now” button. This action triggers a mailto link that will direct them to their primary email account and a pre-written message.
- A unique code in each email known as DKIM acts as your login credentials. This unique signature allows Swoop to see that the request originated from you and not a hacker.
- In the email, it will ask users to press “Send” in order to confirm their transaction or log into their account.
It’s that simple! Users can remove passwords from the equation so they can access their account and make online transactions in no time at all.
To sum it up: SSO authentication has a few key flaws that might leave your nonprofit worried about security. Using a secure method like email authentication allows your users to access their accounts with the click of a button.
Hopefully, this guide has explained how SSO authentication works and the ways your business or nonprofit can use it to improve security, user experience, and account management.
For more useful articles on website authentication and password security, check out these additional resources:
- 7 Ways to Create a Modern Password and Username Login Process: Looking for more ways you can improve your users’ experience? Get our 7 tips to make the login process quick, simple, and—most importantly—secure.
- What Is OAuth? | Learning the Basics of Open Authorization: Organizations that are interested in collaborating with third-party services, like social media sites, this article is for you! Learn everything you need to know about offering SSO authentication on sites your organization doesn’t own, otherwise known open authentication.
- Password Alternatives for Nonprofits and Businesses: If you want additional ways you can remove passwords from the login process, check out our list of password alternatives. You’re bound to find a solution that works for your organization!
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