In today’s digital world, the number and variety of applications available continue to grow rapidly. With so many applications used by businesses, it can quickly become overwhelming to keep track of each set of login credentials used by employees, executives, and clients. Single sign-on (SSO) is a popular solution designed to create seamless access to numerous applications anywhere and on any device. This article will explore what an SSO is, common SSO examples, and the top benefits of implementing this authentication process in your organization.
What Is SSO?
Single sign-on (SSO) refers to an authentication process that enables users to log in to numerous independent applications with a single set of credentials. These credentials typically include a username and password but can also be alternative authentication methods, such as fingerprint scanning or one-time passwords (OTPs). SSO provides seamless functionality for users to access an entire suite of applications via a single login process, regardless of the platform, technology, or website used. For businesses and users that manage dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of online accounts and user data, this authentication strategy can help improve data security and user experiences and reduce IT costs.
There are two primary single sign-on versions, social SSO and enterprise SSO.
Common examples of social SSO include Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These major platforms are frequently found on sign-in or sign-up pages via ecommerce, media, and news websites. Google and Facebook use this authentication solution to quickly and securely identify and authenticate users. Generally, business-to-consumer (B2B) businesses primarily use SSO.
At enterprises, it’s normal for employees to use and access a wide range of applications, such as email applications, collaboration tools like G Suite or Microsoft 365, conferencing apps like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and HR apps like Paycom or Workday. Additionally, most employees utilize other role-specific applications, such as Salesforce CRM, HubSpot, or SEMrush. Indeed, these organizations can utilize an SSO system as part of an identity or access management (IAM) solution or use third-party vendors, such as Okta or OneLogin. By implementing an SSO solution, enterprises enable employees to use a single set of credentials to access their applications.
How Does SSO Work?
SSO consists of three main parties:
1. The service provider – The service provider (SP) provides IT solutions and services to users and businesses. For example, Amazon provides cloud services known as AWS, and Microsoft has email services called Outlook.
2. The user – The user is the individual who accesses services by entering login credentials necessary to authenticate themselves.
3. The identity provider – The identity provider is responsible for creating, managing, and authenticating users that try to access services provided by the SP.
An SSO system enables users to access a range of applications automatically. Indeed, this is less time-consuming than users remembering login credentials for every application. The following process illustrates a typical example of this SSO authentication flow:
1. A user opens an app or visits a website, where they see a login page across various applications and services if they are not currently signed into the app.
2. The user enters their SSO credentials and any additional authentication requirements based on the IT administrator’s authentication process.
3. If the credentials are valid, the user is successfully logged into the application.
4. When users select another application, they are automatically logged into it, even if it’s through a different website. The user will not be taken to another login page, nor will the login screen display if a user session has timed out, unlike a traditional login process.
Benefits of SSO
Instead of memorizing or writing down dozens of usernames and passwords for different applications, single sign-on can save users and businesses time, tech resources, and money spent finding credentials and resetting passwords.
Improves Work Productivity
It’s no surprise that a single point of access can save time and resources at work, which is a major perk of implementing this authentication into your organization’s existing environment. Indeed, businesses can use SSO to:
- Require fewer tech support calls – Users will be less likely to need assistance with accessing or remembering their credentials for different applications because they only need to remember one password with SSO.
- Boost user experience – Without needing to login to or reset passwords for every application, end users can enjoy saving anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds per login. When you think about how much time is spent using applications, this small-time saver adds up.
- Have fewer security risks – Employees can use their SSO login credentials via any device and browser to securely access their suite of applications.
While it may seem like an SSO solution will reduce security, this is far from true. Some argue this authentication strategy can make it easy for passwords to be stolen and thus compromise entire accounts and even organizations. However, SSO can help reduce password theft by only requiring users to remember a single set of credentials. With only one password to remember, users are more likely to create a more robust, more complex passphrase and will likely not write it down. This approach is more effective than users reusing the same easy-to-crack password (like 12345, password, and 12345678) for multiple accounts.
Reduces Password Fatigue
A common approach to preventing cybercrime requires unique passwords for each application, website, or third-party system. While this can help keep accounts secure, users have to remember several passwords for both personal and professional use cases. This leads to password fatigue, an issue that affects many online users in today’s digital age. In turn, this can harm a company’s bottom line because customers may have difficulty signing into their online accounts. If this happens, the customers may become frustrated and leave the site or application before making a purchase. Indeed, a single sign-on experience makes it easy for customers only to remember one password for all of a company’s applications.
Creates a Streamlined User Experience
Another benefit is improving the overall user experience. SSO replaces the need to log in to individual accounts each time repeatedly. Thus, customers can enjoy a streamlined experience that can lead to higher conversions and loyalty.
Prevents Shadow IT
Shadow IT refers to unauthorized downloads within an organization. SSO can help prevent this issue by enabling IT administrators to monitor which applications employees use. Further, it’s also easier for businesses to maintain compliance regulations within a single platform.
Drives Software Adoption Rates
If your login process is not user-friendly, this can deter customers from signing up with your software. SSO can help simplify users' often frustrating sign-up and repetitive login steps. Indeed, a simple and secure authentication solution will help increase the chances that customers will use your technology and remain loyal to your product or services.
Did you know SSO uses tokens to work? Single sign-on tokens contain collections of information sent from one system to another during the SSO process. These tokens must be digitally signed for the recipient to confirm that the token is from a trusted source. Indeed, the certificate used as the digital signature is exchanged during the authentication process.
Add Tokenization to Your SSO Solution
For additional security, consider using multi-factor authentication (MFA) for specific applications or websites requiring more security measures. Tokenization is another solution that can tokenize any structured data element by replacing the original data with randomly generated numbers called tokens. If a breach impacts a company, cybercriminals will only find tokens that are useless without the corresponding sensitive data. Contact TokenEx today, a leading cloud-based tokenization platform, to learn how we can help protect your most sensitive data, maintain critical business utility, and scale your business.