What is SSO: How it Works for Your Business & What to Look for in a Single Sign-On Provider

When you have multiple accounts with different websites, google, or social media accounts, keeping track of all these logins can be a hassle.

You might be forced to write down passwords or sign in and out repeatedly.

Using the same password across all these services also becomes dangerous if one of them gets hacked.

Many companies have started implementing single sign-on (SSO) solutions for their customers to resolve this problem.

But what exactly does a single sign-on do, and what are its advantages over password management apps?

This article explains what is SSO, the benefits it can bring your business, and what you should look for when choosing an SSO provider.

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What is a Single Sign On (SSO)?

An SSO is a type of authentication that allows users to log in once and be automatically authenticated from all the sites or applications they are registered for.

It enables users to sign into a website or application using another account from another service as their identity provider.

With the many services organizations offer today, SSO has become an essential tool in creating streamlined workflows and reducing the time your team spends working on projects and providing customer service.

You need to provide your credentials once to access all your registered apps or websites.

How Does an SSO Work?

When a browser requests a login page from a website, the browser automatically sends the user's credentials to the service to verify their identity.

If the credentials match those of the account holder, the login is successful.

Suppose a user signs into multiple sites with the same credentials; they will be presented with a single login screen. This makes it easier for users to track different logins and reduces the risk of unauthorized access.

Many SSO systems are implemented through third-party services, such as Google’s OAuth2 protocol.

For example, Google uses OAuth2 to allow users to sign in to Gmail and other Google products using their existing Google account credentials.

A single sign-on solution can easily integrate with various online services such as email, social media, and cloud storage, making signing in easier.

This way, SSO can be used to increase security by eliminating the need for users to re-enter their credentials on each site.

3 Components of an SSO Solution

There are three primary components to an SSO solution: an identity provider (IdP), service providers (SP), and a user agent.

  1. The IdP is responsible for authenticating the user and issuing them an assertion, which is then sent to the SP.
  2. The SP verifies the report and allows the user access to the requested resource.
  3. The user agent is typically a web browser but can also be an application that provides single sign-on capabilities.

SSO vs. Password Management Apps: Which is Better?

Businesses have two main options when managing passwords: single sign-on (SSO) or password management apps.

The big difference between an SSO and a password management app is that in the former, you only have one set of user credentials that you use everywhere.

Meanwhile, you have different credentials per application or website in the latter.

Both have their pros and cons, but which is better for businesses?

Here's how an SSO stacks up against password management apps:

  • Security: The biggest strength of SSO is that it's more secure than traditional password management apps. If you're using a third-party app to store your passwords, they can be easily hacked and
  • Cost: Another benefit of using an effective single sign-on software (SSO) solution is that it costs less than other options like Microsoft Azure Active Directory Passport and Okta. These solutions require expensive licenses for each user and can cost thousands per year in maintenance fees alone. By contrast, most companies opt for free versions of SSO solutions when starting—which means no additional costs as you scale up over time.
  • Size: SSO is the right choice for you if you have many users needing to access sensitive information.

However, a password manager app may be more suitable if you work with a small team or if all your employees already have their logins.

Password managers also offer some flexibility with their pricing models.

These tools don't require an enterprise license or yearly maintenance fees. Instead, they can be purchased on a per-use basis.

But remember that these prices may vary depending on how many different platforms and devices you need access to and if you don't have unlimited licenses available in your company.

What are the Different Types of SSO?

Even though there are different types of SSO, they all share the same core concept: a single login to access multiple apps.

Let's take a look at some standard SSO methods and what they mean for your business:

Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS)

ADFS is an extensible platform that can be used for both internal and external users. It gives you granular control over user access by allowing you to create specific access rules based on location or device type.

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML)

SAML is an open standard developed by OASIS and adopted by many organizations as their primary authentication protocol for web applications like Salesforce and Workday.

OAuth

OAuth is a newer option that works similarly but has less flexibility than SAML SSO.

However, this can be an advantage if certain restrictions apply to your organization, such as budget constraints or lack of technical expertise needed to implement solutions.

OpenID

OpenID is a relatively new protocol that has been gaining popularity because it's supported by many major websites such as Google and Facebook.

This single sign-on solution allows users who have already authenticated with their existing network provider (e.g., Microsoft Exchange Server) or identity provider (iTunes). The user doesn’t have to reauthenticate when accessing resources from another provider (e.g., Google).

FIDO

The FIDO Alliance is a group of companies that have banded together to make it easier for users to authenticate across multiple devices. This alliance includes major players such as Google, Microsoft, PayPal, and Yubico.

System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM)

SCIM is an open standard for securely exchanging user data between identity providers and other systems that use different protocols or are not federated.

Businesses use it primarily to enable employees from different organizations to access their company's resources remotely.

What are the Benefits of Using SSO?

Single sign-on systems are a great way to streamline access and reduce your IT team's time managing logins.

There are several benefits to using an SSO solution:

  • You only have to remember one set of login credentials.
  • It can increase security by eliminating the need to store multiple sensitive data sets.
  • SSO can boost productivity by reducing the time spent logging in and out of different applications.
  • The system can improve the user experience by providing seamless access to all the needed applications.
  • With SSO, you can save money for your business by reducing the number of help desk calls and increasing employee satisfaction.
  • It can track and manage user activity across all your applications.
  • SSO providers offer a variety of features and integrations that can be tailored to fit your specific needs.
  • It also helps reduce the risk of account hijacking because it eliminates the possibility of a malicious third-party obtaining authentication information.

An SSO can also be beneficial for the following:

  • End users get quick access to apps with less hassle. There's nothing worse than creating multiple accounts to use different applications on the same website. You can access all your services in one place with a single sign-on.
  • IT teams can focus their efforts elsewhere. SSO providers handle the more tedious tasks like managing logins and passwords, so they have more free time to focus on projects that will benefit their organization in other ways.
  • Businesses save money by reducing IT costs and cybersecurity risks associated with duplicate passwords or forgotten credentials.

6 Things to Look for When Choosing an SSO Provider

When choosing an SSO provider, the most crucial thing is to ensure they have security measures in place that protect your data and only allow access by employees to whom the business owner has granted permission.

They should also offer support for mobile applications, which can be accessed by remote employees, partners, and customers.

The best SSOs combine strong authentication with robust user management features. For example, they can track which accounts a user is accessing and automatically sign them in if they’re already logged in elsewhere. Users can stay logged in if they're traveling or switching between computers.

Other key aspects include their reporting capabilities and ability to integrate with third-party apps such as Google Drive or Salesforce CRM software.

Another consideration is when the company provides additional services like single sign-on integration with an external network (like Dropbox) so that users don't need separate logins for each one of them individually. This feature will save time during the login process, especially if multiple systems are involved.

What is SSO: Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a way to simplify your IT infrastructure and make it more secure, SSO is the right choice.

It can save your organization time and money by eliminating password management software while improving user experience and streamlining user authentication.

With SSO in place, IT teams have fewer passwords to manage, and end users have one less thing to remember when they log into their accounts.

Plus, businesses benefit from reduced risk of data breaches due to password reuse on multiple sites or weak passwords being cracked by hackers who use brute force attacks against them.

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