Single Sign-On and Multi-Factor Authentication Demystified

With an increased number of companies working remotely and employees needing to access information from multiple applications, security is more important than ever. In this article, we’ll go over single sign-on and multi-factor authentication as solutions to help you with identity and access management.

The simple combination of a user ID and password that is the foundation of many organizations’ user authentication is no longer good enough to prevent data loss or exposure. In 2017 OWASP, published the Top 10 Web Application Security Risks. Number two on that list was Broken Authentication. In short, Broken Authentication allows harmful individuals to compromise user credentials to gain access to an organization’s most vulnerable data.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, an agile and reliable security framework that considers the needs of the organization and the employee, while removing user friction for simple tasks, has become more necessary. This is especially true in response to the current world events that have shifted a large number of corporate resources to a remote office. Enter single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA).

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Individually or coupled, SSO and MFA can be considered pieces of your organization’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) framework that manages digital identities and user access to data, systems, and resources within an organization.

Single Sign-On (SSO)

  • What is SSO?

    An identification technology that offers users the ability to log in once, with a single set of credentials that grants them access to all applications, data, and websites that the user object is configured for.

  • How is it used?

    Single sign-on relies on federated identity—the sharing of identity attributes across systems that are trusted, but otherwise autonomous. When you’re trusted by one system, you’re allowed access to all other systems that have a trusted relationship with that particular one. This removes the need for shuffling passwords between systems.

  • Why is it important?

    SSO eliminates password fatigue, removes user friction by simplifying user authentication management, improves identity protection, increases speed to access, reduces help desk workload, and reduces security risks for customers, vendors, and partner entities.​

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

  • What is MFA?

    Enhanced security that verifies the user’s identity before granting them access and is most often presented as a combination of what you know, what you have, and what you are.

  • How is it used?

    Implemented so users authenticate into both SaaS apps and on-prem legacy apps, VPNs, etc. This safeguards credentials and protects your users against social engineering and brute force attacks such as phishing, spear phishing, password spray, and credential stuffing.

  • Why is it important?

    MFA proactively neutralizes risk associated with compromised passwords and is a proven way to lessen the likelihood of a data breach. According to studies published by Google in May of 2019, MFA helped prevent 100% of automated bots, 96% of bulk phishing attacks, and 76% of targeted attacks on their systems.

single sign on multi factor authentication

A big problem with cybersecurity now is the tendency for companies to rely on yesterday’s solutions based on yesterday’s realities. But the world—and the workforce—is changing, becoming more fluid and interdependent. For IT security teams to stay on top of cybersecurity, they should turn to solutions that don’t hide from this reality but recognize it. Each organization has its own requirements for authentication and authorization. Choose the solution that best fits the security requirements of your business.

Our Identity Management partner, Okta, is a leader in Identity-as-a-Service that offers single sign-on and multi-factor authentication solutions to help organizations achieve their security and compliance requirements.

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