Breaking Down Single Sign-On

Updated on January 21, 2022

If you are part of the IT field, you probably know about IAM. It stands for identity and access management. Single sign-on, which many in IT abbreviate as SSO, is a significant part of that.

If you’re doing IT for a company, you’ll have to consider whether or not to use the SSO system. There are definitely some SSO cons and pros, and we’ll talk about them in a detailed concept breakdown right now.

Understanding Single Sign-On

Before we get into whether or not a business entity might want to use single sign-on, we should make sure anyone reading this understands precisely what it means. You might use single sign-on for many things, but let’s say you’re using it for your company’s app.

You could consider this first-generation Identity-as-a-Service, or IDaaS. In this context, you would want single sign-on to use SAML, or Security Assertion Markup Language. It is a way to verify access to your web application via a core identity provider, which you could also describe as a directory service.

Such a provider is usually an application you get from the web that comes in the popular “as-a-service” model. In other words, you’re using a traditional single sign-on model that allows all of your users to connect each one of their web apps using only one credential set. This will save them a lot of time, which is a huge reason why single sign-on has become so popular among so many niches and industries.

Why Use Single Sign-On for Apps?

Now that you understand single sign-on for apps, let’s talk about some of the main reasons your company may want to implement it. It can simplify your password management quite a bit. For some companies, that fact alone might be enough for you to go with this model.

Managing user passwords is tedious, to say the least. With some web app SSO solutions, the end-user does not need a password when they want to log into an application. If an IT admin implements SSO, that allows them to check all users at the identity provider level. They will simply do this by using a core directory service.

SSO and core identity technology go hand in hand. If your company uses third-party web apps, as so many do these days, you can use SSO and core identity and feel confident no one unauthorized can access your network.

Are There Any Other Reasons to Use SSO?

Better security is the other reason why SSO is so popular now. If you go with this model, you don’t need to issue each person using your apps and network a ton of different passwords they will have to remember. That means there is less of a chance of a vector attack.

Your partners and customers will appreciate this. They should have no issue trusting you and using your app. If you layer multi-factor authentication on top of SSO, you get a robust security system that’s very difficult to penetrate.

Your admins can also change or view access levels at any time. If you ever have to get rid of an employee and you’re worried they might access your app and wreak havoc, this takes away that possibility, provided your admins remove their access expediently.

What About Reasons Not to Utilize SSO?

Some reasons not to use SSO do exist. Probably cost is the biggest and most prominent one. If you choose to set a company up with single sign-on, you should know that can get costly very quickly.

If you have a larger company with many facets, SSO is probably going to be for you. If you’re running a smaller company without that much of an IT budget, you may need to go with another system. The SSO cost for a smaller business entity might break the bank, especially if you’re trying to establish yourself in a competitive market and stretching every dollar.

App-Based Limitations

Another reason why SSO might not work so well for your company is that SSO is just one part of IAM. IAM is an enormous field that covers all kinds of subcategories or subtopics.

As an IT admin, you will probably need all kinds of IAM solutions, especially if your company has a significant online presence. You may decide that you want to utilize SSO for your apps, but that is not likely to cover every other IAM aspect that you’ll need to consider.

A complete IAM solution might include SSO, but you may not be able to limit yourself to it. Your workers will still likely need to access file servers, Wi-Fi networks, server infrastructure, on-prem applications, and many more. SSO limited to web apps will not help you with any of those other IT resources.

Deciding Whether to Use SSO or Not

Whether you will decide to use SSO for your company or not will probably come down to what kind of business you’re running. If you don’t work in IT, or you don’t know that much about it, you’ll need to meet with your IT staff and ask them whether they think investing in SSO is worth it. If you don’t have full-time IT staff members, you might need to bring in a consultant on a part-time basis.

Your business entity’s size and how many IT resources you have and need will likely play a huge part as you try to decide whether to go with the SSO model. If you have many more IT resources, like some of the ones we listed, you might use SSO, but you’ll also need additional IAM layers that you can adapt for your other resources besides web apps.

Remember that if you decide not to use single sign-on at one point, such as when you are getting a company off the ground, that does not preclude the possibility of installing it later. If your company grows and starts to use more complex IT resources, you might revisit the idea and install an SSO system later.

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