The technology world is full of jargon and acronyms and funny words. In this Tech Speak series, we try to explain these in simple terms as well as provide additional information if you want to go deeper.

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Term: Single Sign-On

Acronym: SSO

Oneliner: Single Sign-On (SSO) is an authentication process that allows people to access multiple systems with one log-in for a better user experience and enhanced security.

Short description: Single Sign-On (SSO) is an authentication service that allows people to use one log-in, such as a username and password, to access multiple applications or systems. By simplifying the login process, SSO improves user experience and minimizes password fatigue. Additionally, Single Sign-On improves security by allowing organizations to centrally manage authentication policies, which can reduce the risk of password-related breaches.

Analogy: Imagine you bought an old mansion that has locks on the doors for all its rooms. You can think of SSO being like having a master key that works for all the doors, so you don’t need to use each individual key to get in. This makes access easier, and now you don’t need to carry all the individual keys around with you.

Example SSO solutions: JumpCloud SSO, Microsoft Extra ID, Ping Identity

Example use case: Imagine a corporation with many internal and external online applications and services. By implementing Single Sign-On (SSO), the company’s employees can log in once and access everything without having to log into each system separately. SSO streamlines their workflow and also improves security by minimizing the number of passwords employees need to manage.

Why use Single-Sign-On?

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By implementing Single Sign-On, websites and applications can provide a more secure, user-friendly, and efficient online experience. Here are some benefits of using SSO:

Better User Experience (UX): Users can access multiple systems with one log-in which reduces “password fatigue”. New users can get started faster by leveraging existing authentication such as Google or Facebook which lowers the barrier for signing up. When leveraging multiple services, SSO enables smoother transitions between these systems for greater user satisfaction.

Enhanced Security: With only one login to manage, users are less likely to use poor security practices. Important security policies, like password strength rules or multi-factor authentication (MFA), can be enforced more consistently using centralized management. And, having a single point of control makes it easier to monitor suspicious activities and respond to security incidents.

Lower IT Costs: With SSO, managing user access becomes more straightforward since it centralizes account processes. Users should have fewer password reset requests and login issues, allowing your team to focus on more critical tasks. And, as your organization evolves, integrating new applications and services becomes easier with an SSO framework already in place.

Data Privacy and Compliance: Single Sign-On solutions can be configured to share only necessary information to better protect user privacy and comply with data protection standards. With centralized control over access, compliance with various regulations such as HIPAA and GDPR can be more manageable.

Types of Single Sign-On approaches

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To keep things simple, we won’t go into the technical details of Single Sign-On. But, it’s interesting to know that there are many types of SSO implementations including:

Enterprise SSO (ESSO): ESSO solutions are designed for corporate environments where users access multiple internal systems and applications.

Federated SSO (FSSO): FSSO allows users to access multiple applications using a single login across different domains such as cloud services, external web applications, and partner websites.

Mobile SSO: Just like it sounds, Mobile SSO is for mobile devices and provides a streamlined authentication experience across mobile apps and websites.

Smart Card and Biometric SSO: For highly secure environments, organizations may use smart cards or biometric verification such as fingerprints or facial recognition as the authentication method.

Social SSO: Something that you are likely familiar with, websites and applications can use Social SSO to allow users to log in to using their existing social media accounts such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter.

These implementations may use OAuth (Open Authorization), OpenID Connect (OIDC), SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language), access tokens, smart card authentication, or biometric authentication.

Popular Single Sign-On solutions

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There are a huge number of Single Sign-On (SSO) solutions to choose from depending on your needs. Here are some popular ones:

Single Sign-On Resources

Learn more about SSO and related concepts by checking out these resources:

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