User Management

All You Need to Know About Cross-Domain Identity Management (SCIM)

B2B ecosystems are becoming increasingly complex. System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM), a set of application-level protocols, is helping securely manage and communicate user data across multiple domains. SCIM clients can be integrated to manage CRUD (create, replace, update, delete) operations, apply queries and filters, create user groups within your organization, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about this key SaaS component.

What is SCIM?

System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM), is an open standard that allows you to manage user identities by automating provisioning and deprovisioning processes. By clearly defining client (usually the IdP) and server roles, it allows secure communication between them. SCIM also allows you to automate user lifecycle management and maintain user accounts across platforms. 

Why is user lifecycle management so important?  This is because of the complexity that this introduces. Hiring the right people is great, but the businesses also need to provision the right SaaS apps that they need to succeed in their jobs. This needs to be done while adhering to security policies, applying periodic patches, and updating accounts as they progress. But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to user lifecycle management.

Revoking access is also needed when they leave their organization or when they move to another position or geolocation. You probably have many freelancers and third-parties that need to be taken care of as well. When done manually, this causes a lot of overhead and error risks.

That’s not all. When a company starts scaling up, so does the number of provisioned SaaS apps and user accounts. IT teams soon start feeling the heat – password resets, adding and removing users, modifying permissions, and adding new types of roles all take up valuable time. There is also more stress on support teams, not to mention the distracted developers who can’t focus on their core tasks.

With the SCIM protocol in place, employees don’t have to individually sign into all of the accounts. Because all user data is stored in a consistent way and transferred automatically, it can be shared with different SaaS apps. That said, complex exchanges are simplified and the risk of error is reduced significantly. Implementing SCIM improves your overall security posture and reduces the attack surface. Furthermore, as the various teams in your organization enforce new workflows and add new SaaS apps to their toolkits, you can still make sure that there are no data privacy loopholes and ensure that data privacy is still being prioritized.

More than 90% of cloud identities use just 5% of the permissions that they’ve been given. This is a big challenge for security teams and IT departments, regardless of the industry and geolocation of the business. Hackers are everywhere.

How Does SCIM Work?

As mentioned earlier, the client is usually an Identity Provider (IdP) that handles all user IDs. There’s also the Service Provider (SP), usually a SaaS application that requires information subsets from the identities stored in the IdP.  Changes in the IdP automatically trigger new SCIM integrations. All changes automatically sync to the service provider as per the SCIM protocol. The identity provider is also able to read IDs from the service provider which it can then add to its directory, while also picking up any incorrect values in the service provider that could create new vulnerabilities and security loopholes. End users can have smooth and continuous access to apps that have been assigned to them. Here are some key SCIM components you should be familiar with:

The SCIM Protocol

A SCIM protocol is a HTTP-based application-level protocol that provisions and manages ID data both on the web and in cross-domain environments like inter-cloud scenarios or enterprise-to-cloud service providers. There are many ways to authenticate and authorize users with the SCIM protocol – Bearer Tokens, PoP Token, HOBA Authentication, TLS Client Authentication. Transport Layer Security (TLS) is used to encrypt data for added safety.


The SCIM Rest API supports actions like patching specific attributes or making bulk updates. Admins can also use Response functions to create a complete User resource. SCIM provides three endpoints, all supporting specific attribute details:

  • GET /Schemas – Introspect attribute extensions and resources
  • GET /ServiceProviderConfig – Spec compliance, authentication schemes
  • GET /ResourceTypes – Endpoint used to discover available resource types

Once you have implemented RESTful SCIM APIs for the application that is being used, you can make use of the specific calls based on your specific use cases and requirements. Here are just a few of the calls that you can use as per your needs: Create User, Get User by ID, Update User, Get User with “User Name” filter, Delete User, Get Users, Create Group, Get Groups, Patch Group. 

SCIM Provisioning

In simple words, provisioning is like “saving a seat” for a user in a platform, while handling updates or deletions, also known as de-provisioning. SCIM provisioning eliminates the friction that admins often face while provisioning user accounts in SaaS applications. Things get even more challenging while having to manage, modify, or remove them. SCIM solves this issue by automating the account creation and deleting processes. Furthermore, it also becomes much easier to sync between SaaS applications and their core directory.

How does the SCIM provisioning specification operate? It uses HTTP request methods like POST, GET, DELETE, and more. Everything is done by using one specific programming language. This allows the smooth management of data throughout the entirety of the identity’s life cycle. 

Identity resources like groups and users are referred to as SCIM endpoints. Once the company defines them and sets them up, admins can start inputting and encoding ID data items like usernames, addresses, and other vital information. All SCIM objects then start operating inside a joint core schema that in turn exchanges with various domains and cloud applications as required.

SCIM Enabled API Examples

  • Azure SCIM API – Here, the SCIM 2.0 protocol is used for automatic provisioning. It connects to the SCIM endpoint and uses the SCIM user object schema along with REST APIs to automate provisioning and deprovisioning.
  • GitHub SCIM API – This API is used by SCIM-enabled IdPs for the automatic provisioning of GitHub membership. The GitHub SCIM endpoint that IdPs must use is attached.

You can read the IETF documentation to understand how complicated things can become when done manually. Learn how these technicalities can be bypassed with a user management platform that has built-in SCIM capabilities. 

Benefits of SCIM

System for Cross-domain Identity Management makes cross-domain identity management much more effective, smooth, and secure. Here are some benefits companies can see after implementing SCIM.

  1. Automation of Mundane IT Tasks
    Provisioning accounts? Making new connections? Need to synchronize groups and permissions from the database? SCIM automates everything and allows IT teams to focus on more important tasks, while also reducing cross-department friction.
  1. Smoother Identity Management in Cloud-Based Applications
    More and more businesses are turning towards cloud-based apps and services for obvious reasons (ROI, scalability, etc). SCIM allows the management of identities in an efficient, organized, and accurate manner.  
  1. Improved Security
    Once you have implemented SCIM, you can manage your applications smoothly while significantly reducing the attack surface. This is a big boost to your security posture and data privacy (GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, etc.) standards.
  1. Reducing Frustrating Data Inconsistencies
    SCIM updates all user IDs automatically, which means that time-consuming data inconsistencies go away. There’s less loss of information and less impact on your database data integrity. The possibility of human error or data redundancy is low.
  1. Acts As a Standard System Linking Method 
    As your company starts scaling up, more and more SaaS apps and services are introduced into the ecosystem. SCIM serves as a standard system linking method where all kinds of user ID data can be modified or deleted automatically.

SCIM vs SAML: The Key Differences

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an open framework that conveys authorization data from IdPs to SPs safely. All communications use XML documents, also known as SAML assertions (authentication, arribution, and authorization).

When compared to SCIM, SAML does have some advantages:

  • Loose directory coupling – Unlike SCIM, Security Assertion Markup Language doesn’t require any kind of user information to be updated, maintained, or synchronized between the directories.
  • Lower service provider costs – Another benefit of implementing SAML is that you don’t have to maintain account information across the various services. The reason is simple. The IdP handles all of this. 
  • Better user experience – With SAML, authorized users only need to sign in once by using SSO for authentication to access all services. This simply eliminates the friction and creates an improved user experience.    
  • Improved security – SAML basically transfers identity information to the SPs, ensuring that all details are sent to the IdP directly. With SCIM, details are sent to multiple providers, something that automatically increases the risk.

When it comes to auto-provisioning with these two methods, you will need to adopt SAML Single Sign-On (SSO) to implement SCIM provisioning. However, it’s important to note that no SCIM is required to implement SAML SSO. 

SCIM Provisioning Integration with Frontegg

Summing things up, SCIM is soon becoming a SaaS essential, allowing companies to couple it with SAML 2 to create robust user management lifecycles. But things get better with Frontegg, a self-served and plug-and-play platform.

Frontegg allows the bypassing of tedious and error-prone SCIM configuration tasks. All you have to do is log into your Frontegg account, open a new SCIM connection, and enable it with the vendor of your choice (Azure, Okta, etc). You are basically getting started with just a few clicks. Furthermore, all SCIM activity can be monitored and managed via a centralized and user-friendly dashboard. It’s really that simple.

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