User Management Explained: Top 5 SSO Best Practices

User Management

The SaaS revolution has increased the need for smooth and secure user management. Single sign-on (SSO) is now a popular authentication method that helps businesses achieve just that. SSO allows authorized users to authenticate with multiple apps, services, and websites by using just one set of credentials. Here are 5 SSO best practices you should implement for best results.

What is SSO?

Single sign-on is an effective access control mechanism that allows users to access multiple SaaS apps or services with just one set of login credentials, usually a username and password. This authentication and authorization flow plays a key role in any Identity and Access Management (IAM) ecosystem, while also making password management easier (the users simply have to remember fewer details).

All in all, SSO helps simplify application usage and service consumption by allowing users to submit their credentials once without having to log in separately into each and every one of them. This significantly reduces friction between all sides involved.

Here’s how a basic SSO login flow looks:

  1. The end user goes to the app, also known as the service provider (SP).
  2. The SP sends a token with some user information (for example, an email ID), to the SSO system, also known as the identity Provider (IP).
  3. The IP first checks if the user has already been authenticated. If so, access is given to the SP and the next step becomes irrelevant.
  4. If the user has not been authenticated before, the IP requests credentials from the user. This can be a username/password combo or just an OTP. 
  5. After the IP validates the user’s credentials, the SP gets a confirmation token.
  6. The confirmation token is sent to the SP via the user’s browser.
  7. The SP now validates the confirmation token based on the trust relationship with the IP, based on what was defined during the initial configuration process.
  8. Access is granted and the user can now access the SP.

Pros and Cons of Single Sign-On Authentication 

While SSO is an effective way to go about things, no authentication method is perfect. Single sign-on also has its fair share of shortcomings. It’s important to understand the pros and cons before integrating it into your application.

Let’s start with the pros:

  • Increased control over users – With B2B users signing into dozens of SaaS applications and services today, SSO helps admins minimize shadow IT and understand the risk factors with proper user lifecycle management. 
  • Less password fatigue – End users have to remember dozens of passwords today. But do they really do so? Research is showing that users often opt for simple passwords and 45% don’t even change them after breaches.
  • Fewer support tickets – The less frequent use of fewer passwords has a positive impact on the workload of IT teams. The number of password reset requests are significantly lower with an SSO flow in place.

Now let’s touch upon the cons:

  • Expensive at scale – Having the proven and tested SSO concept is great, but adopters also need to consider the costs involved. As the business starts scaling up, add-on features start impacting budgets. 
  • Supply chain vulnerabilities – The security angle also cannot be ignored. Once a SSO provider is compromised, the hackers probably have unauthorized access to entire user bases and possibly app databases. 
  • Hardware problems – Remote work and hot desking are now common things, which means multiple users operate the same devices. The same applies to machines in conference rooms. Forgetting to log out means more risk.

Related: User Session Management

Top 5 SSO Best Practices

The aforementioned cons should not stop you from embracing single sign-on. There are a few best practices that should help you nullify these risks. But always keep in mind that application security always requires a multi-layered approach.

Here are the top SSO best practices for optimal results:

1. Mandate the use of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

The use of strong passwords is a necessity that can’t always be met. Sometimes people get lazy and use the same password across the board, or they just opt for ones that are easy to remember. Forcing them to choose complex ones can become counterproductive due to the friction it creates with forgotten passwords and reset requests that start piling up with frustrated support teams.

MFA is helping SaaS companies bolster their security posture by adding another layer of much-needed security. This is achieved by requiring another verification factor like a one-time password (OTP) that is sent to the user’s mobile or email.

2. Strong user session management

Validated and authorized sessions are a good start, but keeping the user logging in indefinitely increases the risk of getting hacked. Once the session is hijacked, all kinds of escalations are possible, depending on the permissions the user has. 

This is why you need user session management to stay safe.  Ending the session once the user’s browser is closed can be an option, but is not ideal for B2B purposes where this can happen dozens of times everyday. Identifying new sessions, limiting sessions per user, capping session periods, and having the ability to revoke sessions are becoming extremely important. Randomizing session IDs is also a best practice.

3. Enforcing granular role and permission management

B2B ecosystems are becoming increasingly complex. You have dozens of SaaS apps running on all machines, with all kinds of users accessing them – in-house teams, remote workers, third-party businesses, and more. All of this significantly increases the attack surface, especially when you don’t have proper role and permission management. The principle of least privilege (PoLP) has to be applied.

Furthermore, you should be looking at methods like System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM) to further boost your security standards. This can help you define schemas for specific users and groups as per your use cases.

4. Achieving compliance and adhering to data privacy laws

Data privacy laws (GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, and more) are in full effect. SaaS companies  now are required to take a wide range of security measures to protect Personal Identifiable Information (PII). Encryption for all kinds of data (at rest, in transit, stored) is one of them. Having audit logs for periodic security audits is another one. Disaster recovery plans should also be in place for speedy fixes.

Domain validation is also something that should be prioritized. This basically means that SSL certificates should be used. Its authenticity should be checked and validated with every request from the authorized owner of the domain. 

5. Support for secure protocols and standards

As SaaS evolves, more and more user management and security protocols are becoming relevant. Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), OpenID, and OAuth are some that you need to be able to support. For example, with SAML, things like cryptographic verification and peer identification can help elevate trust levels within your ecosystem, something that SSO is essentially based upon. 

Read More: The Ins and Outs of SAML

Implementing SSO With Frontegg

Frontegg’s end-to-end user management covers all bases when it comes to implementing single sign-on flows in your SaaS application or service. Adopting this self-served solution takes just a few minutes and only a few lines of code. Once you are up and running, your customers can define and implement their own SSO flows using protocols like OIDC and SAML along with social logins and MFA.

It doesn’t end there. Frontegg also addresses all frontend needs with a dynamic login box that can be configured, customized, and embedded with just a few clicks. Achieving enterprise readiness and product maturity has never been easier.

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