Access Management

Microsoft Single Sign-On: Microsoft Entra SSO Solution Overview

What Is Microsoft Entra Single Sign-On (SSO)?

Microsoft Entra, formally known as Azure AD, is Microsoft’s cloud-based identity and access management service. Microsoft Entra Single Sign-On (SSO), a feature within the Microsoft Entra ID platform, is the primary SSO solution offered by Microsoft. It is a user authentication service that permits a user to use one set of login credentials and access multiple applications. Microsoft Entra SSO has been designed to balance robust security with convenience, offering a smooth user experience.

Azure Entra SSO authenticates the end user for all the applications they have been given rights to and eliminates further prompts when the user switches applications during the same session. On the back end, it can log user activities and monitor user accounts. SSO is commonly used in enterprises, where a client accesses multiple resources and applications connected to a local area network (LAN).

In this article:

Key Features of Microsoft Entra SSO

App Integrations

Microsoft Entra SSO offers extensive support for app integrations. The software allows for seamless integration with thousands of applications, both Microsoft and third-party.

This means that users can use their single Microsoft account to access a large number of applications, reducing the need to remember multiple usernames and passwords. This helps reduce the risk of password-related security breaches, and it also greatly enhances user convenience.

Passwordless and Multifactor Authentication (MFA)

Microsoft Entra SSO enhances security with passwordless and multifactor authentication. The passwordless feature allows users to authenticate their identity without the need for a password. This is done through other means such as biometric data or a personal identification number (PIN).

Multifactor authentication requires users to verify their identity using two or more different methods. This is usually a combination of something the user knows (like a password), something the user has (like a smart card), and something the user is (like a biometric verification). This layered approach to security makes it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access.

Conditional Access

The conditional access functionality allows administrators to set specific conditions under which users can access certain applications. These conditions can be based on a variety of factors, including the user’s location, the device they’re using, or the time of day. This means that even if a user’s credentials are compromised, the attacker may still be unable to access sensitive data if they do not meet the predefined conditions.

Identity Protection

Microsoft Entra uses advanced machine learning algorithms to detect suspicious activities and anomalies that may indicate a potential security threat.

When such activities are detected, Microsoft Entra can automatically take action to protect the user’s identity. This might include blocking access to certain applications, requiring additional authentication, or notifying the user of the potential threat.

End-User Self-Service

Microsoft Entra SSO also offers an end-user self-service feature. This allows users to manage their own credentials, such as resetting their password or updating their security questions.

This feature enhances user convenience and reduces the workload on IT departments, as they no longer have to handle these tasks manually.

Unified Admin Center

The Unified Admin Center in Microsoft Entra provides a centralized location for administrators to manage identity for the organization, including SSO. From this center, administrators can set access policies, manage app integrations, and monitor user activity.

How Does SSO Work in Microsoft Entra ID?

Microsoft Entra ID implements Single Sign-On (SSO) through several methods, each catering to different application configurations and authentication requirements:

  • Federation-Based SSO: This method involves setting up SSO across multiple identity providers. Entra ID supports federated SSO through protocols like SAML 2.0, WS-Federation, and OpenID Connect. In this setup, Entra ID authenticates the user to the application using their Entra account. Federated SSO is typically used for cloud applications and is preferred over password-based SSO for applications supporting these protocols.
  • Password-Based SSO: Targeted at on-premises applications, this method is employed where applications are configured for Application Proxy. It involves the initial user sign-in with a username and password, after which Entra ID provides these credentials for subsequent access. Password-based SSO stores application passwords securely and replays them using a web browser extension or mobile app.
  • Linked SSO: Used during the transitional phase of application migration to Entra ID, linked-based SSO facilitates the publication of application links in My Apps or Microsoft 365 portals. This method does not provide direct SSO capabilities through Entra ID but offers a consistent user experience during migration. It requires manual or automatic account creation for users post-authentication.
  • Disabled SSO: In scenarios where SSO is not ready to be integrated or is under testing, the SSO feature can be disabled. This means users might have to authenticate separately for Entra ID and the application, leading to double sign-ins.

There are also several technical options for implementing SSO in Microsoft Entra ID:

  • Cloud applications can use OpenID Connect, OAuth, SAML, password-based, or linked SSO.
  • On-premises applications can use password-based, Integrated Windows Authentication, header-based, or linked SSO. These options require applications to be configured for Application Proxy.

These options are illustrated in the flowchart below, which can help you select the most appropriate option for your application.

Source: Microsoft

Planning for a Microsoft SSO Deployment

When planning an SSO deployment in Microsoft Entra ID, several considerations are key: 

  • Administrative roles should be assigned based on the minimal permissions needed for specific tasks, ensuring secure and efficient management. This involves roles like Help Desk Admin, Identity Admin, Application Admin, and Infrastructure Admins, each with distinct responsibilities.
  • Certificates play a vital role in federation for SAML applications. Microsoft Entra ID generates these certificates, typically valid for three years, but with customizable expiration dates. It’s essential to have a process for renewing certificates before they expire to avoid outages.
  • Communication with users about changes in their application access experience is another critical aspect. A detailed communication plan ensures users are informed about the SSO implementation, its timeline, and support channels for any issues.

Licensing requirements should also be considered. Microsoft Entra ID SSO for pre-integrated applications is generally free, but additional licenses might be needed depending on the features deployed and the number of objects in the directory. Additionally, application-specific licenses must align with the roles assigned in Microsoft Entra ID to avoid provisioning errors.

Learn more in the Microsoft Entra documentation.

Limitations of Microsoft Entra SSO

While Microsoft Entra SSO offers numerous benefits, it does come with some limitations. According to reviews published on G2, these are some of the challenges users are experiencing with Entra SSO:

Complex System to Administer and Manage

One of the main challenges is that Microsoft Entra SSO is a complex system to administer and manage. It requires a deep understanding of the Microsoft Entra platform (Azure AD), Windows Active Directory, and networking. Troubleshooting issues can be complex, especially if you’re dealing with a large environment.

Limited Support for On-Premises Environments

Another limitation is that Microsoft Entra SSO has limited support for on-premises environments. While it works well with cloud-based services like Office 365, it might not work as smoothly with your on-premises servers. This can be a problem if your company still relies heavily on on-premises resources.

Costly as Compared to Other Services

Microsoft Entra SSO can also be expensive. While the Single Sign-On Microsoft feature itself is typically included in your Microsoft Entra or Office 365 subscription, you might incur additional costs for Azure AD Connect. If you need to hire a consultant to set up the system, it can further increase the cost.

Delays in Push Notification

Some users have reported delay issues in push notifications with Microsoft Entra SSO. This can be a problem if your company relies heavily on real-time notifications.

Frontegg: A Lightweight Alternative to Microsoft SSO

Once you integrate Frontegg’s self-served user management solution, your customers can configure their SSO completely on their own with just a few lines of code. The single sign-on can be integrated with IDPs with commonly-used protocols like OIDC and SAML. Yes, you can implement social login SSOs as well. The front end has been taken care of as well. 

You can leverage all of Frontegg’s SSO components and personalize your SaaS offering with a login box builder. This embeddable box reduces implementation times as no in-house development is required. Users can authenticate smoothly and gain quick access to the app, without waiting for product updates and fixes. A true end-to-end SSO solution for SaaS apps and services.

Learn more about Frontegg for authentication

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