As an efficient and user-friendly form of authentication connecting multiple remote applications and domains, federated identity is quickly populating the digital landscape. By definition, federated identity is the agreed process of authentication between an organization, or Service Provider, and an external party, or Identity Provider. It is a mutual trust relationship that gives users access to a Service Provider’s applications by first confirming their credentials and permissions through the Identity Provider (e.g., on-premises directory or social network).

Federated identity is a preferred practice for improving the user experience, securing systems access, and even contributing to a more optimal workflow. If you aren’t already familiar, let us show you what all there is to federated identity.

How does it work?

Essentially, if a user wants access to an application, the application wants to know the user is who they say they are—and, often, that they have assigned permissions—before granting their access request. With a federated agreement, Identity Providers can facilitate the process by confirming the user’s digital identity within its database.

This type of arrangement allows users to input a single set of credentials (i.e., username and password) to gain access to multiple applications and systems, ensuring both convenience and the security of information. With the same administrative configuration, multiple Service Providers can participate in a federated identity agreement with a singular, central Identity Provider.

Pros of federated identity.

Besides creating a secure process for user authentication, a notable benefit of federated identity is its ease of use. Users need only keep one set of credentials and enter them one time during a session to operate multiple applications across connected enterprise platforms. As long as they are federated, users can move seamlessly about the digital cabin.

And, with a credentials and permissions database at its core, federated identity lends itself to single-point provisioning for organizations. Enterprises can also enter into federated agreements, meaning they can provide a better user experience and more effectively share information and resources. 

Cons of federated identity.

Embracing federated identity can present challenges, as it asks participating organizations to agree on employed security measures and make changes to their existing structures as needed. This stage in and of itself can incur costs, often by way of time dedicated, but the cost of actual implementation can also be an obstacle, especially for smaller organizations.

Real-world examples.

At this point, it’s highly likely that web users have experienced and benefitted from federated identity. Service Provider authentication pages often offer logins via multiple third-parties, be it a federation service Identity provider like SailPoint’s IdentityNow or social Identity Providers like Twitter, Facebook, Google, or Amazon—federated identity is now commonplace.

Federated identity vs. SSO.

Seemingly the same in concept—requiring just one username and password configuration at the beginning of a session to access multiple applications—Single Sign-On (SSO) and federated identity are entirely different in practice. The distinction is how SSO and federated identity inherently operate, SSO, internally to allow users access to in-organization applications and federated identity, externally to allow users access to multiple applications across enterprise domains.

Final thoughts.

There is much more to implementing federated identity, and if it sounds like the right fit for your business, connect with our team to make it part of your IAM system.  

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