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How does Single Sign-On(SSO) work?

Single Sign-On (SSO) is a mechanism that allows users to authenticate themselves once and gain access to multiple applications or systems without the need to enter their credentials for each individual application. SSO streamlines the login process, improves user experience, and enhances security.

The working principle of SSO involves three main components: the Identity Provider (IDP), Service Provider (SP), and user authentication.

  • Firstly, the user initiates the login process by accessing an application or system that supports SSO. The SP recognizes that SSO is enabled and redirects the user to the IDP for authentication.

  • Next, the IDP verifies the user's identity by requesting their credentials or using other authentication methods such as biometrics or multi-factor authentication. Once authenticated, the IDP generates a unique token known as a security assertion.

  • This security assertion is sent back to the SP, which validates it against its own set of trusted certificates or tokens. If successful, the SP grants access to the requested application or system without requiring further login credentials from the user.

SSO offers several benefits including convenience for users who can access multiple applications with a single set of credentials. It also reduces password fatigue as users do not need to remember multiple passwords for different systems. Additionally, SSO improves security by centralizing authentication processes and reducing vulnerabilities associated with weak passwords or password reuse.

Key Business Drivers for Enterprise SSO:

  • Simplify end-user experiences and reduce help desk costs by addressing poor password management.

  • Identity Management has become a fundamental step in the process.

  • Seamlessly integrate existing strong authentication devices like biometrics and tokens for enhanced security.

  • Effectively manage compliance-driven initiatives by extending audit and reporting capabilities to user sign-on data.

Authentication Flow:

  • Initiation:

  • The user attempts to access a protected resource or application.

  • The Service Provider identifies the absence of a valid session and redirects the user to the Identity Provider.

  • Authentication Request:

  • The Identity Provider challenges the user for authentication. This could involve username/password, biometrics, or other factors depending on the setup.

  • Token Generation:

  • Upon successful authentication, the Identity Provider generates a token (usually a Security Assertion Markup Language - SAML or JSON Web Token - JWT).

  • Token Delivery:

  • The token is securely delivered to the user's device.

  • Token Presentation:

  • The user's device presents the token to the Service Provider.

  • Access Granted:

  • The Service Provider validates the token with the Identity Provider.

  • If valid, access is granted without requiring the user to re-enter credentials.

Benefits of SSO:

  • Enhanced User Experience:

  • Users have a seamless experience accessing multiple applications with a single login.

  • Improved Security:

  • Reduced reliance on passwords and centralized authentication enhance security.

  • Efficient Management:

  • Simplifies user provisioning and de-provisioning as changes are reflected across all applications.


Single Sign-On simplifies the authentication process, providing users with a convenient and secure way to access various applications. As organizations continue to embrace digital transformation, SSO remains a cornerstone in ensuring a balance between usability and security.

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