Identity federation refers to a trust relationship between two entities for using authentication information from one system in order to grant access to another system without asking for authentication information multiple times.
When you sign into a website or service, you often provide credentials like your email address and password. The site uses the information to identify who you are and give you access to the features and content that are reserved for users with registered accounts. But what if you want to access a different account on a different site? That is where identity federation comes in. This article explains how identity federation works and how it can benefit businesses and improve user experience.
What Is Identity Federation?
Identity federation is a way to log in to one site using credentials from another. This way, you only need to remember one set of login information and don’t have to worry about remembering multiple usernames and passwords. Instead, users can use a single credential to access all their online accounts. The most common identity providers are social media sites like Facebook and Google. There are also enterprise-level identity providers designed for use in business environments.
How Does Identity Federation Work?
Identity federation relies on something called an identity provider. An identity provider is a website or service that stores your credentials and allows you to use them to log in to other websites or services. When you click the “Login with…” button on a website, you’re typically redirected to the identity provider’s login page. Once you enter your credentials on the identity provider’s login page, you’ll be redirected back to the original site or system without having to log in again.
Identity Federation VS SSO (Single Sign-On)
It’s important to note that identity federation differs from single sign-on (SSO). With SSO, you log in to one account and access all the other linked accounts at the same entity. That is different from identity federation, where you can use your credentials from one entity to log in to another entity.
Identity federation is a decentralized approach to authentication that allows users to access multiple online services with a single set of credentials. The main advantage is that it is more scalable and easier to manage than single sign-on. The downside is that it’s less secure since there is a possibility of using compromised credentials to access accounts at multiple entities.
Single sign-on is a centralized approach requiring users to authenticate with a single provider to access multiple online services. It’s more secure since all authentication takes place in one central location; however, it’s less scalable and more difficult to manage since each service needs individual configuration.
Single sign-on is typically used in business environments where employees need to access various resources, such as email, file sharing, and customer relationship management tools. On the other hand, identity federation is more commonly used on consumer-facing websites and apps.
So which approach is right for you? It depends on your needs. If security is your top priority, then single sign-on is the way to go. But if scalability and ease of management are more important, then identity federation might be the better choice.
Identity Federation Example
One common use case illustration for identity federation is when an organization wants to provide its customers speedy access to its online services. In this case, the organization would set up an identity provider (IdP) and configure it to authenticate users using their existing account with a third-party service, such as Facebook or Google. Once authenticated, the user can access the organization’s services without creating a new account or remembering multiple credentials.
Another common identity federation example is when an organization wants to share data with another organization securely. For example, a hospital might want to give its employees access to the patient records of a healthcare provider that uses a different electronic health records (EHR) system. In this case, the hospital would set up an IdP and configure it so its employees could use their existing hospital credentials to log in to the other EHR system. That would allow the hospital to control which employees have access to the patient records and prevent unauthorized users from gaining access.
Identity Federation Benefits
When you use federated login, your credentials are only stored on the identity provider’s servers. That means if one of the websites or services you’re using is compromised, your credentials are not exposed.
With federated login, you only need to remember your credentials for one account. That can be much easier than keeping track of multiple credentials for different sites and services.
Implementing a federated login system can be less expensive than setting up and maintaining a single sign-on solution. You don’t need to build and deploy a custom SSO solution.
Drawbacks of Identity Federation
When you use federated login, you rely on the identity provider to keep your credentials safe and secure. If the identity provider experiences an outage or security breach, you may not be able to log in to the websites and services that you use.
You’re also giving up some control over your account with federated login. For example, if you want to change your password on one of the websites or services you use, you’ll need to do it through the identity provider.
Federated login systems can also be less flexible than single sign-on solutions because they typically only work with a few specific types of accounts. So, if you want to use federated login with a new website or service, it may not be compatible with the existing system.
Identity federation can be a convenient and secure way to manage your online accounts. However, weighing the pros and cons is important before deciding if it’s the right solution for you. A federated login may be a good option if you’re looking for a convenient way to manage multiple accounts. However, if you’re concerned about security or want more control over your account, you may want to consider a different solution.