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What is Single Sign On (SSO) - and How Can it Improve Cybersecurity

single sign on can add another layer to your cybersecurity strategy for smbs

Most business owners possess a basic understanding of cybersecurity and the necessary protective measures. However, as a leading MSP and cybersecurity company, we often encounter numerous inquiries about Single Sign-On (SSO) and its role in enhancing cybersecurity for businesses, including small to medium-sized ones.

In essence, SSO represents an authentication process that enables users to access multiple applications using a single set of credentials, as opposed to the conventional approach of requiring distinct login information for each application. This method is considered highly secure, as it minimizes opportunities for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.

While SSO is not the sole solution for bolstering cybersecurity, when combined with other best practices, it becomes a potent tool for safeguarding your business against cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity Before SSO

The traditional approach to handling applications posed significant challenges. Dealing with five different applications meant having to recall five distinct username and password combinations. This not only burdened users but also served as an open invitation for cybercriminals.

Furthermore, creating unique login credentials for each application was a time-consuming and error-prone process. Employees might resort to writing down passwords or using the same one for multiple applications, compromising security.

Additionally, when an employee left the company, manually updating passwords for each application was a tedious and error-prone task, consuming valuable time.

Overall, the outdated methodology exposed businesses to higher vulnerability. It also resulted in reduced user productivity due to the need to manage multiple login credentials and the hassle of resetting passwords.

How SSO Originated

SSO emerged in the late 1990s as a response to the challenge of managing multiple passwords. During that time, most businesses relied on Active Directory (AD), a

Microsoft directory service that handled user authentication and authorization.

While AD allowed businesses to manage user accounts and regulate application access, there was a need to streamline the login process for users, leading to the development of SSO.

With SSO, businesses could continue using AD to manage user accounts and implement an SSO solution for authentication. This allowed users to remember just one set of credentials for accessing all their applications. Today, there exists a wide array of SSO solutions, some of which no longer necessitate AD. This is advantageous for businesses that prefer not to use AD or operate a combination of on-premises and cloud-based applications.

Despite the availability of SSO, many new clients are not taking full advantage of it. In our experience, numerous business owners still adhere to traditional methods, despite being aware of their inferior security. One reason for this is the lack of comprehensive understanding about how SSO operates and the benefits it provides. So, let's delve into a closer examination of SSO and its advantages.

Cybersecurity Advantages of SSO

Using SSO offers several advantages for smaller businesses in sectors like architecture, entertainment, finance, law, and healthcare. These benefits include:

  1. Enhanced Security: SSO enhances security by reducing the risk of password reuse and mitigating the likelihood of phishing attacks, thereby bolstering overall protection.

  2. Cost Reduction: Implementing SSO can lead to cost savings related to password management, as it reduces expenses associated with password resets and handling forgotten passwords.

  3. Heightened Productivity: SSO streamlines the login process, enabling users to access required applications without juggling multiple sets of login credentials. This efficiency leads to increased productivity as users spend less time on logging into various applications.

  4. Improved Compliance: SSO aids businesses in meeting compliance requirements, such as those mandated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), promoting adherence to industry standards and legal obligations.

Why SSO is Not the Only Solution for Cybersecurity Concerns

SSO represents a crucial step for businesses to safeguard against weak passwords, but it's only one layer of protection. As previously mentioned, SSO alone cannot thwart a determined hacker.

For instance, if an employee becomes a victim of a phishing attack and unwittingly divulges their login credentials, a hacker can exploit these credentials to gain access to all the applications that the employee has permission for, even if those applications use SSO.

Many business owners remain unaware of potential breaches involving their SSO information, with some breaches going undetected for extended periods. Disturbingly, a study by BitSight, a security ratings firm, revealed that in 2022, 25 percent of the S&P 500 and half of the top 20 most valuable public U.S companies had at least one SSO credential available for sale on the dark web.

A recent headline featured an SSO hack wherein an 18-year-old hacker managed to bypass the security measures of the ridesharing giant Uber. The teenager gained unauthorized access to their email and cloud systems, code repositories, internal Slack account, and HackerOne tickets. The method employed was as simple as impersonating a member of the IT department and requesting an employee's password via text. That lone action proved sufficient!

These instances serve as compelling reminders that regardless of a business's size, a robust cybersecurity strategy is imperative to protect against potential threats.

SSO is One Piece of a Layered Security Approach

To prevent these types of attacks, business owners should adopt a layered security approach that incorporates various cybersecurity measures, including:

  1. Two-Factor Authentication: Adding an extra layer of security, requiring users to confirm their identity using something they know (like a password) and something they have (such as a code sent to their phone).

  2. Identity and Access Management: Implementing controls to manage user access to specific applications and data, ensuring only authorized personnel can access sensitive information.

  3. Security Awareness Training: Providing employees with training to recognize and defend against phishing attacks and other cybersecurity threats. Prepared employees can prevent costly incidents, as demonstrated in the Uber example.

  4. Disaster Recovery: Establishing effective strategies to recover from cyber-attacks and other emergencies, ensuring business continuity in the face of unexpected events.

  5. Data Protection: Implementing measures to safeguard data from unauthorized access and use, protecting sensitive information from potential breaches.

  6. Quick IT Support in Emergency Situations: Having readily available IT support in emergency situations to promptly address security incidents and prevent further vulnerabilities.

While SSO offers advantages from a cybersecurity standpoint, it's essential to remember that it is not a standalone solution. A well-rounded approach, including two-factor authentication, identity management, security training, and emergency IT support, is crucial for solid cybersecurity.

If you are interested in implementing SSO or learning more about protecting your business in an ever-changing security landscape call us at 574.534.2830 or contact us here.


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