Busting Myths: What is Single Sign-On?

Like almost everyone in the working world, I have a username and password for my work email and my personal email. And like anyone who runs social media for a tech company, I also regularly check Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts throughout the day - but on both my personal account and on behalf of Okta. As one person with multiple digital identities, I am often faced with an “identity crisis,” but not the kind that term usually refers to. My identity crisis is all about maintaining secure accounts across different platforms, while still keeping track of each set of credentials. A common (and extremely risky) solution to this identity problem is to reuse passwords across sites.

According to a recent report, 91% of users know it’s dangerous to reuse passwords across multiple platforms, but 61% of users reuse passwords anyway. A popular solution to this password problem among enterprises is Single Sign-On (SSO) — a secure and easy way to manage several accounts without compromising the integrities of the individual applications.

With SSO, users can enter one name and password in order to access multiple applications. Rather than having to login to each application separately, users log in to Okta and gain access to all of their necessary applications, both personal and professional. While the Okta Identity Cloud has evolved to address additional identity and mobility management needs such as security and provisioning, SSO remains a pillar of our identity solutions.

Although many in the tech community understand the importance of using SSO for identity management, some misconceptions still remain. Here are a few common myths surrounding SSO and why it is a viable approach to managing identity and access to all your applications.

SSO is the same as a password manager.

An SSO platform shares some of the same capabilities as a password manager, but there are distinct differences. SSO provides a single log-in solution so that you don’t have to remember passwords -- similar to a password manager -- and will automatically log you into any system, as long as your credentials have been saved into its history. But in addition, SSO provides users tighter security by granting nuanced control over their applications and allowing IT departments monitoring capabilities as to ensure compliance with company policy so users don’t have to worry about leaving the company vulnerable to attacks.

An SSO solution is not needed because we have more complex password qualifications.

Although password requirements are more complex today than even a few years ago, that doesn’t mean accounts are secure. Because every platform often has its own password rules, it can be challenging to remember different passwords, or even variations of the same password. This is one reason users often default to using the same password complex across different accounts, which ultimately makes all these accounts more vulnerable. If someone is able to log into one of those accounts — say, your Gmail — with a shared password, then all other accounts — your online banking account, life insurance, airline loyalty, etc. — with the same passcode are just as vulnerable.

SSO means we no longer need passwords.

Despite the changing complexities in password qualifications and their vulnerabilities, passwords still act as a first line of defense against any hacker or cyberattack. Not having a secure password would be akin to not using a seatbelt while driving — although a seatbelt does not always protect you from all harm, it acts as an initial means of protection against any collisions or vehicular incidents so it would be silly not to buckle up! However, we know that although passwords are integral, they are also fallible.

Because a login is still needed, SSO doesn’t save time.

With SSO, a user only needs to log in once to the SSO solution rather than entering in a username and password for every app — or worse, requesting a password reset. This means users can log in to necessary applications and access important information without the need to remember every PIN and password. I hate it when I need to access something and simply can’t remember what my login credentials are - there’s nothing more frustrating! And with the proliferation of company hacks, I want my information to stay safe, but I do need to get to it myself.

Long term, deploying an SSO platform is a time efficient solution for both users and IT. When people can securely connect to the tools they need to do their most important work, companies are empowered to re-invent themselves. Our research has shown that when a company establishes a SSO product, IT will experience a 50% reduction in login-related helpdesk calls. Conversely, deploying SSO increases login productivity by 50% and can result in five times faster integration of IT for acquired businesses. By eliminating login-related tasks, both IT and enterprise users are able to more productively use their time and can focus on what’s more important: running a business.

To learn more about single sign-on, check out the Okta Identity Cloud and read our whitepaper on how Okta’s single sign-on products help increase efficiency and security across all your managed platforms.