In today’s world, information security online has become more crucial than ever. As a result, the online authentication methods have also evolved significantly.
Identity providers are the most significant innovation in cyber data security. They maintain and authenticate user information across various platforms to ensure safety and convenience.
Let’s explore how identity providers work to protect your sensitive information online.
What is an IdP?
When you frequent a website or use a service on a regular basis, and want to customize your experience or store data of some description, it’s common to create an account with that site or service. This allows you to have a dedicated user experience personalized to your needs. But how do you keep this personal information safe? Using identity protection methods and authentication. That’s where an identity provider – or IdP – comes in.
An IdP is an entity that stores and manages the digital identities – usernames, passwords, and other identifying information – of its users and acts as the verification process between a user and a website or service. You can think of it as being a bouncer at the door to an event, who keeps the guest list and checks against it for everyone trying to enter. IdPs are most frequently used in cloud computing services to manage user identities and/or authenticate devices logging into a network.
Identity Providers vs. Service Providers
Though they are named similarly, an identity provider and a service provider are two different ends of the user-need system. A service provider is any web-based application, system, or service that a user would like to access, which stores user information behind the wall of an account for authentication. An identity provider, on the other hand, is the intermediary service that actively records and confirms the identity of a user or device so that they can access the service provider’s network.
That being said, both are important to the process of federated identity management, which is an arrangement between two providers (an IdP and an SP) that offers secure, smooth access to information and services by consolidating their information into one interactive system rather than requiring them to create new authentication credentials at every step of the process and for every unique program or application they use.
Why use an IdP?
Using an IdP to secure user data has many benefits.
One of the most significant advantages of using an IdP is that it provides strong authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), which can significantly reduce the risk of data loss or data compromise. By implementing MFA, the IdP can verify the identity of the user, making it harder for bad actors to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.
Another benefit of using an IdP is that it simplifies the user experience by allowing users to use single sign-on (SSO) technology. This means users don’t have to remember multiple passwords, usernames, or secondary authentication methods, which reduces the overall amount of data that a company’s system needs to monitor at any given time. This also makes it easier for users to navigate between different applications and services without having to re-enter their credentials each time.
Beyond this, using an IdP can streamline the user data management process by taking the burden of data management and security off of the service provider. Again, this makes monitoring easier, as it provides a centralized unit for auditing access events (meaning instances of users attempting to gain access to information) and tracing those events. With an IdP, the service provider can focus on the service itself and on offering a great user experience while the IdP handles security and data management.
Overall, using an IdP is an effective way to secure user data and simplify the user experience while reducing the overall risk of data loss or data compromise.
Types of IdP
There are two main types of widely available IdP setups.
- SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) is used to authenticate a user through identity federation. It’s an XML-based markup language that is supported by lots of major applications including Office 365 and Zoom.
- SSO (short for Single Sign-On) is a system that lets users log into a system with one set of credentials across multiple accounts. This is especially useful for larger organizations with multiple employees who need access to a wide range of applications, as it can streamline data and reduce the amount of data vulnerable to cyberattacks.
How an IdP works
IdPs have three basic steps in their working process.
- Request. The IdP asks the user to provide them with some form of identification, usually a username or email and a password. Sometimes IdPs will ask for more than one form of identification so that multi-factor authentication (MFA) can be established.
- Verification. The IdP will verify that the information provided matches the user whose data is being accessed. This is usually done via a one-time password (OTP) or verification code that must be entered from the secondary identification methods.
- Unlocking. If the user’s information is found to be legitimate based on the IdP’s records, then they are authorized to access their information and the barrier protecting it comes down so that they can see the specific resources they requested.
Usually, this process will need to be repeated every time a user logs into the service provider’s main system. There are often options users can select to have IdPs remember specific devices or browsers so that they do not need to log in as often.
Data protection online is incredibly important, which is why service providers partner with identity providers. This system allows users to have both an easy and secure way to access their data without worrying that it will be compromised by malicious third parties.
If your company is interested in establishing an authentication system, Netlok’s Photolok service might be the IdP you’ve been looking for. Photolok is a unique authentication system that allows users to upload photos to be used as identifiers; simply upload and label your security image and select it from a roster of images to verify your identity. Photolok even provides users with a Duress option, which allows them to choose a specific photo if they have been forced to access their account, sending a distress signal to the provider so that authorities can be alerted to the situation quickly and quietly.
You can request a demo of Photolok today to see if this service is right for your organization.