Federated Identity Management systems
Single sign-on (SSO) started it all. Organizations needed a way to unify authentication systems in the enterprise for easier management and better security. Single sign-on was widely adopted and provided a solution for keeping one repository of usernames and passwords that could be used transparently across several internal applications.
Service-oriented software kicked off the next wave of change. Organizations wanted to open APIs in their software so partners and independent developers could use them. Managing authentication and authorization for entities looking to consume these APIs was obviously a challenge.
Social media moved things even further. Various platforms spread far and wide on a plethora of devices, and many applications were built on top of those platforms. Now we have countless apps and services hooked into Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
The problem? How to bring together user login information across many applications and platforms to simplify sign-on and increase security. The solution? Federated identities . . .Federated identity means linking and using the electronic identities a user has across several identity management systems. In simpler terms, an application does not necessarily need to obtain and store users’ credentials in order to authenticate them. Instead, the application can use an identity management system that is already storing a user’s electronic identity to authenticate the user—given, of course, that the application trusts that identity management system.
This approach allows the decoupling of the authentication and authorization functions. It also makes it easier to centralize these two functions in the enterprise to avoid a situation where every application has to manage a set of credentials for every user. It is also very convenient for users, since they don’t have to keep a set of usernames and passwords for every single application that they use.
There are three major protocols for federated identity: OpenID, SAML, and OAuth.OpenID is an open standard sponsored by Facebook, Microsoft, Google, PayPal, Ping Identity, Symantec, and Yahoo. OpenID allows user to be authenticated using a third-party services called identity providers. Users can choose to use their preferred OpenID providers to log in to websites that accept the OpenID authentication scheme.
The OpenID specification defines three roles:
- The end user or the entity that is looking to verify its identity
- The relying party (RP), which is the entity looking to verify the identity of the end user
- The OpenID provider (OP), which is the entity that registers the OpenID URL and can verify the end user’s identity
The following diagram explains a use case for an OpenID scenario:
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