Find out about SSO meaning (How it works, benefits and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Single sign-on (SSO) is a tool that enables users to access multiple websites or computer applications using just one username and password. SSO reduces logins to a single set of credentials, offering a safer method of logging into multiple systems and sites. Understanding how SSO works and what makes an effective password is useful for enhancing cybersecurity, which is a critical component of modern business. In this article, we discuss SSO's meaning, how it works and what its benefits are, with tips for creating a strong password.

SSO meaning

SSO meaning: single sign-on. This is a user authentication system that allows people to securely access all the websites and applications they require using just one set of login credentials. This reduces the number of passwords and accounts required to log into different apps.

Related: Cybersecurity vs. computer science (With definitions)

How does SSO work?

SSO works by creating one unified login identity used to access multiple systems. The user signs into a service using their SSO login. The organisation stores the login information safely, and if the user then accesses other trusted sites, they log in automatically using the stored SSO login details. The login information stored when a user signs into an SSO service acts as an authentication token.

This is essentially a digital footprint stored within the user's browser or the SSO provider's servers. When the user then accesses another website, the SSO server provides the authentication token to the website, confirming their identity and automatically allowing them access. The token itself is a collection of data that may be as simple as the user's email address. This collection of data then serves as the key that the SSO service uses to access various websites and applications.

How do SSO tokens work?

Here are the steps that are followed for a user to log in to a website using SSO tokens:

  1. A user opens the application or website they want to access.

  2. The application or website sends a token containing digital information about the user, such as their email address, to the SSO system.

  3. The SSO system identifies whether the user has already logged in using their SSO credentials at a previous time.

  4. If the user has no verification, they receive a login prompt, most likely using their previously chosen username and password.

  5. Once the SSO system has authenticated the user's credentials, it sends a token, via the user's browser, back to the website or application that the user is trying to access.

  6. The token confirms to the website or application that the user has successfully been validated, at which point they're granted access to the platform.

While there are many steps in place to ensure cybersecurity, the user isn't typically aware of them. The only action for the user is to provide their username and password as requested. The other steps occur internally without the user knowing.

What are the main benefits of SSO?

Here are some of the main benefits of using SSO as a cybersecurity measure:

Improved security

Login credentials are a primary target for cybercrime. Every time somebody logs into a new website or computer application, they add a new vulnerability to their digital presence. As SSO reduces the number of logins required, it reduces the chances of a cyberattack occurring. Having just one strong password means that users only require one password to access all the systems they need, not one password per system. This reduces the likelihood of people using weaker, more memorable passwords.

Related: How to become a cyber security specialist (With tips)

Improved efficiency

Using just one set of login credentials reduces the time people spend logging into different applications. Whether someone uses SSO in the workplace or at home, it cuts the amount of time spent logging in to different systems. SSO also offers assistance if you forget a password and require a reset, saving even more time.

Related: How to calculate work efficiency and why it matters

Reduced strain on IT departments

Using SSO reduces the workload for IT staff, as they no longer manage separate logins for each user. SSO also greatly reduces the time IT staff spend resetting passwords that users have forgotten. Many single sign-on solutions offer the option for users to reset their passwords themselves, further reducing the need for staff involvement in the password reset process.

Help with regulatory compliance

Organisations comply with various data protection regulations. Some of these regulations necessitate specific IT controls to be in place to prove that the organisation can keep customers' personal data safe. SSO is a convenient way to meet the requirements of regulations, such as GDPR, by improving cybersecurity.

Related: How to get a job in compliance (With roles and skills)

Improved customer relations

The benefits that SSO provides for an organisation's users are also extended to its customers. Using single sign-on ensures that an organisation's customer data is secure, with a lower chance of data theft. This added cybersecurity provides peace of mind to users on either side of a business.

What makes a good SSO service?

Here are some factors to consider when choosing an SSO service:

Scaleability

An organisation's system requirements are likely to change as they grow. This may be in the form of taking on new staff or implementing new computer applications to manage expansion effectively. A good SSO provider allows for this scaleability without putting extra strain on an organisation's IT department.

Access to a broad range of applications

Organisations and individuals alike use a range of applications and websites daily. Ensuring that the chosen single sign-on provider allows access to all required applications is essential. If an SSO system can't provide access to certain applications that a user needs, they use multiple sets of login credentials to access them, eliminating one of the key benefits of using SSO in the first place.

Mobile optimised interface

Having a user-friendly mobile interface is vital for an SSO. Mobile phones account for a growing percentage of all Internet activity, and providing SSO optimisation for this usage is crucial. This also improves accessibility for employees, as it means they may access the necessary platforms on more than one type of device.

Efficient troubleshooting services

If any issues surrounding a single sign-on provider occur, a good provider is able to provide a quick and effective troubleshooting service to ensure that organisations aren't held up. Having experienced IT experts on hand to resolve technical issues quickly is a key factor in a strong SSO provider. It also improves peace of mind amongst IT staff, knowing they have external support if necessary.

Tips for creating a strong password for SSO

Here are some tips to help you create a strong password for SSO purposes:

Use a long password

Most websites and applications require a minimum password length of around eight or ten characters. Many cybersecurity specialists recommend using a password that's at least 12 characters long. The longer a password is, the stronger it is. Users with strong passwords strike a balance between password length and memorability.

Related: How to export passwords in Chrome for a password manager

Use a variety of letters, numbers and symbols

Using a combination of lowercase and capital letters in conjunction with numbers and symbols greatly strengthens a password. Passwords are stronger if the symbols and numbers used are random. This means not using letters that serve as substitutes for letters, such as the number '1' being used for the letter 'I'.

Don't use the same password for different accounts

While SSO reduces the risk of using multiple passwords, some people may use SSO in the workplace while using individualised passwords at home. As SSO often allows the user to create their own password, using one that's already in use for an application at home puts both of the associated accounts at risk of cyberattacks. Use different passwords to mitigate this risk.

Don't use personal information

Using personal details such as your name, birthday, place of birth or username makes for a weak password, as this information is more publicly available. This makes it easier for somebody to guess a password using this information. As such, create a password without any personal information to deter cyber threats.

Use a password creation scheme

A simple method for generating a random and strong yet memorable password is to use a phrase, sentence or lyrics to build it. As phrases or sentences are easier to remember, users are less likely to forget them. For example, taking the first letter from each line of 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are' generates the letters 'Ttlshiwwya', which may act as your password. Symbols and letters then strengthen the password.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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