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All you need to know about Federation Identity Management

Published on 14 February 17
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The growing usage of internet for daily activities has made customers interact with multiple service providers. Each of these interactions requires a digital identity. The service providers store and manage these digital identities of customers in order to enhance customer experience, increase profits and stay safe from hackers. But these practices are still problematic, reason being:

  • Every service provider maintains a separate digital identity of its user, that means a user will have more than one digital identities across the web (assuming one for each of the service providers it interacts with). Managing it becomes a huge burden and creates multiple points of failure.
  • Another issue is that users are not given full control over their attributes’ dispersal. This leads to privacy violations and in many cases, identity thefts too.

Nowadays, day-to-day work requires your customers to access multiple web resources and in this situation, traversing sensitive information requires businesses to manage identities securely across multiple boundaries. Over the years, many identity and access management solutions are working towards solving these problems. There arises the need for a clear strategy to handle distributed identity management to ensure a secure environment. As a result, various new techniques are being developed to ensure portability of identity data across the domains without compromising security and convenience.

Federated identity management is the answer here! It addresses the problem of secure identity management, by enabling the brands to share their customer data with other resources over the internet. The practice lets brands increase control over who has access to what.

Didn’t understand? No worries, we will go into details!

Federated Identity Management:

To solve the problem of managing increased digital identities across the organizations, IT researchers have introduced a new solution, known as Federated Identity Management. Federated identity management includes the addition of a new party, known as the identity provider (IdP). This identity provider is trusted to perform various functions. The task of user authentication and identity management are handled by this trusted identity provider. This IdP allows users to control their attribute release and issues authentication assertion.

When the service provider (SP) receives authorization request from the customer, it decides whether to authorize customer or not, on the basis of the authentication assertions issued by IdP.

In simple words, in federated identity management, a group of businesses come together in order to become federated members of the trusted IdP so that they all can get mutually benefited. Any user which is affiliated with the federated member, if requests access for the resource located on any of other organization, is prompted to submit credentials for trusted IdP. This request is then directed back to IdP for verification and once it is done, the customer is authenticated to access all the resources he is authorized to.

Now this verification can take place using various techniques, but the most common ones are SAML (Security markup assertion language), OpenID, OAuth, etc. Moreover, other open industry standards can also be used in order to achieve interoperability, irrespective of the technique used for authentication.

How advantageous Federated Identity Management is for your business?

If implemented properly, federated identity management can serve multiple benefits for you.

The customer needs to remember only single password to access multiple resources, so with single sign-on, you can boost their productivity. Since there is just one password to remember, they will be less likely to forget passwords thus lower costs involving resetting passwords requests. Centralized management, thus adding, deleting and resetting users won’t take much time. Additionally, easier to backup the database. Organizations of the federation can manage their own customers and rely on others to manage theirs. Adding new organization to federation is not a tough task and doesn’t take much time. Moreover, you no longer need to worry about user management, because that’s why you have IdP. Federated identity management improves security by reducing the chances of mistakes in identity management and password management.

In short, federated identity management helps customers by reducing passwords, improving productivity and increased security. While for business, this solution holds reduced costs, enhanced security, better data quality and increased business cooperation.

Now that we have talked about benefits, there are several challenges associated too. Let’s talk about them.

Challenges in federated identity management:

Now just like every other technology, federated identity management has also its own share of challenges.

  • The biggest challenge is the upfront cost to modify existing systems. Now cost is not such a big issue for large organizations but for smaller organizations, the cost makes a huge difference.
  • Another issue is that the design policies must be met by security requirements of all the members which can be quite tricky since not all organization will belong to same landscape or regulations. Streamlining these requirements will expect huge time and efforts and not all organizations are willing to put that.

Conclusion :

In spite of all these challenges, federated identity management is still worth trying, thanks to the advantages it brings along. The solution is especially beneficial for an organization who is intending to tap onto the research and data of other organization working in the same niche. Even though current federated identity systems are in developing stage, but soon they will lay the foundation for a future connected world.


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