The Security Assertion Markup Language, known in short as the SAML, is a framework that allows for the exchange of authorization and authentication data between two entities: a Service Provider and an Identity Provider. In a nutshell, what SAML does is it allows users to be authenticated and authorized without the need to input any additional credentials.
Utilising digitally signed, secured tokens and encrypted messages, SAML establishes a trust relationship between one site, domain, network and another. In other words, authentication credentials are retained by the identity provider for the service provider to authenticate against. This standards-based nature of the protocol delivers seamless authentication across identity providers and between organizations based on trusted information.
There are a total of three different types of SAML assertions that ensure security; namely, authentication, attribute, and authorization decision. Respectively, the first validates a user’s identity, the second passes the SAML attributes to the service provider, while the third identifies what the user can be authorized to do.
While SAML alone may not come with all the security advantages that modern enterprises are looking for, integration into technology like Single Sign-On in the form of SAML SSO can easily transform it into one of the most powerful IT security solutions out on the market. The fact that SAML is key to effective SSO is a fairly undisputed fact. After all, it’s what enables SSO to provide a sole point of access with just a single set of login credentials to the end-user who navigates through various networks and apps.
Since both credentials and passwords are kept by the identity provider rather than the service provider, password authentication stays within an organization’s infrastructure—making for greater control over security and curbing the likelihood of password theft.
As such, by facilitating a simpler Single Sign-On process, SAML further strengthens security, thereby cutting down on the dangers associated with remembering multiple passwords—be it making weak password choices, repeatedly using the same passwords or even writing them down. This improves the user experience and eliminates common password issues that call for reset and recovery.
Currently, the technology is deployed in thousands of large corporations, government agencies and providers as the standard protocol for communicating identities via the net. More often than not, it’s utilised to aid a service provider’s client in accessing hosted applications—without the hassle of repeated authentication. As an example, in the healthcare sector, SAML is able to unite healthcare providers in delivering critical applications to patients through a single authentication source.
In spite of these benefits, SAML is not without its naysayers—likely due to its complexity in implementation—even for experienced IT techs and administrators. Moreover, it has yet to be fully optimized for mobile apps, being limited to web-based authentication in an increasingly mobile world.
Still, regardless of what people have to say, there’s no denying that the protocol remains vital in providing the security features associated with SSO technology. Any cybersecurity expert worth their salt will tell you today that adopting identity access management products using SAML and SSO is crucial to every enterprise cybersecurity strategy.