What is SAML and how does it work?

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Privacy and security are the major concerns for internet users across the globe and to cope with the security measures, technical enterprises are constantly working towards a secure and persistent platform for end-users. 

One such security measure is implementing a secured sign-in process. 

Website and applications are immensely linked to user’s login credentials, and Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) provides a way to secure such credentials i.e., passwords using SSO or Single Sign-On technology.

SAML: Security Assertion Markup Language

SAML works as a protocol for a website or an application authentication. This authentication standard allows the identity providers to centralize the login credentials to service providers allowing the user to use single credentials for different web applications. It aids in the establishment of trust between the servers as well as all the web-based applications through cryptography and digital signatures.

How does SAML work?

SAML is based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) to maintain communication between IdPs and SPs and enables the Single Sign-On SSO, and is responsible for reusability over different SPs via a single credential. 

SAML binding plays a vital role in mapping SAML protocols into HTTP or SOAP through which the transmission occurs.

SSO is the most common use case of bindings is the SSO over a web application. 

SAML assertions are the XML documents sent from IdPs to SP authentication, that signifies that a user is signed in. When users authenticate through a SAML-supported application, the service provider SP requests IdP for the user’s authentication. 

What is IdP? 

Identity Provider or IdP is a cloud-based software service model that confirms the identity. It then authenticates the credentials and returns the XML document to the service provider, responsible for the services that the user wants to access. It receives the authentication and allows the user to utilize the requested service allowing the user to log in with the same credentials.

The benefits of using SAML

The primary usage of SAML is to enable the Single Sign-On in web applications and browsers. Here are the benefits of using SAML:

  • High reliability: The transmission of SAML by different transport protocols, including Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and HTTP. 
  • SSO sorts out a lot of management tasks as it offers a single database
  • Security
  • Enhanced user experience: For end-users, a single-user login aids them in not depending on different credentials to access distinct applications. 

The benefits SAML offers are the reason why it is a critical tool being adopted by enterprises as a solution to Business-To-Business and Software as a Service (SaaS). 

The disadvantages of using SAML

Whereas there exist some setbacks of SAML SSO which include complex XML schema as well as modification, its limitation to web applications and websites only, and the lack of consent of user identity data storage and transmission.

Closing thoughts

SAML comprised with Single Sign-on is important to cope with industrial security challenges over the internet. The single authentication in different applications helps the user to disable any account based on it, which in case, prevents the user’s personal information and data to be stolen. Despite the hindrances of complexities, it is one of the critical aspects in terms of data security.

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