Multi-factor authentication and single sign-on are important parts of identity and access management. 

They’re also something every business should understand right now because they prevent many of the main cybersecurity vulnerabilities that come with remote and hybrid work environments

Rather than looking at them as competing elements of a cybersecurity plan, you should instead consider them two things that work together. 

The general concept underlying both MFA and SSO is that a password and user ID combination are no longer adequate to protect sensitive data and information. 

Below are details about both. 

What is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Multi-factor authentication or MFA uses different factors to verify someone’s identity and then ultimately grant access to systems, data, and software. 

Most MFA systems will use at least two factors to authenticate users and devices.

The first is typically characterized as “what you know.” What you know might include recovery questions or a password. 

Another potential category is what you have, which can include a one-time password or a token. 

A third factor is who you are, meaning a biometric factor like a fingerprint. The fourth possible factor is what you do or where you’re at. This category can include location-based authentication or keystroke biometrics, which assess how you type. 

The advantage of MFA is the security. 

Other benefits of MFA, along with additional security layer include that it’s easy to implement, and your employees and customers feel like they’re being protected. Ultimately, you can lower your operating costs because you’re spending less on cybersecurity problems, and it can reduce the burden on your IT team. 

The biggest issue with MFA is that it can be cumbersome to manage, which is why a good MFA solution can keep your employees productive and make things easier for them without sacrificing security. 

What Is Single Sign-On?

Single sign-on, in some ways is a more straightforward concept than MFA. Single sign-on refers to scenarios where a user has a master sign-on to authenticate themselves before they start working. If they need to log into another tool to do their work, the SSO solution will log them in. 

The credentials to log into all needed platforms are stored by the SSO solution. 

Benefits of single sign-on include:

  • With the move to the cloud, employees are increasingly using apps for work, and each of those can otherwise require a different password or username. This is burdensome and leads to serious cybersecurity vulnerabilities stemming from password fatigue. Signing on once can improve employee productivity and save everyone time. 
  • SSO can save on IT costs because there’s less being spent on password resets and troubleshooting. It’s optimal if SSO is part of a centralized access management system that uses a central directory for the provisioning and de-provisioning of users. You can relatively easily define policies based on location, user role and other traits. 
  • The use of SSO can prevent shadow IT. Shadow IT refers to unauthorized workplace downloads. With cloud downloads so prevalent, the risk of shadow IT continues to grow. SSO can help employers monitor the apps employees use, reducing the risk of shadow IT.
  • Having SSO in place can encourage employees to use available technology tools. If you invest in new technology and employees aren’t willing to use it, it’s a wasted investment. You want any technology investments to make your employees’ lives easier rather than harder, and SSO can help with that. 

Comparing MFA and SSO

SSO focuses on users getting access to all needed resources with one authentication. Multi-factor authentication is about stronger verification of identities. One doesn’t eliminate the need for the other. They do different things and should ideally be used together. 

When using both MFA and SSO, benefits include enhanced security and convenience. You’re simultaneously taking the burden off employees to remember so many passwords, and you’re also reducing a potential surface area for a cyber-attack. 

MFA can serve as a backup for SSO because it adds additional layers of authentication. Both can work to increase employee productivity. Workers aren’t spending all their time concerned with password and log-in issues. 

MFA and SSO can both fit into the larger concept of identity and access management (IAM), which focuses on making sure the right people in your organization have access to the right resources at the proper time across increasingly diversified technical systems. 

Understanding identity and access management should be one of your top priorities for the upcoming new year, along with general cybersecurity in a modern, cloud-driven environment.

By Jim O Brien/CEO

CEO and expert in transport and Mobile tech. A fan 20 years, mobile consultant, Nokia Mobile expert, Former Nokia/Microsoft VIP,Multiple forum tech supporter with worldwide top ranking,Working in the background on mobile technology, Weekly radio show, Featured on the RTE consumer show, Cavan TV and on TRT WORLD. Award winning Technology reviewer and blogger. Security and logisitcs Professional.