Federated Authentication vs. SSO: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever deployed a new application for your organization, you know first-hand the grumbling and security headaches that can come with it. It’s one more sign-on and password for your users to remember (or – more likely – write on a post-it and leave in their desk drawer for anyone to stumble across).

Did you know that over 40% of employees have admitted to using the same two to four passwords for all of their accounts? Even if you try to combat this with 90-day password requirements, it usually ends with numbered variations of the same password, which is a security nightmare.

So how can you combat password fatigue and poor security practices without putting the onus on your users? That’s where tools like federated authentication and single sign-on (SSO) come in. These authentication methods streamline the sign-in process and make it easier for your users to access the necessary applications and sites.

Which one is right for your organization? Read on to learn more about federated authentication vs. SSO and what implications the nuances between them have for your organization.

What Is Federated Authentication?

Federated authentication, or federated identity management (FIM), is a model of authentication developed to address an early problem of the internet where users on one domain could not access information from other domains. This was especially difficult for organizations whose operations were spread across multiple domains. It created a very disjointed and frustrating user experience.

FIM was developed as a solution to this problem. It started as a list of agreements and standards that allowed organizations to share user identities. This is the type of agreement that allows you to sign-in to Paramount Plus with your Amazon account or into Spotify with your Google account information.

But no matter where you’re signing in or with which credentials, it’s not the applications themselves that are reviewing or authenticating user credentials. Instead, an identity provider (IdP) reviews them and validates (or doesn’t). This often requires the use of open-sourced Security Assertion Markup Language like OAuth or OpenID Connect. These are open standards that…