How WordPress Active Directory SSO Integration Works

How WordPress Active Directory SSO Integration Works.  When making a website, you have to take care of a lot of details. You have to make sure it’s working correctly and provides an adequate user experience. You also have to make sure that it is structured nicely and complies with all internet standards so that search engines can recognize its relevance. Among all such details, a crucial aspect often ignored is ensuring the website and its security.

Cybersecurity is a growing concern in our rapidly evolving digital age. As technologies and applications get more intelligent, strategies to trick security measures are also getting more cunning. While most enterprises are actively trying to secure their websites to their best abilities, their measures often hurt the user experience. Few security measures exist that satisfy the security concerns without hindering the user, such as the single sign-on (SSO) mechanism.

This article will briefly go through SSO and discuss how it is implemented through Microsoft’s Active Directory. It will then show how Active Directory’s SSO mechanism can integrate into the world’s most popular content management system, WordPress.

How WordPress Active Directory SSO Integration Works

How Does Active Directory SSO Work?

Active Directory is Microsoft’s directory management service for on-premise and cloud servers (under the Azure cloud platform). Unlike relational databases, directories like Active Directory hierarchically hold data, becoming more relevant to enterprise-level data management. They also offer better search speeds and more robust security features than databases.

Through Active Directory, enterprises manage their operational data much more efficiently. It is a centralized system from where you can monitor resource allocations and configure security measures. It also serves as a single gateway to accessing global resources, whose permissions are configured as per the user’s position within the hierarchy. Such benefits become crucial for enterprises where employees are on different authentication levels.

The mechanism by which Active Directory can grant you access to resources and allowed configurations through a single login is called the single sign-on (SSO) mechanism. Once logged in, the user won’t have to re-enter authentication information. Its adoption helps drive down the risk and added effort that comes with managing multiple security credentials.

Within Active Directory, you can implement SSO by yourself using Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) or employ a third-party extension to do most of the job for you. Many services provide their own integrations that allow users access once Active Directory authenticates them. However, as technologies and services increase, you will have to add and configure such integrations separately.

The Authentication Flow Of Active Directory SSO In WordPress

WordPress comes within the many services that rely on Active Directory to authenticate a user and allow it access once authenticated. By choosing the correct integration, you can directly connect your WordPress instance to your Active Directory to monitor and control its access. With WordPress Active Directory SSO plugin installed, users face much less hassle signing on to WordPress once authenticated.

To decide which integration will satisfy your requirements the best, you should understand how Active Directory’s regular SSO authentication flow looks. Assuming you have your WordPress for Windows Server or WordPress on Linux on Microsoft Azure, the typical flow is as follows:

1. The user tries to log in to the WordPress instance. At the sign-in page, they are given the option to either provide admin credentials or log in through the Azure Active Directory account (could be an Office 365 account, for example).

wordpress azure sso login

2. Once the user puts in their credentials, they are redirected to the blog or page they want to access. On the backend, the plugin exchanges an authorization code for an ID token that has user information, like name and email. This ID token comes in handy if you want to query Active Directory for more user information.

 

3. The plugin uses the ID token to find a WordPress user with a username or email address matching the Active Directory user.

 

4. If the information is found, the user is authenticated to that particular user account.

5. If the information is not found, WordPress can optionally grant the user privileges based on their WordPress role and create a new account for them.

Within the above workflow, you can map the hierarchy and its roles within Active Directory to WordPress. This way, the privileges and access permissions are communicated, and users can be given restricted access. If any issue arises, you can always use the regular username and password login mechanism.

Features In Active Directory SSO Integration For WordPress

WordPress is one of the most preferred options to quickly and easily set up a website. You can add all the functionality you want within your WordPress website through a sprawling library of plugins and extensions. Such a feature gives WordPress added benefits of modularity, and you can easily manage the website when the functionalities are separate but still communicating between each other.

Once you’ve gone through how to install a WordPress server, you can now decide on how you want to setup Active Directory for WordPress SSO. There are many options available within the plugin library, each loaded with its pros and cons. However, there are a shared set of functionalities that almost all of them offer. These functionalities are the ones you should look out for, and the final choice of the plugin should satisfy adequately.

Some of the essential functionalities that Active Directory integrations for WordPress should have been discussed as follows:

Extensive Data Communication Between AD & WordPress

The integration plugin needs to provide robust data communication to ensure that all the necessary user information is available to WordPress through Active Directory. WordPress will need data to authenticate through SSO, and Active Directory will need data to monitor Active Directory user activity. Alongside, almost all of the user information for WordPress comes from Active Directory, like username and other attributes, so the integration should be able to embed them.

Robust Security Features

Security is one of the primary reasons you involve an Active Directory integration in the first place. The plugin should have a provable track record of dependability and ensure that no data is being leaked or siphoned off. Allowing for easy implementation of SSO also comes under this feature.

An ideal integration plugin will protect WordPress against brute force password attacks and protect the REST API endpoints. It should also provide the option to disable fallback to local authentication.

Consistent Synchronization Schedule

While data communication is essential, the data needs to be regularly synchronized between WordPress and Active Directory. It will ensure that any disabled accounts within the latter will mean disabling their account in the former. Any changes in permissions or authorization protocols will need to be regularly communicated to ensure complete access safety. Regular data synchronization is crucial for satisfactory SSO implementation.

Provision Of User Analytics

The Active Directory integration should also provide monitoring over user activity within WordPress. Such analytics will help ensure if the WordPress instance is following permissions properly. Additionally, it will also help curb misuse of essential resources within WordPress and observe which other services can help with the SSO implementation.

Active Directory Single Sign On (SSO) for WordPress Conclusion

Directory services like Active Directory are one of the most staple software for enterprises. They help provide convenient data and access management based on roles within a hierarchical setup. With all your data consolidated in a single place, Active Directory also becomes helpful in implementing practical security measures like SSO. When it comes to providing users with essential resources like WordPress, Active Directory and its SSO solution solve many problems around user authentication and login security.

Avatar for Emad Bin Abid
Emad Bin Abid

I'm a software engineer who has a bright vision and a strong interest in designing and engineering software solutions. I readily understand that in today's agile world the development process has to be rapid, reusable, and scalable; hence it is extremely important to develop solutions that are well-designed and embody a well-thought-of architecture as the baseline. Apart from designing and developing business solutions, I'm a content writer who loves to document technical learnings and experiences so that peers in the same industry can also benefit from them.

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