SSO vs MFA – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons)

SSO vs MFA – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons). In this post, we explain how both SSO and MFA work and outline the differences between them two. We also explain how you can leverage the two together to protect against unauthorized access and strengthen the security posture of your business.

Both, MFA and SSO are both validation processes, but they take different directions and approaches with respect to security and user experience. On one hand, SSO authenticates users using MFA, then shares the authentication across multiple applications using software tokens.

Above all, SSO helps users remain authenticated across several connected applications and separate platforms using one identity. We will also understand what MFA and SSO critical role is in improving the platform and user security. Additionally, we discuss how they help businesses to scale. 

Together, SSO and MFA share some clear similarities but also differences. The security teams should consider them when building an authentication plan. Therefore, MFA and SSO are both authentication processes but have different focuses and approaches for security and the user experience.

So, shall we start with SSO vs MFA – What’s the Difference ? (Pros and Cons)

What Is SSO?

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Single Sign On (SSO) is a centralized user session and validation service where you use one set of login information to log into multiple applications. These trusted providers allow users to access applications and websites using SSO, and they enhance the user experience by reducing password lethargy.

With single sign on, users easily access all their services and applications using one set of login information from any system or location. With SSO, users access all the applications they need without having to authenticate using multiple credentials. Identity Federation allows for interoperability, so users use one login information set to log in to many applications, services, and devices.

Importantly, Single sign on is essential because the number of business services and accounts for users to check access is constantly expanding. Each of those services requires a level of protection provided by the user name/password combination.

SSO shares centralized authentication servers, which all your other applications and systems use for validation purposes. It combines that with technologies that make sure users only need to enter their information once in an active way.

An SSO solution stores various credentials for each software component that users need access to. Then, it authenticates users against these systems when they need to access them. The SSO solution does this recording internally, storing the various credentials for each piece of software and app that a user needs to access.

Instead of having to provide credentials to every app, individuals log in once with the master password; then, the SSO system takes care of any additional validation requirements for that session.

Key Features of SSO

  • Easy management: SSO service authenticates an end user for all applications the user has rights to and removes the need for password prompts in the future for separate applications within a single session.
  • Security: SSO validation improves application and network security. For instance, you use the SSO services dashboard to give new employees a certain level of access to various systems. Also, to provide every employee with a unique username/password combination for all those systems.
  • Ease of use: SSO gives your customers or end users one key to log into multiple web properties, mobile apps, and third party systems using one identity. Users need just a single set of credentials, like their company email and password, to sign in to an SSO portal for the first time. Then gain access to internal applications if policies allow.
  • Seamless: With SSO, users log into as many applications as they want without having to authenticate using a variety of credentials.

Pros of SSO

  • Helps streamline user access to their applications.
  • Easy to connect to new data sources and implement.

Cons of SSO

  • If SSO fails, access to all the related systems is lost.
  • Increases password vulnerability since you use a single password.
  • Identity hacking and phishing are dangerous when you use them in an external environment.

Up next with SSO vs MFA – What’s the Difference ? we will introduce MFA solution.

What Is MFA?

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Second solution on our list is Multi factor authentication (MFA). A multi layered security solution that verifies the user’s identity to log in using two or more authentication factors. Those are required for application access.

Undoubtedly, MFA is a validation system that requires the user to present more than two forms of identification before they are allowed access to the network or an application. An MFA deploys several factors to validate a user’s identity and grant access to different systems, software, applications, and data.

Unquestionably, multi factor authentication is a security technology that requires multiple authentication methods by separate categories of credentials to validate the user’s identity for logins or other transactions. Passwordless MFA combines both concepts using multiple non password factors to authenticate users. Instead of requiring the user to use several credentials to authenticate for various accounts, single sign on enables single authentication, which provides access to many applications.

MFA is a security improvement, whereas SSO is a productivity enhancing system. It allows users to use one set of login credentials to log into multiple systems and applications, which may previously require a separate login.

Because you seamlessly integrate passwordless authentication methods into the multi factor approach and avoid the security risks that come with weak, compromised passwords, they are more secure by nature.

Key Features of MFA

  • Easy to implement: How to deploy MFA in an existing identity environment that includes both on premise and cloud environments? This is perhaps the biggest issue faced by the IT department in any organization. MFA software with a flexible deployment facility makes it easy to implement both on premises and as a service.
  • Quick to deploy and easy to administer: There is always an immediate necessity to implement strong authentication on a large scale in organizations. You can deploy MFA solutions quickly with very less human contact and logistics.
  • Multiple authentication modes: Multi authentication modes such as device based authentication, browser push notification, phone, email, security questions, and touch id give users the flexibility to boost complete security. Some modes include, Phone verification, Email verification, Push notification and Biometrics.
  • Easy and quick integration: MFA is compatible with all applications, irrespective of who you use it for.
  • Adaptive: MFA is adaptive. It allows users to access their environment from any place at any time securely.

Pros of MFA

  • For straightforward implementation of MFA, you can use physical tokens.
  • With MFA, you give an extra layer of protection to an organization’s security.
  • Even if a device with MFA is lost or misplaced, there is no compromise of data or access.

Cons of MFA

  • Multi factor authentication can be a frustrating experience for a user.
  • Setting up an MFA can be time consuming and expensive.
  • There may be inconsistencies with setting up an MFA across a company.
  • Phishing remains a big issue with MFA.

We came to the main part of  this article blog SSO vs MFA – What’s the Difference ? 

SSO vs MFA - The Key Differences

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Now that you have learned about SSO and MFA separately, let’s look at the differences between the two.

Both, SSO and MFA share some clear similarities, and differences security teams should consider when building an authentication plan. MFA and SSO are both authentication processes but have different focuses and approaches for security and the user experience.

SSO vs MFA - Definition

On one hand, Single sign on is an authentication technique that allows websites/mobile apps to verify users using other trusted sites/apps. On the other, SSO, or single sign on, is a login authentication method that allows users to sign into their website accounts or applications using one set of credentials.

Multi factor authentication is a multi layered security solution that verifies the user’s identity to log in using two or more authentication factors required for application access. MFA is an authentication system that requires the user to present more than two forms of identification before they are allowed access to the network or an application.

SSO vs MFA - Support

The SSO authenticates users using MFA, then shares the authentication across multiple applications using software tokens. MFA supports SSO with layers of authentication for employees and management across applications and systems.

When adopting SSO and MFA, it is essential that you do it in a manner that meets the unique cyber security needs of your organization.

SSO vs MFA - Simplicity

With SSO, users use multiple services without ceasing to input new credentials or guessing the ones used on what sites. In other words, users need only to learn and supply one global set of login credentials rather than having to memorize multiple passwords and type each into each app.

SSO vs MFA - Security

In the case of MFA, it improves security, whereas SSO improves productivity. Allows users to access more systems and applications using a single set of login credentials.

Whereas, SSO focuses on user convenience, but MFA focuses on user security. The SSO mitigates the repetition of reentering the passwords while MFA mitigates the low security of passwords.

Most security officers have the choice between two leading security solutions, SSO or MFA deciding which is best for your organization requires carefully considering the pros and cons of each approach.

SSO vs MFA - Use Cases

So many large companies, such as Google, LinkedIn, Apple, Twitter and Facebook offer popular SSO services that enable end users to log in to third party applications with their social media authentication credentials.

ATM is one of the best example of MFA. Imagine you are at an ATM so that you can withdraw money from your bank account. Your debit card (something you have) is one authentication factor. However, to access your account, you also need to enter the PIN that is associated with your debit card.

That is all! Thank you for reading SSO vs MFA – What’s the Difference ? We will conclude now. 

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SSO vs MFA - What's the Difference ? (Pros and Cons) Conclusion

Summarizing, MFA improves security, whereas SSO is a process for improving productivity by allowing users to access more systems and applications using a single set of login credentials, which might include previously each required its own login.

SSO is a system that helps users access multiple web applications simultaneously using only a single set of credentials. An SSO enhances the user experience and allows customers to quickly access a company’s numerous applications using only a single login credential, thus quickly gaining access to the product or service.

Please navigate to our SSO section of the blog to read more related content

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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