How Identity Providers are Shaping SaaS Access Control

The cloud has become an integral part of our lives. Currently, the cloud is also shaping cybersecurity trends all over the world. Especially in cloud apps and services, identity and access control are crucial for businesses of all sizes against modern security threats. Integrating SaaS access control with identity providers fulfills the need for cloud security and protects complex business networks effectively.

Understanding the Basics: Identity Providers and SaaS

Software as a Service:

SaaS, software as a service, refers to a software distribution model as cloud computing over the Internet, enabling users to access specified applications. In other words, SaaS provides hosted software or applications to end users. In this model, either the software vendor is also the cloud provider, or ISVs (independent software vendors) host applications with contracted third-party cloud providers. The actual application runs on cloud servers. Also, SaaS is considered one of the main types of cloud computing, along with infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS).

SaaS applications are a ready-made solution and only require a subscription fee for users to access through network connections or web browsers. As a result, SaaS frees organizations or individual end users from installing, renewing, or maintaining software. Aside from accessibility, software as a service provides affordability of innovation, scalability, functionality, flexibility, automatic updates, customization, and many more.

Identity Providers:

An identity provider, IdP or IDP, is an entity that simply creates, stores, and manages digital user identities by a third-party company. Identity providers offer authentication services for digital and cloud-based applications. Either IDPs verify the digital identities via credentials or other factors, or there can be a list of trusted user identities that another service provider checks. So, IDP offers a Single Sign-On (SSO) to access relying applications.

Also, the stored digital identities on the system are called principals. These principals are associated with authentication factors such as knowledge, possession, and inherent factors.

Organizations utilize identity providers to maintain security by controlling privileges and managing access to required resources and data for their employees or guest users. A typical IDP workflow involves a request, verification, and unlocking. When users provide unique information as a request, IDP checks whether the digital identities match before sending messages to the relying application and granting access. IDPs only send 3 basic types of notes: authentication, attribution, and authorization assertion.

The Evolution of Access Control in SaaS Platforms

In the early days of cloud computing, security and access control weren’t the top priority. Cloud computing, specifically the SaaS platforms, improved remarkably while making cloud security more complex.

In the early 2000s, the cloud and SaaS applications exploded all around the globe, gaining massive attention. In this era, data stored in the cloud and SaaS platforms increased at an accelerating rate. So did the cyberattacks due to the expanded attack surface. As the need for cybersecurity shifted, access control was heavily dependent on login credentials or physical authentication.

In the later years, cyber attacks specifically targeted cloud and SaaS platforms as they got more trending. Malware attacks, network exploits, phishing, and social engineering attacks evolved rapidly, weakening security defenses. Organizations relied on traditional access control mechanisms, and they had limited management and visibility over SaaS platforms.

In the 2010s, many organizations fell victim to data breaches due to stolen credentials, misconfigurations, and overly permissive identities in the cloud environments. That’s when access control mechanisms have advanced, for instance, CASB, SSO, MFA, and two-factor authentication.

In the 2020s, access control and cybersecurity technologies are shaping the future of cloud security. Zero Trust model, AI, and machine learning have gained prominence, and they continue to evolve cloud security and access control.

Why Integrating Identity Providers is Essential for Modern Businesses

For cloud computing, tracking digital identities is necessary since they determine whether users can access sensitive data. Cloud applications and services require retrieving and verifying user identity. The records of such user identities are stored in a secured manner in IDPs, whereas other services may store them in unsecured locations. So, IDPs prevent cyber attackers from impersonating users by implementing extra precautions.

Integrating identity providers is crucial and beneficial for modern businesses due to several reasons:

  • Enhanced efficiency
  • Simplified account creation
  • Simplified problem-solving
  • Password fatigue prevention

Also, identity providers act as a centralized authentication system, allowing users to access multiple services with single credentials. IDPs further improve security by reducing the number of passwords users must remember.

The Role of Single Sign-On in Streamlining Access

Organizations deploy various applications and services on the cloud and on-premises to improve their workflows. This reliance requires their employees to log in to and switch between multiple applications to complete tasks throughout the work hours.

Single Sign-On (SSO) eliminates the need for managing multiple login credentials whenever they need access to different applications. With one set of credentials, SSO eliminates repeated logins, streamlines access, and allows users to access and switch between applications seamlessly.

Additionally, SSO saves time, reduces costs, and cuts the workload on IT staff since users require less assistance on login-related issues. Further, SSO enhances security.

Risks Mitigated: Enhanced Security through Integrated IDP

Integrated identity provider offers significant security improvements and risk mitigation for cloud services and SaaS applications. With IDPs, organizations can implement a comprehensive KYC policy and a robust access control policy to ensure unique user credentials.

Also, identity providers enable enhanced authentication mechanisms such as Single Sign-On and Multifactor Authentication and mitigate the risk of compromised credentials. Multifactor authentication enables organizations to increase the security of all employee and user accounts on the business network and block third-party access to cloud assets. On the other hand, SSO ensures organizations no longer require repeated logins.

Additionally, IDP helps to secure connections and control access for employees with a variety of devices, locations, and time zones. All of these features of IDP help organizations protect sensitive data stored in the cloud from unauthorized access.

Challenges and Considerations in IDP-SaaS Integration

Since IDP covers only a limited part of access control and lacks visibility into authorization, IDP configurations can be overridden by certain setups of SaaS applications. On the scale of SaaS, tracking unmanaged identities by IDP and overprivileged users and detecting weak authentication can become challenging. On top of this, SAML payloads, sync issues, and de-provisioning are other IDP integration challenges.

You might want to consider compatibility issues with SaaS and other existing systems as these issues can interfere with your business network security posture, and lead to potential cyber attacks. Other considerations would be the technical complexity of IDP integration, data migration, and user disruption.

What to Expect in SaaS Access Control Evolution

In recent years, SaaS access control has evolved tremendously with the rise of new technologies such as API (Application Programming Interface), AI, and machine learning. In future developments, we might see more IoT and AI-based access control systems. Also, ML will be definitely taking center stage for SaaS access control. On top of this, we might see more mobile optimizations.