What is SAML and How Does it Work?

What is SAML and How Does it Work?

Primarily, SAML is an acronym experts use to describe the Security Assertion Markup Language. It operates by transferring authentication data between two parties, often an identity provider (IDP) and a web application, in a unique structure. However, web applications use SAML to transmit authentication data between the identity provider (IdP) and the service provider based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) protocol (SP).

Thus, it makes it possible to access different web apps with just one set of login credentials. This is its main function in terms of online security.

How SAML Works

For SAML to function, the identity provider and service provider must exchange and compare user data. They try to verify the similarities between logins, authentication status, IDs, and other pertinent features.

This is to ensure that the user logs in once with a single set of authentication credentials. It goes ahead to simplify and secure the authentication process. Later, when a user tries to access a website, the identity provider sends the SAML authentication to the service provider, whose duty is to subsequently authorizes the user's access.

Let's use this example to explain how SAML works.

Imagine you are at the airport preparing to board a plane, but the airline has to confirm your identification. To verify your identity, they employ a specific sort of government-issued picture identification. If the name on your government ID and the one on your airline ticket match, you may board the aircraft.

In this case, the airline is the service provider, the government the identity provider, while the SAML assertion is your official identification.

The process requires the information you supplied while filling out the form to register for the government card. These include passports, real-time photos, and fingerprints.

Now, the airport must communicate with the government (service provider) database that has your personal information. The airline verifies your identification (SAML assertion) and will only allow you access if the information on the identity card and passport are accurate and legitimate.

What is the Purpose of SAML?

When users need to access various diverse web apps across domains, SAML helps to make the authentication procedure straightforward. The SAML authentication method eliminates the need for users to remember numerous usernames and passwords. It also benefits service providers as it improves the security of their platforms, largely by removing the need to keep passwords.

What is SAML SSO?

With SAML SSO, a user only needs to remember one set of credentials for logins. It is a system that uses SAML to let users log into several web applications after logging into the identity provider. SAML SSO offers a quicker, more seamless user experience because users only need to log in once. Additionally, because customers do not need to input their username and password for each application they open, it offers quick and easy access to a website.

SAML SSO increases efficiency while lowering costs. They avoid flooding the Help Desk with requests to reset passwords. Hence, allowing the service team to focus on other matters.

OAuth and SAML Comparison

You can grant a user access to various SAAS apps using the OAuth and SAML protocols. However, the main distinction between the two is that OAuth is used for authorization while SAML is used for authentication. While authentication verifies that a person is who they say they are, authorization is the security process that establishes a user's or service's level of access.

Conclusion

SAML creates single sign-on (SSO) scenarios where users sign up for user identity directory services or intranets once. But can use the same login information to access services from different SPs.

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