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How to Improve Security with SSO and MFA

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Usernames and passwords are the foundation of almost every application we use and every network we access. But these conventional credentials have become shockingly inadequate, and the days of relying solely on a simple username and password for protection are long gone.

As threat actors have become more clever and resourceful, companies need a more resilient defense. Enter single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA), two fundamental layers of security that can bolster your cyber defense in a relatively easy way.

In this blog, we'll delve into the world of SSO and MFA, explore their individual benefits, and explain why combining them can be a game-changer for your security posture.

SSOMFA - 2FA

Strengthening your security posture with SSO and MFA is not just a smart choice; it's a basic and essential step. To protect both your employees and your organization, Huntress highly recommends implementing both SSO and MFA. When combined, SSO can help limit employee frustration and increase password strength, while MFA allows for verification of user identity prior to them logging into any application or network you want to maintain tight control over.

Let’s dive into each and see what makes the SSO + MFA combo so strong.

What Is Single Sign-On?

Single sign-on, or SSO, is when applications or websites allow a person to log in using an already trusted third party to verify that the user is who they say they are. 

Instead of juggling various usernames and passwords for different systems, users log in once, and SSO securely handles their access to various resources. You’ve probably encountered this before. Most sites today offer the option to log in with Google or another trusted account.

Slack SSO example
HubSpot SSO example

3 Reasons to Implement SSO:

  • It can provide a less frustrating and more streamlined experience for users. With SSO, users can access multiple services without pausing to enter new credentials or guess which credentials are for which site.
  • You can significantly increase the strength of user passwords because people only have to remember a single (hopefully complex) password, creating fewer opportunities for a password to be lost, stolen, or reused. Administrators can also enforce policies and access controls uniformly across all integrated applications, ensuring that security measures are consistently applied throughout the organization.
  • SSO decreases administrative and IT costs because less time will be spent resetting passwords—buying back more time that can be spent on more strategic tasks or projects. 

What Is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Multi-factor authentication, or MFA for short, is an authentication method that requires users to provide two or more verification factors before granting access. These factors typically fall into one of three categories:

1. Knowledge: Something only the user knows (e.g., a password)2. Possession: Something only the user has (e.g., a smartphone or security token)3. Inherence: Something only the user is (e.g., fingerprint or facial recognition)

MFA requires additional verification factors

MFA offers a significant security enhancement by adding an additional layer of authentication beyond just a username and password. Even if malicious actors manage to obtain login credentials, they would still be unable to access the account without the second factor.

3 Reasons to Implement MFA:

  • Over 80% of data breaches caused by hacking in 2019 involved brute force or the use of stolen or lost credentials. Systems with simple username-and-password combinations are hacked at an alarming rate, causing them to be incredibly vulnerable.
  • If passwords are stolen but MFA is enabled, the thief won’t be able to penetrate the system without the additional authentication needed to access the account.
  • There are several ways to implement MFA, allowing you to make the best decision for your employees and your IT environments.

Why You Should Use Both MFA and SSO

While SSO and MFA serve different purposes, combining them can provide a robust defense against cyber threats. Implementing both allows organizations to improve security without creating a completely crappy experience for their users, while also making it easier to monitor network activity.

Let’s face it: passwords are a vulnerability. It’s tough for people to remember the complex, multi-character passwords that almost every application requires today. So wouldn’t it be so much easier to remember just one? One solid, complex, and hard-to-guess passphrase, that is.

With SSO, that one passphrase is all a user has to remember. But of course, SSO means fewer potential entry points for hackers—and once they’ve cracked the code, the doors have opened to all the user’s other accounts and applications. This is why requiring an additional authentication layer with MFA is so important.

By combining SSO and MFA, you strike a balance between convenience and security. Users enjoy the simplicity of logging in once, while MFA adds an extra layer of protection, ensuring that even if their credentials are compromised, an attacker still can't access their account.

Quote - SSO and MFA

Security Tips for Implementing SSO and MFA

Here are some essential tips for successfully implementing SSO and MFA in your organization:

  • Choose a reliable SSO provider: Select a trusted SSO solution that offers seamless integration with your applications and robust security features.
  • Implement MFA everywhere: Enable MFA for all critical applications and services to ensure a consistent security posture.
  • Educate users: Train your users on the importance of security, especially regarding protecting their MFA methods, such as smartphones or tokens. Hint: that's where security awareness training can help!
  • Regularly review and update policies: Continuously monitor and update access policies and authentication methods to adapt to evolving threats.

Closing Thoughts

Cybersecurity is a challenge for IT departments across all industries. Not only are expectations getting higher, but the workforce is also evolving with new technologies and an ever-expanding global ecosystem. That means the risks are high as well.

Single sign-on and multi-factor authentication represent two fundamental layers of security that can work in tandem to combat the vulnerabilities of traditional authentication methods. By combining SSO and MFA, you have a bit more peace of mind while protecting your organization or managed environments.

At Huntress, we’re acutely aware of how hackers are getting smarter and evolving their tradecraft. So, we need to ensure that we’re implementing changes to make it that much harder for attackers to access an application or network. That’s why the Huntress platform is enabled for both multi-factor authentication (MFA) and two-factor authentication (2FA).

If you’d like to learn more about enforcing MFA and 2FA, read our support article here

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