Identity Federation or Federated Identity Management is a concept in IT security which enables different organisations and systems to exchange identity information securely and seamlessly. User identities that are normally stored in different systems or domains are federated into a single identity that can access multiple systems and domains. In principle, it is one merged identity that spans multiple systems. For companies, this concept offers a number of advantages. One of the main advantages of identity management is that, in networked system worlds, the actual data and information remains where it was stored. Instead of implementing and maintaining huge databases, identity federation can ensure a uniform data standard. Read here what exactly lies behind the concept and what other advantages result from it.
How Identity Federation works
The concept of identity federation is often enabled through the use of standards such as Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) or similar, OpenID Connect or OAuth. This ensures that identity information can be exchanged securely between different systems and domains. What's more, identities are verified and validated in a standardised way. An example of this is the cooperation of companies with OEMs. Here, the company grants the supplier certain access rights so that everyone involved in a project can always access the currently required data. This not only has enormous economic advantages but also increases data security.
Identity federation thus follows the concept of Single Sign-On (SSO). Users only have to enter their credentials once to access multiple systems or applications instead of logging into each system individually. Unlike SSO, which only works within an organisation and is based on a common infrastructure, identity federation enables collaboration between different companies. Identity information is securely exchanged between systems so the user can access protected resources in other domains if required.
Examples of Identity Federation:
- Business-to-business (B2B) identity federation: B2B identity federation enables companies to securely access resources in other companies' systems without requiring separate authentication. This can facilitate collaboration between different companies and increase efficiency.
- Cross-Domain Identity Management (CDIM): CDIM refers to managing user identities distributed across different domains or organisations. Identity federation can be used to manage these identities securely and facilitate collaboration between different organisations.
- Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC): ABAC is an authorisation approach where access to resources is controlled based on attributes such as role, location or time. Identity federation can be used to securely exchange these attributes between different systems, enabling a seamless ABAC implementation.
- Mobile Device Management (MDM): Identity federation can also be used to manage mobile devices by enabling centralised management of user identities and access.
These examples show how identity federation can be used in different contexts to improve security, efficiency and collaboration.
5 Advantages of Identity Federation
Identity federation offers a number of benefits - especially in terms of improving security, simplifying the user experience and saving costs.
- Enhanced security: By centrally managing user identities and using standardised protocols and procedures, security is increased as it becomes more difficult to steal or manipulate identity data.
- Simplified user experience: With identity federation, users can access multiple systems with a single set of credentials, thereby simplifying the user experience and increasing productivity.
- Reduced costs: Identity federation can reduce costs as it's no longer necessary to deploy and manage a separate identity management system for each application or system.
- Superior interoperability: Identity federation enables the seamless integration of applications and systems operating in different domains or organisations.
- Improved compliance: Identity federation can support compliance requirements such as data protection and security regulations by enabling better control and monitoring of identity management.
A Look into the Future
Identity federation is an important step in developing identity management systems, yet other developments exist in this area. For instance, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is an important topic. Using AI can detect anomalies and potential threats even more efficiently, allowing IT teams to intervene earlier.
Decentralisation also plays a role, as blockchain is always discussed as an identity solution.
And last but not least, the Internet of Things (IoT) remains in focus. As more and more devices and systems are interconnected, identity management technologies could be increasingly utilised in IoT systems in the future with the aim of enabling secure and effective identity management in these systems.