Comparing passkeys and Single Sign-On (SSO)

Strong authentication procedures are more important than ever since cyber threats are growing more complex. Let's have a look at passkeys vs. SSO.

12-03-2024 - 8 minute read. Posted in: awareness.

Comparing passkeys and Single Sign-On (SSO)

The pursuit of the ideal authentication technique is an ongoing effort. Strong authentication procedures are more important than ever since cyber threats are growing more complex. In this blog post, we examine the differences between passkeys and Single Sign-On (SSO), weighing their advantages and disadvantages before discussing which provides users with a more secure online experience.

Understanding Single Sign-On (SSO)

Using a single set of credentials, users can access numerous apps or services through the Single Sign-On (SSO) technique. SSO is based on the simple principle that users only need to authenticate once to access a variety of connected platforms, saving them time and effort from having to enter their credentials every time.

Benefits of SSO

SSO offers several benefits, including enhanced user experience, centralized management, and productivity. Despite these benefits, it's critical to put extra security measures in place to mitigate any risks related to a centralized authentication approach. One such measure is multi-factor authentication. In order to create a digital environment that is effective and resistant to changing cyber threats, it is important to find a balance between user comfort and strong security.

Specifically, benefits of SSO include:

  • User convenience: The main goal of SSO is to make user authentication simpler. When people have to manage many online accounts across various platforms, it is quite convenient to only have to log in once to access a wide range of services. The inconvenience of having to remember and enter unique usernames and passwords for each application is eliminated for users. In addition to saving time, this streamlined process makes interacting with digital platforms more pleasant and easy.

  • Enhanced productivity: The seamless access facilitated by SSO translates into enhanced productivity for users. People would no longer have to repeatedly log in to access various programs and services, allowing for seamless navigation. This is especially helpful in work environments where staff members have to transition between multiple tools and systems during the course of the workday. SSO facilitates a more productive workflow, freeing users from the interruption of constant logins.

  • Centralized authentication: SSO has the benefit of centralized authentication management from an administrative standpoint. A more effective and integrated security approach can be facilitated by security administrators having central oversight and control over user access. The process of onboarding and offboarding users is made easier by this centralized control, which also makes it possible to respond to security threats more quickly. By having a holistic view of user activities, administrators can detect and address potential security issues promptly, contributing to a more robust defense against unauthorized access or suspicious behavior.

The security landscape of SSO

SSO is unquestionably convenient, but there is a possible security risk associated with it. When a user's SSO credentials are stolen, all linked accounts are simultaneously accessible to the attacker. This inherent vulnerability raises concerns about the safety of sensitive data and underscores the importance of implementing additional security measures, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), to fortify SSO systems.

Passkeys: A different method of authentication

Conversely, passkeys offer an alternative method of user authentication. A passkey is a special set of characters, or cryptographic key, that acts as a user's login. In contrast to SSO, passkeys are frequently connected to particular services or apps, necessitating the entry of a different key for every platform.

Benefits of passkeys

Users and organizations can strengthen their security posture and keep flexibility and control over their authentication procedures by implementing passkeys. However, it's essential to educate users about best practices for creating and managing passkeys to ensure their effectiveness in enhancing overall security.

Benefits of passkeys include:

  • Isolation of credentials: The ability of passkeys to isolate credentials for specific apps or services is one of their main benefits. Passkeys are unique to each application, in contrast to Single Sign-On (SSO), where access to various platforms is granted with a single set of credentials. This isolation reduces the potential impact of a security breach. The risk of extensive unauthorized access is reduced when a passkey for one service is hacked because it doesn't always provide access to other accounts.

  • Customized security levels: Passkeys provide you the freedom to tailor security settings to each application according to its unique needs. Depending on the type of services they offer or the sensitivity of the data they manage, different platforms may have different security requirements. Passkeys let administrators and users adjust how strong authentication is based on specific needs. Applications that handle sensitive data, for instance, can need longer and more complicated passkeys, whereas applications with minimal security concerns might use less strict authentication requirements. Because of its granularity, companies can apply a risk-based security strategy and guarantee that each application is adequately protected without compromising user experience.

  • Less proneness to credential stuffing: A common cyberthreat known as credential stuffing is when attackers utilize credentials they have stolen from one platform to access accounts on other platforms where users have reused their credentials. By guaranteeing that every application has a distinct cryptographic key or authentication token, passkeys reduce this risk. Thus, in the event of a data breach on one platform, the passkey used for that specific service may remain secure, minimizing the risk of unauthorized access to other accounts.

Choosing between SSO and passkeys boils down to finding the right balance between user convenience and resilient security. While SSO offers ease of use, it requires additional layers of security to mitigate the risks associated with a compromised single set of credentials. In other words, SSO should not stand on its own from a security perspective. Passkeys, on the other hand, provide a more granular approach to security but may come at the cost of increased user friction.

So let's dive into how to leverage the strengths of each solution.

Best practices for SSO security

  1. Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA): Enhance the security of SSO systems by implementing MFA, requiring users to provide additional authentication factors beyond their initial credentials. This is an extra layer of security added to SSO’s single set of credentials.

  2. Regular audits and monitoring: Conduct regular audits and monitor user activities within the SSO environment to detect and respond to any suspicious or unauthorized access promptly.

  3. Educate users on security practices: Empower users with knowledge about best security practices, including the importance of strong, unique passwords and the risks associated with password reuse. Security awareness training is a great way to optimize employees’ security and cyber hygiene.

Best practices for passkey security

  1. Encourage strong passkey practices: Educate users about creating strong and unique passkeys for each application, emphasizing the importance of avoiding easily guessable and commonly used combinations.

  2. Regularly update passkeys: As with passwords and software, regular passkey updates are key. Prompt users to update their passkeys periodically to enhance security and adapt to evolving threat landscapes.

  3. Implement encryption: Ensure that passkeys are transmitted and stored securely through encryption protocols, preventing unauthorized access to sensitive information.

The future is hybrid and adaptive

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the future of secure authentication lies in hybrid approaches that combine the strengths of both SSO and passkeys. Hybrid approaches recognize that no single authentication method fits all scenarios. Organizations are increasingly adopting a combination of SSO and passkeys, leveraging the advantages of both to create a more resilient and flexible authentication framework. In such hybrid models, SSO might be employed for seamless access to several applications, while passkeys are reserved for highly sensitive or individualized services. This nuanced approach allows organizations to balance user convenience with the need for heightened security, tailoring authentication methods to the specific requirements of each application or service.

Adaptive authentication represents a paradigm shift from static, one-size-fits-all authentication methods to a more responsive and context-aware approach. Adaptive authentication leverages contextual information such as device, location, and user behavior to dynamically adjust security levels.

Security is a collaborative effort

When it comes to the dilemma between convenience and security, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The key lies in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each authentication method and implementing a collaborative approach. SSO and passkeys are not mutually exclusive but might complement each other for increased security.

Ultimately, security depends on a multifaceted approach combining user awareness, technology, and a proactive approach to emerging threats. By staying informed, implementing best practices, and embracing adaptive security measures, organizations and individuals alike can navigate the dynamic security landscape more confidently.

Author Emilie Hartmann

Emilie Hartmann

Emilie Hartmann is a student and copywriter at Moxso, where she is a language nerd and always on the lookout for new and exciting topics to write about. She is currently doing her Master's in English, where she is primarily working in the fields of Creative Writing and Digital Humanities.

View all posts by Emilie Hartmann

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