How Single Sign-On (SSO) Improves Your Account Security

May 19, 2021
Written by
Shamika Abraham
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

How Single Sign-On (SSO) Improves Your Account Security

Customers are increasingly vigilant about purchasing products and services whose features fit seamlessly into their own security infrastructure. With data breaches in the news daily, organizations have a critical responsibility to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data stored and processed from threats of theft and unauthorized access.

Having security controls in place to minimize these risks are not just important for protection but also an invaluable part of building and maintaining customer trust. That’s where SSO for your Twilio SendGrid account (now generally available) comes in. 

What is SSO?

Single sign-on (SSO) is an authentication method built on trust. It provides users the ability to securely access multiple applications after authenticating their identity with a single login. This simplifies the experience for users by eliminating the need to remember and reenter individual passwords for various applications. 

How does SSO work?

A centralized system called an identity provider (IdP) stores and manages user credentials. When a user submits their login credentials, the IdP authenticates their identity. Once validated, the information can be securely shared across applications and/or service providers at once to authorize access.

The many benefits of SSO

Manually managing individual user access and permissions at scale can be challenging and risky. That's where SSO comes in. Centrally managed access provides a strong foundation for effective access controls, enforcement of secure password/passphrase use, improvement of user experience, and can reduce the risk of account compromise.

Implementing an SSO solution facilitates the development of robust role-based access controls (RBAC) and/or team-based access controls (TBAC), which you can enforce across devices. Additionally, SSO helps simplify onboarding new hires, off-boarding departures, supporting internal transfers, and regular auditing of user access and permissions to mitigate internal risk.

The benefits of SSO are further enhanced when combined with the use of multifactor authentication (MFA). Combining the factors of knowledge (user credentials) with possession (e.g., an authenticator app, like Authy) makes it a lot more challenging for anyone to gain unauthorized access even if they have the username and password to an account.

SSO and your account security 

When accounts are not centrally managed, users have to remember usernames and passwords for every application/system they access. Users are then more likely to choose and reuse insecure passwords, which can leave accounts vulnerable to avoidable cyber threats.

Manual processes for managing user permissions as their statuses change are time-consuming and less effective than adopting SSO. Without SSO, a simple oversight could result in assigning users inappropriate levels of access to sensitive systems. Or worse, off-boarded users may inadvertently retain access after their departure. 

Account takeovers (ATO) are commonly a direct result of cyberthreat actors exploiting leaked user account credentials like passwords or API keys that are in use for more than one application or system. The information then helps with credential stuffing attacks, where credentials are rapidly tested against multiple systems to gain unauthorized access to the user account. Or, in the case of an exposed API key, bypass the authorization process entirely.

An ATO can lead to account fraud, which is not only costly but potentially damaging to an organization’s reputation. Implementing secure authentication controls like SSO and ensuring that API keys are not hard-coded into anything can dramatically reduce the risk of an ATO.

The use of SSO, backed by a strong password policy and MFA, is a powerful strategy for reducing the attack surface susceptible to the most widespread cyberattack, phishing.

Minimizing the number of user credentials available for compromise while simultaneously creating a fail-safe to lock attackers out in the event a phishing attack is successful. These controls easily mitigate a significant amount of the risk posed by phishing attacks upfront.

For more account security best practices, read our article, 7 Best Practices to Protect Your Twilio SendGrid Account and Sending Reputation

Set up SSO for your Twilio SendGrid account

SSO for Twilio SendGrid is generally available to Marketing Campaigns’ Advanced, Email API Pro, Premier, and Custom plans on a rolling basis over the course of the next few weeks.  

Twilio SendGrid’s SSO is a session and user authentication service that empowers customers to take the security of their account access management into their own hands. Leveraging Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) 2.0, a widely adopted XML-based standard for authentication, all compliant IdPs should work with Twilio SendGrid, including Okta, Duo, Microsoft Azure Active Directory, and Auth0.

Additionally, Twilio SendGrid customers will be able to integrate and manage Twilio SendGrid accounts alongside the other applications with one secure password. To set up SSO for your Twilio SendGrid account, go to Twilio SendGrid’s SSO docs page.

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