Authorization Basics

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What is Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML)

Explore SAML: Understand the various participants in SAML, acquaint yourself with its flow concept, and uncover the distinctions when compared to OAuth 2.0.

SAML Explained

SAML is an XML-based open standard for exchanging authentication and authorization data between parties, particularly Identity Providers (IdPs) and Service Providers (SPs). SAML enables secure communication between these entities and facilitates user authentication in a standardized way.

SAML defines how user identity information is exchanged in the form of SAML assertions, which are digitally signed and can include user attributes and other relevant data. SAML is commonly used to establish trust between different web applications and services, making it possible for users to access multiple resources with a single set of credentials. It forms the foundation for secure identity federation and attribute-based access control.

Authenticate with SAML

Connect SAML-based IDPs for user authentication, register Service Providers for advanced authorization, and more!

What SAML Is Used For

SAML is a technology that can be used to implement SSO (Single Sign-On) Solution. When a user logs into an IDP using SAML, the IDP generates SAML assertions that can be used by various SPs to enable SSO. These SPs trust the IDP to authenticate users, and upon receiving a valid SAML assertion, they grant access to the user without requiring additional login credentials. This allows users to access multiple SPs with a single set of credentials, which can improve the user experience and reduce the risk of password reuse. SAML SSO is commonly used by businesses to enable secure access to their services and resources.

Is SAML for Authentication or Authorization

SAML is primarily designed for authentication, not authorization. It focuses on securely establishing and verifying the identity of users and does not provide fine-grained authorization capabilities.

However, once a user’s identity is established through SAML, you can use the information contained in the SAML assertions to make authorization decisions within your application or service. This process is often referred to as “attribute-based access control.” (ABAC)

Here’s how it works:

  1. Authentication with SAML: When a user logs in through SAML, the SAML assertion provided by the Identity Provider (IDP) contains information about the user, such as their roles, groups, or attributes.

  2. Attribute-Based Authorization: Your application or service can examine the attributes and information within the SAML assertion to make authorization decisions. For example, you can check the user’s role or group membership to determine what actions or resources they are allowed to access.

  3. Access Control: Based on the attributes and information from the SAML assertion, your application can grant or deny access to specific features, data, or resources.

While SAML itself doesn’t define complex authorization policies, it can be integrated into a broader authorization framework within your application. Many organizations use a combination of SAML for authentication and a separate authorization framework or policy engine (e.g., OAuth, role-based access control) to manage access control and permissions.

Authorization for SAML

Cloudentity authorization policies can be used to check SAML assertion attributes for access control.

In summary, while SAML is primarily an authentication protocol, you can leverage the information it provides for attribute-based authorization within your applications or services. However, for more complex authorization scenarios, you may need to implement additional authorization mechanisms or frameworks.

What is SAML 2.0

SAML 2.0, introduced in 2005, represents the contemporary iteration of the SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) standard. It amalgamated various earlier versions of SAML into a unified framework. While some systems maintain support for earlier iterations like SAML 1.1 for backward compatibility, SAML 2.0 serves as the prevailing and up-to-date standard in modern identity and access management. SAML 2.0 offers greater flexibility, additional features, and improved security, making it the preferred choice for new implementations and modern identity and access management systems.

SAML Benefits

SAML, or Security Assertion Markup Language, is a powerful framework for secure identity and access management. Its primary benefits include enhanced security through encryption and digital signatures, Single Sign-On (SSO) capabilities that simplify user experiences, centralized authentication for improved security and streamlined management, fine-grained access control with attribute-based authorization, and interoperability across various platforms and technologies. These features collectively make SAML an invaluable tool for organizations seeking robust and standardized solutions to authenticate users, authorize access, and ensure the confidentiality and integrity of critical data, all while enhancing user convenience and privacy.

Updated: Sep 15, 2023