What Is Authentication-as-a-Service?

Cloud-based services and their extensive proliferation in the business world mean the landscape of IT is changing and will continue to do so. IT admins don’t have to purchase software or hardware or manage implementation on-premises. Instead, cloud-based services let IT admins leverage new services based in the cloud. 

Authentication-as-a-service is one example of a cloud service that may be increasingly relevant in 2022 and beyond. 

So what is it, and what are the general implications?

How Does Authentication-As-a-Service Work?

Authentication-as-a-service is also known as authentication microservice

There are two general categories of authentication microservice. There’s the category directed at an organization’s customers using mobile or web applications. Then, there are internal authentication services for employees and organization contractors. 

The category of customer authentication generally now falls into the larger category of CIAM or customer/consumer identity and access management. On the other hand, we hear internal authentication referred to as Directory-as-a-Service or Identity-as-a-Service. 

The Basics of Authentication

In the past, authentication services were internal IT services, which were housed on-premises. 

IT admins would create a directory services solution or identity providers like Microsoft Active Directory or OpenLDAP. Then, admins could provision users in the services and ultimately grant access rights. 

The end users would log into their resources on-premises and be authenticated into the systems and networks, servers, applications, and file servers. The authentication process relied on IT admins making sure it was available, secure, and reliable. 

As IT resources have grown, so has the complexity IT admins have to deal with as far as authentication. 

With growing cloud infrastructures, different protocols are needed, as are varying levels of security and remote authentication options. 

The Challenges of Authentication

Some IT admins dealt with disjointed cloud-driven environments by using third-party add-ons as part of their IdP infrastructure. 

The add-ons would let IT authenticate a category of resources. This worked well for a while, but the downsides included cost and integration time. Another challenge of going this route was the problems that could arise directly related to the cloud or remote users and infrastructure. 

Now, there’s another viable alternative. Authentication services can be outsourced to a third party, and the third party provides the infrastructure needed to authenticate access to an IT resource for a user. 

Some providers may use existing on-site infrastructure to authenticate access. 

Some options will replace internal authentication with a cloud-based service. 

The Importance of Authentication

Authentication is the process of determining whether someone or something is what they say they are.

Authentication technology is access control for systems. In the broadest sense, authentication technology is a means to check user credentials and ensure they match the credentials in a database of authorized users. 

There are two types of authentications very generally: single-factor authentication and multi-factor authentication. 

Authentication lets an organization keep its networks secure by ensuring only the right people and devices have access to resources. 

Once a user or process is authenticated, it usually has to go through an authorization process to determine if it should be allowed access to a specific system or resources. For example, a user can be authenticated but still not access certain resources. 

Choosing Third-Party Authentication-as-a-Service

Authentication-as-a-service features admins should look for in a third-party include:

  • Cloud services: As your organization is very likely in the midst of a digital transformation to the cloud, you want authentication services that match this infrastructure. You’ll want to consider remote worker management, web applications, and your overall cloud infrastructure as you’re making a decision. 
  • Security: Identity compromise is the top way attackers target organizations. Your authentication service should, at its core, be secure. It should also have features to improve end-user security like conditional access and multi-factor authentication. 
  • Protocol support: Look for an authentication microservice with the backing for many IT resources and protocols like LDAP, SAML, and SSH. 

As you’re choosing an authentication services provider, you’ll also want to think about whether there is a provider and platform support if special integration would be needed. 

Your authentication services need to be location agnostic and focused on a wide variety of types of users. 

Your cloud transformation, remote work, compliance, and security needs are all varied from one another and will be key drivers in your authentication decisions. Exemplary authentication services will cover all or nearly all of what you need for managing control and access to networks, files, devices, and applications to promote a more secure infrastructure and organization. 

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