Understanding Federated Identity Management

We look at the benefits that federated identity management brings today.

In recent years, traditional approaches to identity access management have grown more complex to maintain, with the scope of identity management technologies expanding and evolving. Many organisations are resorting to identity federation management as a result, making it easier for employees to work across multiple software and systems. At the same time, the administrative workload and costs resultant from supporting access to these systems are alleviated.

What is Federated Identity Management?

Federated Identity Management (FIM) connects the identity of a single user across different security domains, each supporting its own identity access management system. A user can be verified and logged in to one domain then be subsequently granted access to resources in another domain. As long as both domains have been federated, there is no need to repeat the login authentication process for the second time. This is especially beneficial for organisations that wish to collaborate on a common project. They can consider creating an identity federation allowing users from each organisation to conveniently access and share resources.


Why Federated Identity Management?

Single sign-on (SSO) is a major component of FIM. What is SSO? It is a trait of access control that enables users to access multiple applications and platforms via a single set of login credentials. Federated identity management is heavily dependent on SSO technologies for the authentication of users across multiple domains. The goal for FIM is to create a seamless process for users to access the resources they need without complications. By eliminating the need to create new accounts for each separate domain or remember different username and password combinations, FIM effectively removes roadblocks that have been affecting employees’ productivity levels.


With FIM, IT administrators do not have to come up with a specialised system to balance access to multiple domains, such as an external organisation’s resources. On the other hand, identity federation assists applications that require access to resources that belong to different security domains.


However, one major drawback to federated identity management is that it can be difficult for organisations to implement their own federation. When it comes to creating their own federation, all members of the organisation must decide on which identifying attributes to include and which standard to use for exchanging authorisation and authentication data. Moreover, if a federation is to be custom-made for more than one organisation, they must also agree on regional laws and regulations, configuration policies, participants, as well as software and hardware requirements. The different IT teams must plan their individual deployment as well, among other countless considerations. One of the organisations will also be required to serve as the central authority, creating another significant responsibility.


Fortunately, such an issue can be overcome if organisations opt to use a federation that has been established by other organisations, such as Facebook and Microsoft. As FIM is constantly evolving, the specifics involved can vary depending on the source and who is using it. Despite the challenges of FIM, more and more organisations are adopting this approach.


In conclusion, FIM brings with it benefits, secured resource sharing, improved usability, reduced costs and smoother cooperation between various parties just to name a few.