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What Is SAML Authentication

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is one of the main coding language protocols through which users are authenticated when they log in to websites, services, and apps. It verifies their credentials and the context in which they log in, and grants or revokes access.

Most of us don’t even realize it’s working in the background. It works with enterprises and solution providers to enable users to use one login to access multiple sites through a process known as single sign-on (SSO).

It also keeps our digital identities and our business data safe and secure.

Features of authentication


Greater visibility


Increased efficiency


Decreased liability

What are authentication protocols?

Businesses and organizations across the globe rely on authentication protocols as a critical component of their identity and access management (IAM). Common authentication protocols include:

Which protocol an organization uses is based on its size, expertise, and needs. For instance, does it need or want authentication at the access level (program, service, app)? Or does it want it at the user level, authorizing once and allowing access based on approved, designed access points for that individual?

One of the driving motivators in selecting which authentication method is preferable is its ability to offer SSO capabilities to its users. Authentication protocols may or may not integrate directly with your organization's IT platforms and directories; therefore, choosing the right one to use requires reviewing the connections and connectors to your user directories and related properties and services.

SAML vs. OAuth: what is the difference?

Both SAML and OAUTH allow for single sign-on capabilities and convenience, offering IT and businesses the ability to control and increase security from password risks and gain visibility into how users engage with different apps and sites.

Both SAML and OAUTH offer IT the ability to connect users for SSO. Still, as an XML-based protocol, SAML has a higher degree of ease and flexibility of integrations through APIs to connect to their internal and external applications and providers. OAuth requires additional connectors to integrate and offer SSO. SAML bases the authentication process on the user, OAUTH-based authentication at the application point.

Think of SAML as an all-inclusive resort. When guests check in, all their information is checked upfront to ensure they're allowed access to the services and amenities available to them. The resort may have different amenities based on the guest's package, but they only see what they’re authorized to access.

OAuth also grants access to the guest at the resort and gives them a token based on their credentials. However, unlike the SAML guest, the OAuth user needs that token to show their access rights to each available service. Based on their token, they may or may not access the different amenities or require verification at each one.

SAML and OAuth

While these two protocols are similar, they provide different services that work together – and are often used together.

  • SAML is the process by which you verify and manage the users.
  • OAUTH is how you verify and manage access within the programs users use.

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