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Active Directory Federation Services

Your organization’s clients, vendors, and partners will likely require access to your business environment. This means your enterprise should incorporate adequate resources and equipment that allow them to cross myriad organizational boundaries. Traditionally, companies follow a strategic procedure that involves creating and deleting accounts manually. However, the process is complex and time-consuming, mainly when setting up an AD trust, requiring specific port requirements.

Generally, creating and deleting accounts, as well as setting up the AD trust, are intricate processes when looking to give your clients, vendors, and partners access to your company’s application. Besides, it accompanies multiple security-associated risks, creating vulnerabilities in your organization that expose you to cyberattacks. Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) comes in to address these issues and emerges as the best alternative to traditional ways of manually managing end-user accounts.

What Is Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS)?

Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) is a claims-based Single Sign-On (SSO) software developed by Microsoft. It is a Windows Server OS component that enables users to have authenticated access to applications that do not support Integrated Windows Authentication (IWA) via Active Directory (AD). ADFS allows end-users to retrieve applications on Windows Server Operating Systems and cross different organizational boundaries using a single set of login details.

The software integrates claims-based Access Control Authorization technology that facilitates security across all applications within the Windows Server OS through federated identity. That is, the software authenticates users with a single password and username, allowing them to access specific applications, such as Microsoft Office apps, without a prompt to provide login credentials regularly.

Besides, ADFS offers entrance into different Windows Server Operating System applications, whether on the cloud, local, or hosted by other companies. An administrator manages all end-user accounts from a single station, usually the Active Directory. The software is also federated, meaning it consolidates users’ identities, allowing each user to utilize available AD authorizations to retrieve applications within corporate networks and those governed by third parties.

In general, the role of ADFS is to enhance the user experience while allowing businesses to have strong security policies when users access crucial company systems, applications, and assets. That is, users only need to create and master a single login credential to access numerous applications, including systems and assets within your organization.

How Does ADFS Work?

ADFS acts as an intercessor between AD and target company applications or resources to offer authenticated access. It works almost similar to SSO as it authenticates users’ identity and access privileges, providing easier management and secure access to the company’s Windows domain.

  • Verifying user identity: ADFS SSO uses information within the organization’s data systems to verify a user’s identity. The information ranges from a user’s full name to contact information, employee number, and ID.
  • Managing user claims: Following the claims-based authentication model, ADFS generates secure tokens that regulate access rights for each user. Suppose a user tries to access a company’s applications or other information; ADFS scrutinizes the request against the system and applications the user can retrieve. This ranges from an organization’s systems to internal assets and third-party systems within the AD or Azure AD.
  • Federated or Party Trust: Users looking to access an organization’s third-party systems use ADFS authentication, completed via a proxy service. The service leverages active directories and external applications to facilitate access to these systems. Besides, ADFS combines user identity and claim protocols, allowing users to bypass organizational boundaries. A Federated Trust or Party Trust facilitates all these processes.

Steps in The ADFS Authentication Process

  1. Users click on links correlated with the service and provide their login credentials.
  2. ADFS authenticates and verifies a user’s identity.
  3. An ADFS tool generates a personalized authentication claim by listing applications, assets, and third-party systems the user can access.
  4. The service channels the claim to other applications once the user tries to retrieve them.
  5. The target application then permits or rejects the request depending on the terms of the claim.

Components Of ADFS

  • ADFS server: This is a dedicated server that stores and upholds security tokens, including other validation assets, for instance, cookies.
  • Active Directory (AD): This Microsoft exclusive directory service enables network admins to allocate and manage account rights across different network resources.
  • Federation server: This SSO tool offers validation and access to different enterprise systems via a standard security token depending on the host’s AD.
  • Federation server proxy: It is an entryway between peripheral targets and the AD designed to synchronize different access requests with the federation server.

Organizational Benefits Of ADFS

Employees, partners, and vendors access myriad applications in your organization, increasing the desire for an identity or authentication management tool. This helps create and disable separate authenticated sign-ons for specific applications, as well as promote system security. ADFS provides multiple benefits for both businesses and end-users. Here is why your business needs ADFS:

  • Reduces IT support: ADFS eliminates the stress of resetting forgotten, expired, and lost passwords by reducing the time of resolving frequent password issues. Hence, it enables your business to spend less time creating credentials for new accounts and concentrate on higher-value tasks.
  • Simplifies deactivation: If one or more employees leave the company, ADFS presents a seamless and efficient deactivation approach for all services and assets granted. Instead of deactivating, de-credentialing, or deleting each account independently, all the processes are done within the ADFS software more quickly.
  • Promotes efficiency: Since ADFS eliminates hurdles associated with managing different end-user accounts, employees tend to concentrate on their duties and responsibilities fully. This enhances efficiency, resulting in higher productivity.
  • Enhances security: ADFS limits end-users from recycling or using the same password across different accounts. Besides, users don’t need to write down passwords for easy remembrance. This minimizes risks associated with password attacks, consequently minimizing threats in your organization.

Limitations and Disadvantages Of ADFS

Although ADFS offers multiple benefits to organizations and end-users, the service has its share of limitations and disadvantages. Infrastructure costs, primarily in acquiring Windows Server Licenses and a dedicated server, can be costly. Besides, ADFS accompanies high operational and maintenance costs, especially in maintaining party trusts, security certificates, and infrastructure upgrades.

Furthermore, ADFS is intricate to configure, deploy and operate despite simplifying user experiences. Organizations also require specialized technical skills to integrate target applications to the service, especially in Microsoft Azure and other cloud-based platforms. This means ADFS requires specially trained IT experts to configure, deploy, operate and manage the service. Also, ADFS does not support file sharing, print servers, or remote working desktop connections.

Get Started with ADFS Today!

ADFS offers numerous benefits to organizations, although it is costly and complex to set up. At Palindrome Consulting, we can help you learn more about ADFS and deploy it in your organization more effectively and efficiently. To learn more, contact us or get a free quote from us today!

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