The Functioning Of SAML: An Overview

    Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is a commonly used open standard for the transfer of authorization credentials to service providers (SP) through identity providers (IdP). That means you can use one set of credentials to log in to many different websites. It’s effortless to handle one username per account.

    SAML transactions use Extensible Markup Language (XML) for structured communication between the identity providers and the service providers. SAML is the link between authentication of a user’s identity and permission to use a service. The implementation of SAML enables businesses to use software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications while maintaining a robust framework of federated identity management. SAML allows Single Sign-On (SSO), which means that users can log in once and can log in to other service providers using the same credentials again.

    The Functioning Of SAML

    For users, identity providers, and service providers, federated authentication, and authorization processes are simplified by SAML. SAML provides a solution that makes it possible for identity providers and service providers to work independently, centralize user management, and provide access to SaaS solutions.

    SAML introduces a secure method of transmitting user authentication and permission between identity providers and service providers. The service provider requests permission from the appropriate identity provider when a user logs into a SAML enabled application. The identity provider authenticates the credentials of the user, then returns the authorization of the user to the service provider, and the application can now be used by the user.

    The method of verifying the identity and credentials of users is SAML authentication (password, two-factor authentication, etc.). The SAML authorization tells the service provider what the authenticated user should be given access to.

    SAML Provider

    A SAML provider is a system that permits a user to access a resource they need. SAML providers exist as two main groups: the service providers and the identity providers. A service provider requires authentication from the identity provider to grant authorization to the customer. An identity provider authenticates that the end-user is who they say they are and sends the data to the service provider with the user’s access rights to the service.

    SAML Assertions

    A SAML assertion is an XML document and includes the user authorization that is submitted to the service provider by the identity provider. There are three types of SAML assertions available: attribute, authentication, and authorization decision.

    Authentication assertions prove the identity of the user and include the time the user signed in and the authentication process they used.

    The attribution assertion passes the SAML attributes to the service provider. SAML attributes are special pieces of information that include specifics of the user.

    An authorization decision assertion states whether the user is allowed to use the service or whether the identity provider denied their request because of a lack of rights to the service or password failure.

    SAML works by transferring data about accounts, logins, and attributes between the identity provider and service providers. Each user signs in with the identifier provider to Single Sign-On once. When the user needs to access those services, the identifier provider can pass SAML attributes to the service provider. The service provider asks for authentication from the identity provider. The user has to log in only once as both systems speak the same language: SAML. Each identity provider and service provider needs to approve the configuration for SAML. Both ends need to have the same configuration for the SAML authentication to function.


    SAML and SSO are extremely important for enterprises’ cybersecurity approach. Best identity management practices require that user accounts are limited to the resources that users need to do their job and that they are centrally audited and managed. A SAML SSO solution allows enterprises to achieve the same.

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