In reviewing your options for IT security of your network, you should consider SSO vs. MFA. These are two popular measures employed to simplify access and improve security – Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). 

SSO vs. MFA both play crucial roles in securing user authentication processes, they serve distinctly different purposes. This article delves into the differences between SSO vs. MFA, their benefits, and insights on which might be more suitable for your organization’s needs.

What is Single Sign-On (SSO)?

Single Sign-On is a user authentication process that allows a user to access multiple applications with one set of login credentials (such as a username and password). This means that the user logs in once and gains access to all associated systems without being prompted to log in again at each of them.


SSO vs. MFA: Benefits of SSO:

  • Convenience and Improved User Experience: SSO simplifies the user’s login process, making it faster and more straightforward to access multiple applications.
  • Reduced Password Fatigue: Users need to remember only one set of credentials, reducing the number of passwords they must manage.
  • Decreased IT Help Desk Costs: Fewer password-related issues mean fewer help desk calls about password resets.
  • Lower Risk of Phishing: SSO can reduce the likelihood of phishing attacks since users only enter credentials once at a trusted source.

SSO vs. MFA: What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Multi-Factor Authentication, on the other hand, is a security system that requires more than one method of authentication from independent categories of credentials to verify the user’s identity for a login or other transaction. This typically involves at least two of the following factors: something you know (password or PIN), something you have (a trusted device that is not easily duplicated, like a smartphone), and something you are (biometrics).

One example of an MFA solution would be DUO. DUO is a best in class MFA solution that employs a mobile application to confirm how you are. This can be done in one of two ways depending if you’re online or not. 

If you’re online, DUO will generate a “push” notification to your mobile device via an app which will then ask you to approve or deny access. If no choice is made within a minute or less, your PC will request you try again thus starting the process over.

If you’re not online, the app uses a rotating series of numbers similar to what you see with RSA tokens. You simply key in the number in the time allotted – typically 60 seconds – to access your device.

Benefits of MFA:

  • Enhanced Security: By requiring multiple forms of verification, MFA significantly increases the security of user logins and protects against unauthorized access.
  • Protection from Various Attacks: MFA protects against phishing, social engineering, and password brute-force attacks and secures the user’s data even if their password is compromised.
  • Compliance Benefits: Many industries have regulations requiring MFA to protect sensitive data, such as financial services and healthcare.

SSO vs. MFA Authentication: Which is Better?

Deciding whether SSO vs. MFA is better for your organization depends on your specific security needs and objectives. Here’s how to determine the best fit:

  • Use SSO for Enhancing User Convenience and Efficiency: If the goal is to streamline user access across multiple applications and systems within a secure environment, SSO is highly effective. It is particularly beneficial in environments where users need to access a suite of applications repeatedly throughout their workday.
  • Use MFA for Maximizing Security: If the primary concern is securing access to sensitive information and systems, MFA is essential. It adds a layer of security that makes unauthorized access significantly more difficult.

Combining SSO and MFA for Comprehensive Security

For many organizations, using both SSO and MFA together offers the best of both worlds. Implementing SSO provides ease of access and user efficiency, while adding MFA brings a robust level of security. For example, users could log in once via SSO and then be prompted for a second factor of authentication when accessing more sensitive systems.

While SSO vs. MFA serve different purposes, they are not mutually exclusive and can be combined to create a secure and efficient user authentication ecosystem. By evaluating the specific needs of your organization, you can effectively decide how best to implement these technologies. Whether separately or together, SSO and MFA are critical components of a modern cybersecurity strategy that protects digital assets while enhancing user experience.

Chris Montgomery - ThrottleNet IT Solutions Consultant

Chris Montgomery
ThrottleNet Sales Director

Russia's Hybrid War: What to Know About Hackers and Ukraine

16 Ways to Protect Your St. Louis Business From Cyberattacks

Free Download
15 Ways to Protect Your Business from Cyberattacks