Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Sematext Blog, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Ruxit Blog

Related Topics: Agile Computing, Microservices Expo, Open Source Cloud, Cloud Security

Agile Computing: Article

Social Login: The Right Solution for Your Business?

Social login is a way to use social network credentials to create accounts on other sites or applications

What have you done online today - checked LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter? Opened and sent business emails? Used business apps? Every business employee also has a private life - and it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep the two separate. Rather than ignoring the growing role of social media in your customers' and employees' lives, many businesses are starting to take advantage of it. One way to do this is through social login.

Social login is a way to use social network credentials to create accounts on other sites or applications. From a business perspective, you may decide to offer social login to your customers. For this discussion, we'll call this the business-to-customer or B2C use case. There are also good reasons for offering employees the ability to access business applications using a social login. We'll call this the business-to-employee or B2E use case. Your employees are also consumers with social media accounts, and social login lets them use one set of credentials for multiple purposes.

Social login in a nutshell
Social login is a growing trend. While Facebook is the most popular social login identity provider (through Facebook Connect), others like Twitter, Google/Google Plus and Yahoo also offer social logins. See the research from Gigya on the fierce competition for social identity providers. It's popular because it solves a common problem - creating and remembering accounts and passwords for all of the various websites and applications we use.

You have most likely encountered social login when opening a new account on a website, if you are given an option of signing in with an existing social network account:

If you choose to login with your existing social network account, then you've opted in to social login. That decision has ramifications that you might not expect. Social networks are a mother lode of personal information - you may be sharing more than you realize.

Before you implement social login for your business' customers or employees, or choose to use it yourself, you should have an understanding of what's happening behind the scenes.

The social login: What happens behind the scenes
If your business wants to offer social login for customers on your website, you first need to choose which networks to link. Social login middleware or aggregators like Gigya and Janrain make it easy to offer social login through multiple social networks.

When a new user chooses the option of registering on a site with their social media credentials, they also grant permission to link your site with their account. You gain API-level access to personal data and contacts from the social network. The overall process is illustrated below:

Photo credit: Facebook

The process of granting permissions to your profile information is an "all or nothing" decision forced on you by the website you are trying to access. Without permission, the registration is canceled and the user must then create a new account directly with your website. But if the user grants permission, the social media account is linked to the website that you just registered at. Your website can now retrieve existing or new profile information without the user's future consent. The linked website can also post information to your social network. Of course, you must use care if you want to retain the customer.

From a business perspective, offering social login has many benefits:

  • Social login makes it easy for new customers or consumers on your website to create accounts - reducing friction and potentially increasing sign-ups. Beyond the initial sign-up, research by Janrain shows that many people are more likely to return to a site that welcomes them with social login, while they will abandon sites for which they have forgotten their passwords.
  • Consumer identity can be instantly verified; you have to use a real e-mail address to have ongoing use of your social media account. This verification dramatically reduces the number of bogus account registrations of people trying to remain anonymous and entering false information at account creation time.
  • The social networks provide a rich source of demographic and behavioral data about your customers that they may not want to provide if they were filling out forms during registration.

However, there are also risk factors. Because the social media identity provider maintains data about the customer and manages their credentials, any problem with their credentials affects their ability to connect to your site as well. Alexandra Samuel posted about an experience of being shut out of multiple sites over the Thanksgiving weekend online shopping time because of a problem with her Facebook login on the HBR blog.

Social login and your employees
When it comes to your employees, the decision to use social login involves a different thought process.

The B2E use case has security and compliance implications. Identity and profile information shared from social networks creates additional points of attack for hacking into business accounts through social engineering or spear-phishing attacks. Social login gives criminals more avenues into personal information and logins, especially if employees are in the habit of using weak passwords or reusing passwords across multiple sites

For example, a hacker who discovers that one of your employees is an avid stamp collector and that they work at XYZ Company. They could send them an invitation to create an account on a stamp collecting website. If the employee uses the same login for stamp collecting as other apps, the attacker is in and knows what company to target.

Depending on what your employees share on Facebook, a site using Facebook Connect has access to personal identity information, including: birth date, photos, email address, employer, address, and interests.

With social login, your own business accounts are only as secure as the employee's social media account. And your business has no visibility or control into how employees create and manage passwords for their personal accounts, or whether they share passwords between personal and work accounts.

For these reasons, you don't want to establish a direct link between the social media accounts and your business applications. However, social login can be useful for your employees, as it reduces the number of passwords they have to track. There are ways to mitigate the risks of offering employees social login to business applications.

Making social login work for B2E
One essential difference with employee logins is that you already know the information you need about the employee's identity and job role. You don't need profile information from the social network. The social login can simply provide the login credential.

To reduce the risks of social login, create a ‘firewall' between the social network and your business applications, so business applications are never linked to your employee's social network accounts. Use the social login as a login credential for business applications, but require additional authentication for those applications. Used in this way, your business maintains its role as the authority or curator of employee identities and business application access at all times.

An identity and Access Management (IAM) or Single Sign-on (SSO) solution can act as this firewall between the social network and your applications. Because social media credentials are created outside of the business, you cannot trust them alone to grant access to sensitive business applications. The IAM solution can require additional authentication factors before authenticating an employee as a trusted user with the authority to access business applications.

In this configuration, your applications themselves do not directly interact with the social networks. The process workflow is illustrated below:

Your business retains full control over all business application logins through the IAM or SSO solution. No personal data is exchanged between business applications and social media networks. If someone leaves the company, you can instantly remove access to those applications with their social media account by shutting off access in the IAM or SSO. This does not, however, affect the employee's ability to access their personal social media account. If someone manages to steal the employee's social login credentials, two-factor authentication means that the identity thief is shut out of your business applications.

Since social login is only one method that an employee could use to login to business apps, a problem with the employee's social credentials does not shut them out of their business applications if they can authenticate directly with the IAM.

This approach is feasible even for small companies without existing investments in IAM solutions.  A simple web-based single sign-on (SSO) solution with strong authentication capabilities can fill the role of social login secure bridge quickly and securely, offering employees the instant benefit of simpler logins and secure password management, while giving businesses the control and visibility needed for good governance and compliance.

Is it time to get social?
Businesses should look carefully at the potential benefits of social login. Using native social login on consumer-facing applications (your B2C websites) has many benefits: delegating the hard work of verifying identities, providing you with rich profile information, and reducing friction in the customer sign-up process.

In a business-to-employee context, social login can reduce the number of accounts and passwords employees have to remember. But never allow social media accounts to link directly to your business application - always use a secure intermediary IAM or SSO solution to control application access and manage additional authentication factors for sensitive business applications.

More Stories By Tom Smith

Tom Smith is the Vice President of Business Development & Strategy for CloudEntr at Gemalto. He has over 30-years of experience with security, mobile, and cloud technologies including founding executive roles at four technology companies. In his current role as VP Business Development and Strategy, CloudEntr at Gemalto, Tom is helping define and execute Gemalto’s identity and access initiatives in the cloud.

In his prior roles as CEO at both IronStratus and Countermind, he drove the strategy for the business and the go to market for their mobile and cloud offerings. Tom was also a founding executive of @hand Corporation, and has held various other positions including Dir. of Strategic Initiatives at Dazel Corporation, various Sales Management roles at Rational Software and at Hewlett-Packard. He has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Iowa State University.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
Monitoring of Docker environments is challenging. Why? Because each container typically runs a single process, has its own environment, utilizes virtual networks, or has various methods of managing storage. Traditional monitoring solutions take metrics from each server and applications they run. These servers and applications running on them are typically very static, with very long uptimes. Docker deployments are different: a set of containers may run many applications, all sharing the resource...
Video experiences should be unique and exciting! But that doesn’t mean you need to patch all the pieces yourself. Users demand rich and engaging experiences and new ways to connect with you. But creating robust video applications at scale can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Zohar Babin, Vice President of Platform, Ecosystem and Community at Kaltura, will discuss how VPaaS enables you to move fast, creating scalable video experiences that reach your...
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
SYS-CON Events announced today the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp, being held November 1-2, 2016, in conjunction with 19th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but with hands-on demos and detailed walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of real world use cases prototyped using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark, and Intel Edison. Y...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the protocols that communicate data and the emerging data analy...
This digest provides an overview of good resources that are well worth reading. We’ll be updating this page as new content becomes available, so I suggest you bookmark it. Also, expect more digests to come on different topics that make all of our IT-hearts go boom!
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, will compare the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, e...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lea...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Am...
With emerging ideas, innovation, and talents, the lines between DevOps, release engineering, and even security are rapidly blurring. I invite you to sit down for a moment with Principle Consultant, J. Paul Reed, and listen to his take on what the intersection between these once individualized fields entails, and may even foreshadow.
In case you haven’t heard, the new hotness in app architectures is serverless. Mainly restricted to cloud environments (Amazon Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, Microsoft Azure Functions) the general concept is that you don’t have to worry about anything but the small snippets of code (functions) you write to do something when something happens. That’s an event-driven model, by the way, that should be very familiar to anyone who has taken advantage of a programmable proxy to do app or API routing ...
Much of the value of DevOps comes from a (renewed) focus on measurement, sharing, and continuous feedback loops. In increasingly complex DevOps workflows and environments, and especially in larger, regulated, or more crystallized organizations, these core concepts become even more critical. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 18th Cloud Expo, Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, showed how, by focusing on 'metrics that matter,' you can provide objective, transparent, and meaningful f...
With the rise of Docker, Kubernetes, and other container technologies, the growth of microservices has skyrocketed among dev teams looking to innovate on a faster release cycle. This has enabled teams to finally realize their DevOps goals to ship and iterate quickly in a continuous delivery model. Why containers are growing in popularity is no surprise — they’re extremely easy to spin up or down, but come with an unforeseen issue. However, without the right foresight, DevOps and IT teams may lo...
Cloud Expo 2016 New York at the Javits Center New York was characterized by increased attendance and a new focus on operations. These were both encouraging signs for all involved in Cloud Computing and all that it touches. As Conference Chair, I work with the Cloud Expo team to structure three keynotes, numerous general sessions, and more than 150 breakout sessions along 10 tracks. Our job is to balance the state of enterprise IT today with the trends that will be commonplace tomorrow. Mobile...
To leverage Continuous Delivery, enterprises must consider impacts that span functional silos, as well as applications that touch older, slower moving components. Managing the many dependencies can cause slowdowns. See how to achieve continuous delivery in the enterprise.