Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz

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
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann returns to 'DevOps at Cloud Expo 2016' as Conference Chair The @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo will take place on November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. "DevOps is set to be one of the most profound disruptions to hit IT in decades," said Andi Mann. "It is a natural extension of cloud computing, and I have seen both firsthand and in independent research the fantastic results DevOps delivers. So I am excited t...
When people aren’t talking about VMs and containers, they’re talking about serverless architecture. Serverless is about no maintenance. It means you are not worried about low-level infrastructural and operational details. An event-driven serverless platform is a great use case for IoT. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Animesh Singh, an STSM and Lead for IBM Cloud Platform and Infrastructure, will detail how to build a distributed serverless, polyglot, microservices framework using open source tec...
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes ho...
Gartner is now treating algorithms like they are some kind of innovative addition to the modern digital discussion. Presumably the brilliant minds there have some novel insight into algorithms and, yes, the Algorithm Economy that CIOs should sit up and take notice of. Not only are algorithms nothing new, but much of what Gartner is saying about them is obvious. The bigger picture here is that software continues to improve, and enterprises are becoming increasingly software-driven, in part bec...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data...
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Val...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Men & Mice, the leading global provider of DNS, DHCP and IP address management overlay solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The Men & Mice Suite overlay solution is already known for its powerful application in heterogeneous operating environments, enabling enterprises to scale without fuss. Building on a solid range of diverse platform support,...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 7-9, 2016 at Javits Center, New York City and Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 18th International @CloudExpo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint Systems, Inc., a provider of innovative web and infrastructure monitoring solutions, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's DevOps Summit at 18th Cloud Expo New York, which will take place June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Catchpoint is a leading Digital Performance Analytics company that provides unparalleled insight into customer-critical services to help consistently deliver an amazing customer experience. Designed...
@DevOpsSummit taking place June 7-9, 2016 at Javits Center, New York City, and Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 18th International @CloudExpo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world.
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann returns to 'DevOps at Cloud Expo 2016' as Conference Chair The @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. "DevOps is set to be one of the most profound disruptions to hit IT in decades," said Andi Mann. "It is a natural extension of cloud computing, and I have seen both firsthand and in independent research the fantastic results DevOps delivers. So I am excited to help the g...
Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) will feature the upcoming 18th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in a New York news documentary about the "New IT for the Future." The documentary will cover how big companies are transmitting or adopting the new IT for the future and will be filmed on the expo floor between June 7-June 9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. KBS has long been a leader in the development of the broadcasting culture of Korea. As the key public service broadcaster of Korea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Addteq will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Addteq is one of the top 10 Platinum Atlassian Experts who specialize in DevOps, custom and continuous integration, automation, plugin development, and consulting for midsize and global firms. Addteq firmly believes that automation is essential for successful software releases. Addteq centers its products a...
In the rush to compete in the digital age, a successful digital transformation is essential, but many organizations are setting themselves up for failure. There’s a common misconception that the process is just about technology, but it’s not. It’s about your business. It shouldn’t be treated as an isolated IT project; it should be driven by business needs with the committed involvement of a range of stakeholders.
SYS-CON Events announced today that FalconStor Software® Inc., a 15-year innovator of software-defined storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. FalconStor Software®, Inc. (NASDAQ: FALC) is a leading software-defined storage company offering a converged, hardware-agnostic, software-defined storage and data services platform. Its flagship solution FreeStor®, utilizes a horizonta...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York and Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Column Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Established in 1998, Column Technologies is a global technology solutions provider with over 400 employees, headquartered in the United States with offices in Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. Column Technologies provides “Best of Breed” technology solutions that automate the key DevOps principal...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.