Welcome!

SOA & WOA Authors: Paul Diamond, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Patrick Carey

Related Topics: Web 2.0, SOA & WOA, Open Source, Security

Web 2.0: 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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, addressed the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. Rodney Rogers, chairman and CEO of Virtustream; Brendan O'Brien, co-founder of Aria Systems, Bart Copeland, president and CEO of ActiveState Software; Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn; Dave Wagstaff, VP and chief architect at BSQUARE Corporation; Seth Proctor, CTO of NuoDB, Inc.; and Andris Gailitis, C...
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
In this Women in Technology Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing at Verizon Enterprise, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO at MetraTech; Evelyn de Souza, Data Privacy and Compliance Strategy Leader at Cisco Systems; Seema Jethani, Director of Product Management at Basho Technologies; Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell Inc.; Anne Hungate, Senior Director of Software Quality at DIRECTV, discussed what path they took to find their spot within the technology industry and how do they see opportunities for other women in their area of expertise.
While great strides have been made relative to the video aspects of remote collaboration, audio technology has basically stagnated. Typically all audio is mixed to a single monaural stream and emanates from a single point, such as a speakerphone or a speaker associated with a video monitor. This leads to confusion and lack of understanding among participants especially regarding who is actually speaking. Spatial teleconferencing introduces the concept of acoustic spatial separation between conference participants in three dimensional space. This has been shown to significantly improve comprehe...
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
Performance is the intersection of power, agility, control, and choice. If you value performance, and more specifically consistent performance, you need to look beyond simple virtualized compute. Many factors need to be considered to create a truly performant environment. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, discussed how to take advantage of a multitude of compute options and platform features to make cloud the cornerstone of your online presence.