Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Liz McMillan, ManageEngine IT Matters, Jonathan Fries, Elizabeth White, Xenia von Wedel

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, 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.
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will share examples from a wide range of industries – includin...
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
"We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, director/senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
IoT is rapidly changing the way enterprises are using data to improve business decision-making. In order to derive business value, organizations must unlock insights from the data gathered and then act on these. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, and Peter Shashkin, Head of Development Department at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how one organization leveraged IoT, cloud technology and data analysis to improve customer experiences and effici...
Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
"IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, provided an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data professionals...
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
@GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Onalytica. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
In an era of historic innovation fueled by unprecedented access to data and technology, the low cost and risk of entering new markets has leveled the playing field for business. Today, any ambitious innovator can easily introduce a new application or product that can reinvent business models and transform the client experience. In their Day 2 Keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Mercer Rowe, IBM Vice President of Strategic Alliances, and Raejeanne Skillern, Intel Vice President of Data Center Group and G...
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...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. 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 June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, 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.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.