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Isn’t it annoying to input your login credentials on all major platforms every time you log into them from a new device? Particularly when most platforms require using a complex password that’s difficult to recall off the top of your head.

As technology becomes an integral aspect of our lives, it’s become normal to log in to your accounts from different devices every once in a while. Azure Active Directory Federation Services was designed to help you easily access all platforms by skipping the hassle of typing in credentials repeatedly or memorizing different passwords.

What are Active Directory Federation Services?

Active Directory Federation Services, or ADFS, is a Windows operating system feature that allows users to share their identity data inside and outside of Microsoft’s network. It authenticates your credibility using your username and password registered with Microsoft.

With AFDS you can quickly join every web platform that is a part of the federation trust. These are credible, verified organizations that can keep your data and identity secure. Thanks to this, you don’t need to log into platforms with different strong passwords constantly. A single login credential with Microsoft is sufficient to grant you secure access to other websites.

The Active Directory Federation Services is a part of Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory, which gives businesses the tools to streamline and manage cloud services. Its single sign-on (SSO) lets you access all Microsoft services with the same credentials. ADFS takes it one step further and allows you to do the same with every partner registered with the federation trust, such as third-party solutions like Salesforce or Marketo.

Why do you need Active Directory Federation Services?

Back when all applications and websites were hosted on-premises, it would be easier to log into them. Simply enter your credentials and access to all work-related applications your employer subscribes to.

However, most work applications are no longer hosted on-site. Instead, they’re available in the cloud, so they have to be individually logged into with an independent set of credentials. In other words, logging in once would no longer be enough; you will be required to log in separately for every application. This can be frustrating and time-consuming—especially since it’s difficult to remember the credentials of all applications for every employee. More time would be wasted trying to remember and figure out what the credentials for each application are.

Moreover, this model also only worked in the traditional office environment. The past few years have turned the world on its head, and hybrid and remote work are becoming increasingly popular. Now, it’s even harder to access work applications. Even if your employees can access them from their homes, they would struggle to determine every application’s credentials.

ADFS completely nullifies all these obstacles. It allows employees to access cloud-based applications using the same credentials, regardless of their location. Consequently, ADFS helps boost employees’ productivity.

What can you do with ADFS?

Active Directory stores all usernames and passwords of every user on a given network. With ADFS, this data is made available to web platforms outside of your business’s internal network.

You can subsequently use SSO to log in seamlessly to all federation trust apps without requiring independent credentials for each platform. For additional security, identity management capabilities ensure user authenticity as a person on the net and not an anonymous bot is verified.

Components Of ADFS

Active Directory Federation Services has four distinct components, each serving an important role in keeping this system secure and convenient.

Active Directory

Active Directory stores all your login credentials and identity data.

Federation server

This server hosts all the relevant components that allow external users with ADFS to access web platforms using their Microsoft work identity. It also has the ability to issue security tokens with an external Active Directory to verify a user’s identity.

Federation server proxy

This server verifies all login requests. When you attempt to sign into a federation trust platform, you access it via a proxy that automatically asks for confirmation from your employer’s Active Directory. Only once it is granted can you log into a federation trust platform. You can’t connect to the server directly as an external client, since that would mean federation servers must be connected to the net, which could be a significant security risk.

ADFS web server

This hosts the claims-aware or token-based ADFS Web Agent role service, wherein security tokens are checked and verified.

How does ADFS work?

Active Directory Federation Services has a claims-based access control model. In other words, before granting users access to specific federation trust platforms, ADFS will verify their identity in a token.

When a user signs into a particular platform using their Active Directory credentials, a special token is issued and sent to the server, housing all the identity data of a user. This token is transferred via a proxy. If that database verifies the token as credible, the user can access the application as per their credentials.

The entire process does not require two networks to interact with one another. No passwords or user IDs are transferred between the two databases, with the security token acting as a middleman. This is necessary for bolstering the cybersecurity credentials of the whole system. After all, the reason why you need a strong password for each platform is to prevent unauthorized access to them. If every platform had the same password, a malicious actor could have access to all of them if they found out the password of even one platform.

Ensuring these login credentials remain secure is at the foremost of ADFS security measures. It circumvents this problem by ensuring federation servers and Active Directory databases of businesses worldwide do not directly communicate and verify and authorize access based on the security token’s approval. Since no login credentials are transferred online, hackers cannot gain access to them.

Limitations of Active Directory Federation Services

It’s important to note that there are certain things you cannot do with ADFS. Be mindful of these limitations when determining whether you should get ADFS for your company:

  • ADFS is not as user-friendly as one might initially think. It can be tricky to use, especially when working remotely. Businesses have to invest in skill training for their workers so they can efficiently use the system. However, this presents an opportunity for managed service providers (MSPs) to position themselves as a client’s trusted IT advisor and support them with ADFS adoption.
  • Older web applications cannot be authenticated via ADFS.
  • Web platforms and applications that are not a part of the federation trust can’t be accessed via this system.
  • ADFS does not connect with servers using a remote desktop for security reasons.
  • ADFS does not allow access to shared files or print servers.
  • Employees can only access ADFS from a device optimized with the company’s Active Directory. No external device will be authorized for access. This can be a challenge if your employees are working on their own devices, which are not aligned with the company’s Active Directory. Remote and hybrid employees usually face this challenge.

Want to learn more about Active Directory Federation Services?

ADFS has the potential to improve the efficiency of your corporate operations. You can save on high costs and make it easier for your employees to access necessary work applications. In fact, ADFS is increasingly understood as a necessary feature for effective hybrid and work-from-home models.

If you’re a growing business that has or might potentially have a hybrid or remote employees, then ADFS is a necessary service to integrate into your daily corporate affairs. If you’re an IT provider looking to grow your managed services offering or offer clients better solutions for cloud security, Microsoft Azure and ADFS can present lucrative opportunities for you.

If you need more information or guidance on implementing ADFS, or are looking to migrate to Azure Active Directory, Sherweb can help! Our cloud experts are masters of the Microsoft ecosystem and well-versed in helping resellers and providers learn the ins and outs of Azure and related tools. Reach out to us to start a conversation or explore our Partner Guide to learn more about how Sherweb can help your business thrive.

Written by The Sherweb Team Collaborators @ Sherweb