Single Sign On, as the name implies, allows a user to authenticate against a central authority and then use that authentication to access multiple systems.


From a user point of view, the authentication process is vastly simplified. You remember *one* set of credentials, you go through *one* log-in process. Time and mental effort is saved, allowing you to be a happier user, more efficient employee, etc.

From a support / admin point of view, the time spent dealing with forgotten passwords, training users against multiple systems is also reduced. Potentially, this may reduce hardware requirements too as you’ve reduced duplication of functionality – however that’s probably open to debate.


The obvious issue is the “all your eggs in one basket” problem – if Bob gains Alice’s credentials, then he has access to all of the systems using the SSO. However, this can be mitigated by balancing out a stronger password policy (since your user’s only have one to remember) and complementing the usual user/pass combination with other authentication methods. This may well be something like the two factor authentication provided by systems like CRYPTOCard. Of course, these systems are often quite expensive and require a large investment but that needs to be balanced against level of security required.


There are a number of standards out there for SSO with a variety of implementations. The first bullets are the points Oliver made and then I (or some of the other keen note-takers) may add additional discussion.


  • Not so simple to get set-up
  • Really only practical over an intranet


  • Relatively simple to set-up
  • Easy to sync data between servers
  • You can make use of PHP’s ldap_*() functions
  • Binding to the LDAP server is the same as authenticating against it.
  • A question from Kore (I think) brought up some issues around differences in implementations of LDAP servers. Authenticating is fairly universal, but the more advanced features can vary in their operation.


  • Another intranet-only option
  • Pretty much only works in MS environments. There are Apache implementations, but they’re flakey.
  • Easy for devs to make use of though
  • Windows domain information is available in the server environment variables. If the user information exists, they will have authenticated.


Token-based system

Developed by Yale university

Most commonly used in academic applications


  • Framework from OASIS
  • Implementation in SimpleSamlPHP
  • Implementation in PingConnect
  • Implementation in Shibboleth (I think this was a SAML one)
  • LDAP is a common back-end for a lot of these services
  • Trust is an issue here as these are more common for remote authentication.