How To

The Definitive Guide to Federated Security


The modern IT industry is marked by trends toward work-from-anywhere strategies and a proliferative expansion of data and applications. These trends create a common obstacle for IT decision-makers: securing sensitive information that has many vulnerable points of exposure.

Federated security is a methodology that presents a valid solution to these concerns and others without compromising on any of the layers of protection that modern organizations require.

 Key Takeaways:

  • Federation as it pertains to security involves a collection of domains that users can access using via common authentication, making it easy to tap into cloud services while still maintaining the ever-important process of authenticating trust.
  • An ecosystem secured through federation is made up of individual domains, the federation layer that connects them, and the common authentication method that operators use to gain authorization for the entire ecosystem.
  • When these principles of federation extend to the cloud, it becomes possible to access a wide range of resources and services from any location.

What is federated security?

Federation in the field of IT security refers to the shared security measures across multiple systems. A user can, for example, authenticate with each system in the federated environment using a single identity or token.

Federated security can retain the strength of a “zero trust” philosophy by requiring users to authenticate with every access request while also providing a level of efficiency and convenience through the implementation of a common key, backed by further mechanisms like multi-factor authentication where a challenge is sent via text or within an authenticator app on a smartphone.

Authentication processes that provide ease of access in federated systems include Single Sign-On and Social Identity technologies already in use in some of the most popular consumer-facing ecosystems. In enterprise federation in particular, the process must be user-friendly without compromising on productivity for it to be a part of a successful security strategy or work-from-anywhere initiative.

Knowing how to implement federated security to its fullest potential requires a definitive understanding of what comprises federated architecture in regard to IT security and how federation extends to the cloud to facilitate secure remote access.

Anatomy of a Federated Security Architecture

The multiple domains or realms that an organization is attempting to secure serve as the foundation of a federated architecture. Each domain is a location, service, or even a whole organization that a user might attempt to access, which would each require separate authentication methods in a non-federated scenario.

While federation serves to secure those separate domains under one set of policies, there are risks to incorporating too many domains. In an article for Forbes, Tony Velleca, CEO of CyberProof, warns, “Adding entities to network or security architecture increases attack surface, and a weak security policy in one subsidiary creates corporate-wide exposure.”

The federation layer is the architecture element that refers to the entire collection of domains with which a user gains trust when they successfully authenticate in a federated environment. Authentication, trust, and finally authorization at the federation layer provide the user with shared access to a set of resources or services.

The other essential piece of the federated security puzzle is an authentication method, often a security token, service, or both. The user presents a token issued by the STS, which the federated system authenticates before granting trust and access to the user. The ability to use the same token across all domains in the federation layer is the core benefit of federation as a whole.

Federated security in the cloud

Cloud security, in either a federated or nonfederated state, is a delicate ecosystem of processes and policies that must protect data and applications. It must involve careful consideration toward the inherent vulnerability of customer information and corporate data when that data exists off-site and is accessible from so many locations.

The cloud itself is complex, and the number of security threats will only ever increase as technology advances. Overcoming complexity and competently responding to risks requires a set of integrated security solutions like ours that simplifies the administration of federated security without sacrificing zero-trust principles.

Federation in the cloud provides organizations with the ability to harness the benefits of secure yet convenient access from any location. A user, such as a team member working from a remote location, can leverage the capabilities of SSO authentication to tap into an internal web app or use corporate resources through cloud services without any delay or cause for concern for security admins.

Implement federated security on a robust infrastructure

Federated security is a straightforward concept built on a relatively simple architecture, but fully securing a federated environment is a complex strategic process. Even so, the modern enterprise benefits now more than ever before from making data and apps accessible from anywhere. Federation facilitates that, but enabling such a high degree of freedom necessitates a security infrastructure hardened enough to compensate.

A robust infrastructure foundation is a strong first step toward secure federation, and Nutanix security solutions provide just that. With security hardening at every level as well as a proven process to prevent, detect, and recover from threats, the Nutanix Cloud Platform is an ideal place to build a federated cloud network.

Federated security can benefit users and admins alike by boosting speed, productivity, and information security by overcoming the potential vulnerabilities of distributed application deployments. The future is not set in stone, neither for remote work nor for cybercrime, but one thing that is certain is the potential of federation to help businesses overcome a wide range of security hurdles.

Learn more about other data protection practices that enterprise CIOs are implementing across the IT industry.

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