Users expect different applications to make their lives easier, but they forget that all apps are not created equal, and the security measurements vary. When one uses them, the applications and services connect to other applications and services. If any user provides their credentials to one application are granted access to the connected services.
Developers are aware that any data breach due to application security issues will imply the reputation of any app. Hence, developers are now taking advantage of tools designed to prevent them.
OAuth is a secured data sharing standard designed on an open platform that allows access to data but does not disclose the identity of the users and thus protects the data of the users. The OAuth standard began in 2006, and the updated version 2.0 came in 2012.
Top technology companies worldwide are already using OAuth 2.0 for authentication and authorization purposes.
What is the purpose of OAuth?
It is a technical standard for authorizing users and a protocol. It authorizes between different services without sharing the user's credentials like passwords and usernames. Here one can sign on to one platform and then view data and perform other actions on different platforms.
OAuth makes it possible to allow authorization from one application to another, irrespective of the two applications. One of the common ways is to enable authorization from an SSO (Single Sign-On) service to another application on a cloud platform. Still, it can be used between two applications anywhere. Other protocols perform these functions, but the OAuth is the most widely used.
For example, when a visitor visits a house when the homeowner is not there, the owner, instead of sending the key to the visitor, sends him a temporary code that will allow the visitor to get into the lockbox that has the key. OAuth also works similarly. Here an application sends a token authorizing another application to grant access to the user instead of sending the user's credentials.
How do Authorization tokens work in OAuth protocol?
Suppose a user wants to access their company file storage application in the cloud. The user is signed in to the company SSO but has not yet accessed the file storage application that day. Later, when the user wants to open the file storage application, the application request authorization from the Company SSO to let the user in. The SSO, in response, sends an authorization token to the file storage application. The token contains information on the access privileges given to the user within that file storage application. This token has a time limit. It expires after a specific time, and the user will have to sign in to the SSO again. OAuth tokens use HTTPS when sent, and they are encrypted. They are sent at layer 7 of the OSI model.
Use of OAuth
OAuth allows authorizations for users and allows one application to have partial access to another application. Users often come across apps that access social media platforms or another online account. Users with Google accounts can access many applications such as news sites, online games, and blogging platforms. In such cases, OAuth protocols are used in the back to allow external apps to access data from Google.
For organizations, the IAM or the identity access Management is used commonly in conjunction with Oauth. Users may require authorization from OAuth for the use of the application. For example, an employee can sign into the company using SSO. The SSO authorizes the user to access all the employee's applications to do the job. The SSO systems allow this by giving authorization tokens to the different applications.
Oauth is one of the several authorization protocols used today. The authorization protocols are necessary as they are needed to expose the user identity between applications. Some platforms like Facebook have their authorization method, like Facebook Connect.
Difference between authentication and authorization
Authentication and authorization may appear similar, but they are not the same thing when it comes to access management. The difference between them is understanding how the process works, including OAuth. The authentication has to do with the user identity, whereas authorization is about user privileges.
For example, security at the gate of a company will only allow all the cars to enter the premises with known employees. Here the authentication takes place where the employee identification card is checked with the approved list of employees with the security guard.
Once the employee and his car are authenticated, they enter the premises and park the car in the parking lot. However, the employee cannot park his car anywhere inside the facility. The parking lot is designated for each category of employees. Hence, the employee can only park in the area meant for him and not a slot designated for the CEO or other employees. The SAML or the Security Assertion Markup Language is the protocol for authentication, i.e., allowing the employee to get past the security at the gate. The OAuth is a protocol for authorization as it grants the employee privilege only for the designated parking lot.
An SSO or an IdP service can work in conjunction with each other or with OAuth alone. In short, both Oauth and SAML are different protocols used for numerous purposes. However, both are used with an SSO.
Importance of OAuth in the app industry
Oauth2.0 is a highly secure data-sharing protocol today. Its two-factor nature and the use of tokens prevent the disclosure of single-factor accounts. The earlier Oauth 1.0, which allowed single-factor authentication, which only backed single credentials on sites like file servers or Google drives, were easy to compromise since hackers needed only a single set of information to gain access. OAuth 2.0 requires authentications at several levels before giving access to a user. An advantage of OAuth 2.0 is that it is an open-ended standard designed to keep in mind app developers though surprisingly, not many developers are moving towards this standard.