The Importance of Authentication in the Cloud

Written by Kayla Coco-Stotts on May 1, 2020

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IT teams often question whether on-prem or cloud-based authentication is more secure and convenient for their organizations. Below, we’ll seek to answer that question by explaining the value in both and evaluating why modern organizations are turning to the cloud over legacy hardware. 

What is Authentication?

Authentication is the process of confirming someone is who they say they are. This process should take place any time an end user attempts to access an IT resource, whether it’s a system, app, network, or file server.

Authentication is critical for maintaining secure IT infrastructure, as organizations that do not control and monitor user access to their resources leave their assets open to intrusions by bad actors or other cyberthreats. As such, it’s important for IT teams to evaluate whether they prefer authentication in the cloud or on-prem. 

On-Prem Authentication

Authentication originally began on-prem, as did all IT infrastructure. Microsoft® was able to create their premier on-prem directory service by utilizing the LDAP and Kerberos protocols to effectively authenticate user credentials to their Windows®-bound resources.

That directory service, named Active Directory® (AD), provided IT teams with the toolset they required to oversee their users and Windows systems, on-prem applications, and wired networks. It was incredibly effective in a time when cloud infrastructure didn’t exist, but enterprises have since begun shifting their sights toward cloud software and infrastructure.

In fact, today’s organizations commonly utilize a variety of cloud-based and platform-agnostic resources to meet their productivity needs. These include:

  • Web applications like Salesforce®, Dropbox, and Slack®
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms like AWS®
  • Cloud-based productivity suites like G Suite™ and Office 365™
  • Non-Windows systems like macOS® and Linux® machines

And just because some of these services exist in the cloud does not mean users do not need to be authenticated to them. Although Active Directory can be combined with services like Azure® Active Directory (Azure AD or AAD) to authenticate users to Azure infrastructure and select web applications, it doesn’t authenticate users to whole host of other non-Windows/Microsoft solutions, with one simple example being on-prem macOS systems. Additionally, IT teams still have to implement additional hardware to manage user access to their networks via RADIUS authentication.

On-prem authentication is ideal for organizations that maintain a strictly Windows-centric, on-prem IT environment, but it can be costly and ineffective for enterprises that utilize any number of cloud resources or non-Windows based systems. 

Authentication in the Cloud

Some IT admins may be concerned about the validity of secured cloud infrastructure. And for good reason, as cloud-based infrastructure is something relatively new to many IT teams. However, cloud organizations invest in and take security very seriously, ensuring that the job of securing precious IT resources is not left entirely up to the organization it’s housed in.

For organizations seeking a way to securely authenticate users to their on-prem and cloud-based IT resources, a cloud identity provider (IdP) may be the best course of action. By utilizing authentication protocols like SAML 2.0, OAuth, cloud LDAP, and cloud RADIUS, organizations can securely manage user access to their systems, files, applications, and networks regardless of their location.

In addition, authentication through a cloud identity and access management (IAM) provider can give IT teams tools like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and SSH key management to ensure user identities are secure. Instead of managing users and their resources solely on-prem, IT admins can use authentication in the cloud to secure access to nearly all resources from a single console. Also, organizing users under one central identity ensures that IT teams can avoid the insecurity of identity sprawl.

JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service

JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® (DaaS) combines the secure control of legacy on-prem authentication methods through the ease of cloud infrastructure. By offering RADIUS, LDAP, SAML 2.0, MFA, and more “as-a-service,” DaaS gives IT teams the tools they need to securely authenticate their users to their assets.

Interested in learning more? Feel free to sign up for a personalized demo to see DaaS’s centralized cloud console in action. Alternatively, you can register up to 10 users for free, forever.

Kayla Coco-Stotts

Kayla is a content writer at JumpCloud with a B.A. in Print Journalism from the University of Kentucky. She hails from St. Louis, Missouri, and loves to eat good food and hike Boulder's beautiful trails when she is not writing.

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