Introduction: What is an IdP? 

An identity provider (or IdP) is a type of online service that manages your identity and authenticates you to other services. An identity provider (IdP) service allows you to manage users, groups, and other security data across multiple applications. It’s like managing passwords on your desktop or mobile.  

It’s also commonly referred to as federated authentication because it works in conjunction with another system. In this case, the two systems share information about who you are and what permissions you have so they can work together seamlessly. 

How does an IdP Work? 

In the context of web-based applications, an IdP is a service that allows users to log in using their credentials from one site or service and then be automatically logged into another site or service. 

A user logs in with their username and password on the first site, which sends the credentials to the IdP. The IdP validates the username and password, then sends information back to the first site about who they are. The first site then logs them into the second site automatically without requiring any additional login steps. 

Why is it Important? 

Identity management is important in the digital age. It provides a sense of security and peace of mind for people who use the internet. 

In today’s digital age, identity management is one of the most important things for a company to have. With so much personal information being stored online it has become increasingly difficult to protect your information from potential hackers or thieves.  

Azure AD and Shibboleth are two of the most popular identity providers in the industry. They have their own pros and cons, but they can also be easily combined to create a secure authentication system for your organisation. 

This guide will help you understand the differences and similarities of Azure AD vs Shibboleth, as well as some of the key points to consider before choosing an Identity Provider. 

ADFS / Azure AD as an Identity Provider (IdP)  

What is Azure AD and ADFS?   

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is an open, flexible, identity and access management solution that offers directory integration capabilities, to extend an on-premise directory such as the Windows Server Active Directory to the cloud.  

The Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) is a product that enables organisations to provide single sign-on access to on-premises applications from the cloud or from other domains. ADFS is a identity federation service that provides a bridge between on-premises Active Directory and Microsoft Azure Active Directory. 

How does Azure AD and ADFS Work?  

Azure AD allows users to authenticate access using the same credentials on both platforms. On the other hand, ADFS provides a bridge between on-premises Active Directory (ADFS) and Microsoft Azure Active Directory.  

This Identity as a Service (IDaaS) solution, offered by Microsoft provides seamless access through single sign-on (SSO). It allows multi-factor authentication to enhance cybersecurity on the cloud. 

Azure AD is designed only for Azure-based users, systems, and applications. Azure AD cannot act alone as an IdP authority for on-prem systems and users. But in order to make it possible, you need to have both Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) and Azure AD.  

Shibboleth as an Identity Provider (IdP)  


What is Shibboleth IdP?  

Shibboleth is an open-source software that provides a single sign-on to many applications. It is used by many organisations and companies to provide their employees with secure access to their applications. Designed to protect network resources and applications from unauthorized access. It is used by many organisations and companies to provide their employees with secure access to their applications. 

The software was developed by the Shibboleth Consortium, which continues to maintain it, but it is now operated independently of the organisation. 

It is also an open-source project, meaning that anyone can examine and contribute code. The Shibboleth Consortium has released all of its intellectual property as free and open source software under the Apache License 2.0, with additional licensing for commercial purposes available from the organisation. 

How does Shibboleth IdP Work? 

Shibboleth works by enabling the user’s browser to communicate directly with the IdP, which then checks the user’s credentials against its local database (or external databases) and sends back an assertion about whether or not it recognizes them as valid users before granting them access. 

Shibboleth allows you to authenticate users against external identity providers such as Azure Active Directory, Google G Suite and Okta, among others. You can also leverage your existing directory service like Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) for authentication purposes if you don’t already have one in place. 

However, if you’re just looking for a simple solution for managing user access across multiple applications, then Shibboleth may be the right choice for you! 

Azure AD/ADFS vs Shibboleth

AzureAD vs Shibboleth_ advantages, idp, security.overtsoftwaresolution

Advantage of Azure AD/ADFS as an IdP 

Strong Security 

With the threat of cyber-attacks on the rise, Microsoft is taking security very seriously. Azure Active Directory offers a number of security features, which include Multi Factor Authentication, Conditional Access and Privileged Identity Management. 

MFA: Multi-Factor Authentication 

MFA or multi-factor authentication offers extra layers of security to your account by requesting an additional form of verification. There are various options such as a Microsoft Authenticator app, SMS, Voice Call, or an OATH Hardware/Software Token that can be used as an MFA method. 

Admin Privileged Identity Management 

Azure AD Privileged Identity Management (PIM) enables administrators to control access to resources by defining granular permissions at the object level. For example, an administrator can grant access to a list of folders only and deny access to all other files in the same directory based on a user’s business need. Moreover, the PIM provides an audit trail which will help administrators identify suspicious activities when they occur. 

SSO: Single Sign-on Authentication 

To save time and effort, Azure AD offers SSO authentication for on-premises and SaaS applications alike. SSO makes it even easier for administrators to add new users and services – all without the need for credentials or security groups set up for each application. 

Proxy to Applications 

The Application Proxy helps administrators publish their on-premise applications to Azure AD. This allows users to access the applications remotely and securely without requiring VPN access. 

Access to a Portal Panel 

The MyApps portal (access panel) in Azure AD provides a list of all applications which the logged-on user is permitted to access. Additionally, directly from the MyApps portal, you can access features such as adding/removing an app, monitoring apps that are on hold or inactive, and reviewing/editing organisational-level settings. MyApps portal can be accessed both via a mobile app and web browser. 

Self Service Features 

Azure provides users with more control which can save time and money as you don’t have to involve the administrator or other specialist members of staff. A notable self-service feature is self-service password reset. This function enables users to reset their passwords in the event that their password becomes compromised. 

To change their password, the user will be required to perform a security challenge or provide an additional form of verification (MFA) if enabled. 

B2B and B2C Collaboration 

Azure AD is easy to use, and a couple of major features that make it simple to share information with partners and customers are Azure AD B2B (business-to-business) and Azure AD B2C (business-to-customer). 

The B2B feature is a new Azure Active Directory service that enables you to invite business associates to your application or service, where they can use their existing Azure identity to sign-in. This removes the need for password resets and allows users to authenticate locally. 

The B2C authentication provider allows you to use the customer’s existing identity provider. They’ll sign in with their username and password and then go through a two-factor authentication process. This is similar to a Public Provider scenario, but instead, your customers can choose the identity provider that they’re most comfortable with, like Google or Facebook. 

Security and Activity Reports 

Azure AD now provides security and activity reports. These reports give admins an overview of their company’s settings, activity and how to best operate it. Administrators will also have visibility into more than five years of historical data. 

If you are not satisfied with the default Azure AD auditing or if you are running a hybrid environment, you can integrate a third-party Azure AD auditing solution that automatically detects and responds to anomalous activity. By using a third-party solution, you’ll have access to data discovery and categorization as well as inactive account management. 

Advantages of Shibboleth as an IdP  

While Azure AD/ADFS is a relatively new product, Shibboleth has been around since 2000. It is open source and free to use, plus it can be set up quickly and with minimal fuss. 

Easy to Set Up and Manage 

Shibboleth has many advantages over Azure AD/ADFS. It uses an open source codebase that is easy to set up and maintain, so you don’t have to pay for support or training. The biggest advantage of using Shibboleth as your IdP is that it can be used with any application that supports SAML 2.0 (Security Assertion Markup Language), which means you’re not limited by vendor offerings. 

Reduce the Need for Help Desk Queries 

It is estimated more than USD$1 billion is spent by companies every year to manage passwords. The burden of this responsibility falls heavily on IT support desks, which are already feeling the pressure of an ever-growing number of security threats. According to a survey by GFI Software, the typical password request costs $70 to help desk staff. 

Shibboleth SSO solves this problem by simplifying the organisation’s password management. Not only will it let them manage passwords more quickly, but it will also save them a lot of time. Shibboleth SSO makes things a lot easier on IT support. 

Convenient Password management 

A single sign-on tool like Shibboleth SSO is a significant boon for the security of a business or enterprise. Besides the simple and speedy authentication process, SSO also delivers what is lacking in many password managers: a substantial password modification and a centralized storage system, which means users’ passwords are always synced with their devices. 

With single sign-on (SSO), IT administrators only need to ensure that their users’ identities are handled at the directory site’s identity provider (IdP) level. Shibboleth offers a way of providing password-less authentication so that a user only has to sign in once to access multiple applications. 

Increase in Admin Control 

One of the biggest problems companies face today is shadow IT. Shadow IT is a term used to describe employees using unapproved software, hardware, or services in the workplace. It’s an issue because companies often lack visibility into what these employees do. SSO (Single Sign On) provides organisations with a way to see what their employees are doing on the network and gives them control over all their information. 

Speed up log-in processes. 

Shibboleth SSO (single sign-on) replaces the need for multiple passwords with just one. An average person spends 36 minutes every month entering passwords, wasting time and energy. 

Shibboleth enables SSO for applications, webpages, and networks. Its authentication system allows employees to access their accounts without needing passwords. It also enforces strong session management and can validate user identity by token-based or certificate-based means. 

Lowers security risks 

Shibboleth SSO reduces the risk to your associates (partners and customers) and your business. Shibboleth SSO removes the need for multiple passwords, which means malicious hackers have fewer known attacks. It also has the added benefit of reducing lost, expired, forgotten, and password resets. 

Reduces password stress 

Even the most diligent employee will become aggressive due to password stress. By reducing credential authentication to the SAML protocol and method, SSO eliminates password-based user accounts and addresses the root of password fatigue. 

Why is Shibboleth IdP still relevant in 2022? 

Shibboleth was explicitly designed for higher education with a focus on meeting the needs of different groups. ADFS was created to meet the needs of enterprise applications and was never meant to be used by colleges and universities. ADFS is more challenging to configure and use than Shibboleth, making it overwhelming for small IT departments at higher education institutions. 

Shibboleth provides federated authentication across or within organisational boundaries. Shibboleth supports Active Directory, and unlike ADFS, it supports many other LDAP types. Shibboleth also upholds the privacy of the user accounts by encrypting the users’ credentials before they are stored in the “passwd” file on disk. 

Why Shibboleth is the Best IdP Solution 

  • Shibboleth SSO is used by more than one hundred organisations around the world.  
  • Shibboleth can also run on Windows but often on Linux (making it much cheaper than purchasing a Windows license for each ADFS). 
  • Shibboleth is a decentralized open-source software suite that provides single online sign-on (SSO) services, federated user access management, and web security.  
  • Shibboleth supports most of the SAML 1.1 and SAML 2.0 profiles, while ADFS does not support federated metadata files and federated authentication. 

ADFS only supports single-sign-on that relies on Kerberos, making it difficult for customers to integrate ADFS with other systems. 

Thus, Shibboleth makes a great alternative to Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS). Shibboleth allows organisations to share access control and identity information with partners from other organisations. 

Why is Azure AD/ADFS IdP still relevant in 2022?  

Organisations are adopting Microsoft 365 and Azure AD-based apps at an unprecedented rate. This is due to the fact they can be updated automatically, which eliminates the need for administrators to manually apply updates. 

Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) is a standards-based on-premises identity service. It is believed to be a cost effective way to make your applications available from the cloud, with an easy and secure sign in experience for both developers and end users. 

Azure AD/ADFS extends the ability to use single sign-on (SSO) functionality between trusted business partners so that users aren’t required to sign in separately to each application. This is known as federation, and it can help simplify access management. 

Azure AD provides benefits on-premises Active Directory, with the added benefit of being remotely accessible from anywhere at any time. When migrating your organisation to Azure Active Directory, it is important to consider the apps that may require modern authentication protocols such as SAML and Open ID Connect.  

Why Azure AD/ADFS is the Best IdP Solution 

  • Azure AD helps companies to manage and control access to corporate resources. The service uses conditional access to ensure that the correct user has the required permit and multifactor authentication to provide a more secure experience. 
  • Azure AD can prevent attackers from using stolen credentials to access your environment. It can also block legacy authentication, ban common passwords and protect your privileged identities. 
  • Azure AD is a PaaS product from Microsoft, a very reputable company where it simplifies the process of managing user accounts. Also, Microsoft handles all upgrades and updates to its systems. 

It is important that you consult one of our experts to find the best verification solution for your enterprise. ADFS may be or may not be the best option in all cases, but it still has its applications and can be suitable in some environments. 

2022: Azure AD/ADFS vs Shibboleth IdP 


Azure AD/ADFS  

Shibboleth SSO  

Multi Factor Authentication (MFA)  


(w/ SAML configuration or Soft Token App)  

Single Sign-On (SSO)  



Flexibility on Management  

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Flexibility on Set-up  

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IdP Stability  

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Data Privacy Management  

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Data Back-ups  

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Password Management Difficulties  

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Admin Control / Privilege  

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Customer Support Efficiency  

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Security Strength  

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Send Private Data  



Privacy Preserving Attributes  



IdP Metadata Flexibility  

Each SP service would require a separate set of IdP metadata.  (IdP metadata is different for each SP)      

Allows authentication using a single local institutional (IdP) service to gain access to remote resources and Service Providers (SPs).   

Metadata Signature Verification  



Vanity entity ID Configuration Support  



SAML Encryption  



UKFED Domain Validation  



Portal Panel / Dashboard  



Self-Service Feature  




3 Years (Unavailable to set long life certificate for backchannel)  

10 – 20 Years (A self-signed certificate available with a lifetime of 10 or 20 years for the trust fabric certificate)  




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What team are you? Azure AD/ ADFS IdP or Shibboleth IdP?  

Picking the ideal Identity Provider (IdP) for the long run can be crucial. Having the right provider for your organisation makes the perfect management solution. Solutions are similar, but some might give you subtle differences due to added features based on your business.  

This is where we, Overt Software, can help you. Let us assist you in implementing and maintaining your Identity Provider Management solution to enable your end user and free up your help desk. Our help support Success Team is available 24/7 to assist you! Learn more and contact us today. 


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