Both SAML and LDAP are access protocols commonly used in a wide variety of organizations, but they have different use cases and areas of effectiveness. They’re both used to facilitate RADIUS communication to other parts of the PKI for authentication, but they are implemented in different environments.
SAML and LDAP at a Glance
To understand their differences, it’s important to get an overview of what these access protocols do and how they are applied in different use cases.
LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is a protocol designed to connect the RADIUS to user directories, typically Active Directory. As a result, users can have their identity confirmed and gain access to on-premise servers with ease.
It has proven to be highly effective in communicating with on-premise servers and protecting users’ identities and data, but the on-premise aspect of LDAP is its main weakness. Because it works in conjunction with servers on-site, LDAP must be physically installed. This includes a more labor-intensive setup process and higher management costs over time.
SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) was created primarily to modernize authentication and adapt the growing cloud-based networking trend. SAML connects the RADIUS to (typically cloud) directories to authenticate users for any service that supports it – VPN, web applications, Wi-Fi, and more.
SAML vs. LDAP
The fundamental idea behind SAML and LDAP is the same; enable secure authentication of users to connect them to resources they need. The difference is how they approach RADIUS communication and execute the process.
As stated above, LDAP was built for on-site authentication while SAML was built to communicate with cloud-based servers and applications. Both bring advantages and disadvantages and present very different methods of securing the authentication process. Additionally, they will both have drastically different management needs overtime.
Azure Authentication with SAML and LDAP
Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD) has become one of the most commonly used IDPs, and Azure AD is an upgrade to AD to allow for greater flexibility with cloud-based authentication. As a result, LDAP is not supported by Azure AD. LDAP can be configured to work with Azure AD when Azure AD Domain Services are added, but this is a separate product that needs to be purchased and configured on top of Azure AD.
On the other hand, SAML is a cloud-based access protocol and therefore easily configured to communicate with Azure AD. SAML can be configured to communicate with applications, servers, etc., and Azure AD to securely connect users to the resources they need. It can also be utilized to configure an SSO-based network authentication setup. Microsoft provides a link demonstrating how SAML and Azure AD can be configured to work together.
Use Both SAML and LDAP with SecureW2
SecureW2’s Cloud RADIUS allows organizations to authenticate users for VPN, Wi-Fi, web applications, email security, and more. When working in concert with Azure AD and SAML, your IT team can rest assured that users are securely authenticated to the network.
The latest improvement to RADIUS developed by SecureW2 is Dynamic RADIUS, which allows for more complex communication with the IDP during authentication. Traditionally, the IDP is not communicated with during authentication; a certificate is presented and determined to be legitimate based on public key cryptography and the CRL.
Dynamic RADIUS allows for direct communication with the IDP via SAML. This enables real-time directory editing when a user’s status changes within an organization. Instead of replacing all their certificates on all their devices, they can simply update their permissions within the IDP in real time.
While SAML and LDAP are both viable access protocols and still widely used, it’s clear to see which is better adapted for viability in the future. As more technology moves to the cloud, LDAP will be left behind and phased out of most organizations. In the meantime, SecureW2 is still able to accommodate LDAP, even operating it in unison with SAML. Check out SecureW2’s pricing page to see if our certificate solutions utilizing SAML fit with your organization’s plan for the future.