5 Prime Segments of Active Directory Federation Services

How to Secure Active Directory

Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) is an integral component of Windows Server that facilitates unrestricted access to apps and systems located outside the protected boundaries of corporate networks. To truly appreciate its worth, one must understand its core elements as they operate together in harmony.

Improved User Experience

AD FS provides you with an intuitive and secure sign-on experience for many different applications, but the tool comes with its own set of challenges and costs. Servers hosting the tool need to be maintained by experts who incur costs; in addition, hackers are constantly developing new technologies to break into IT systems so AD FS requires additional protections to protect its servers.

AD FS offers many advantages to businesses that adopt it. These include streamlined user logins, stringent safeguard measures, seamless amalgamation with Active Directory, compliance with WS-* protocol standards for assertion-based identity control, effortless scalability, and single authentication process reducing credential spillage risk.

AD FS not only provides a convenient centralized sign-in process, but is also an efficient tool for authenticating third-party applications. This process entails matching users against claim rules set forth by an application before creating and sending out claims that verify and grant access to external applications.

As API security becomes an increasing priority for engineers, it is critical that you understand how AD FS operates to safeguard your applications. To enhance user experience and streamline navigation, AD FS now features paginated UX with centered theme. Furthermore, message, image, and logo customization features for each relying party can now be aligned with this new user interface compared with prior functionality which only supported text-based content.


AD FS’ scalability makes it the perfect solution for organizations with a diverse portfolio of cloud, legacy and on-premise apps. Users benefit from having one single sign-on experience across applications – eliminating the need to remember multiple credentials while IT administrators save time managing multiple passwords.

AD FS authentication enables users to gain access to applications across security and enterprise boundaries, using identity federation as an attack surface reduction measure. Users only need to authenticate themselves once with a central authority to receive an authentication claim that can then be used for accessing resources or applications of interest.

AD FS offers many advantages to an organization’s operations; however, its implementation and ongoing costs as well as technical restrictions may impede progress. Our whitepaper provides valuable insights and actionable recommendations that can help unlock its true potential and unlock true ROI with AD FS deployments.

To make sure your sizing recommendations are accurate, it’s crucial to accurately estimate how many users will make authentication requests to federation servers during peak usage periods – 1 minute, 15 minutes or 1 hour should suffice as estimations.

Use the AD FS Capacity Planning Spreadsheet for this. Enter estimated peak-usage values in each column, and click Calculate to generate a set of recommendations for sizing recommendations for both your home realm and federation server farm. This spreadsheet automatically takes into account user count as well as peak usage duration when recommending how many federation servers should be deployed within your production environment.

Attribute-Based Resource Governance

Accessing various systems and applications in today’s business environment where most employees work remotely is of utmost importance. Organizations must authenticate users and grant them appropriate privileges; to achieve this objective, organizations need an authentication tool which offers secure user experience – AD FS provides this by allowing access to various systems using just one online credential, helping save time while decreasing password spillage risks.

AD FS works by creating a federated trust relationship with other organizations to securely project users’ digital identities to them and enable these other entities to make access decisions based on claims from these users. This eliminates the need for secondary authentication credentials from them as well.

Example: When an employee accesses a web app hosted by a partner company, the web application redirects their authentication request to partner’s site for authentication and the relying party then sends back an authentication token containing assertions sent by AD FS server which the web app can then validate against in order to confirm identity and grant access rights.

To establish a federated trust relationship, open the AD FS Management Console and click Add Relying Party Trust from the left-side menu. From within the Add Relying Party Trust Wizard, choose Import Metadata From A File before continuing through to Select Data Source page – import either data about this service provider published locally on network or external source before clicking Next again and giving this new Relying Party its Display Name before continuing further steps of configuration.

Homogenous Sign-In (HSi)

As organizations adopt more software as a service (SaaS) and web applications, they face the challenge of managing user accounts across different systems. AD FS helps organizations manage this by linking new passwords with existing ones for a single sign-in process – eliminating employees having to maintain multiple logins for each application.

Additionally, AD FS allows users to easily access third-party applications that may exist outside their company network with ease. By taking advantage of its federation operation feature – which requires the server to register trust agreements with external services – users are able to authenticate themselves against these external services using AD FS and gain entry.

To achieve this, AD FS uses Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) tokens to communicate with trusted business partners via Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML). SAML tokens encase identity information and authorization requests used to validate users’ credentials; to reduce chances of hackers targeting these authentication tokens directly, AD FS utilizes bi-level verification requiring double identities before resource access occurs – effectively decreasing any successful hacking attempts.

AD FS also provides IT teams with extensive auditing and monitoring mechanisms. It logs all identity verification attempts, accesses to various resources, and any related activities for analysis to identify any suspicious operations and enhance cybersecurity. This is possible because AD FS servers do not sit directly accessible from the Internet – keeping potential attackers away.

Easy Integration

As companies increasingly rely on software as a service (SaaS) and web applications, companies must evaluate how they authenticate users and grant access privileges. ADFS helps organizations meet this challenge by serving as a hub for authentication and authorization services; connecting to trusted partners known as relying parties to validate identity data before issuing claims-based security tokens that can then be passed along to target applications or websites which validate them and log the user in.

For connecting an on-premises ADFS server and Pexip cloud services, use the Add Relying Party Trust Wizard. Select Relying Party Trusts in AD FS Management sidebar, then “Add Standard Relying Party Trust,” before beginning configuration wizard. On Select Data Source screen choose Manual entry of party information then if required enter display name for user when they log in (this value will also appear as part of user login confirmation process).

Once a connection is made, its settings will appear in HaloITSM under Settings > Single sign-on section. Select SAML 2.0/W Federation authentication provider as the authentication provider and in Default Settings select Enabled option. Enterprise Application Access should also be activated.

Once completed, users will be able to log into HaloITSM using their Microsoft AD credentials and gain access to Zendesk accounts. When trying to log into a Pexip-supported Connect app using these credentials, their authentication against AD FS will be verified before being converted into a WS-Federation token with attributes such as email, objectGUID, givenName/sn and displayName to identify users within Pexip system.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.