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Everything You Need to Know About LDAP

Everything You Need to Know About LDAP
Hamid Echarkaoui

Hamid Echarkaoui

CEO & Co-founder @ Cryptr

Find out what LDAP is about in this new article from Cryptr, discover how it works and why it is still useful for companies in today's context.

The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol or LDAP refers to a protocol that helps with the ease of querying user information. The main purpose of LDAP is to enable organizations and individuals to locate data and get access to relevant information. 

Organizations have been using LDAP for different purposes such as attributes, user management, and authentication for the last 3 decades. It has been evolving as per the changing technological advancements during the entire time. 

This protocol is useful for looking up information present within a specific network. If organizations aim to build a central authentication server or access internal services, then LDAP can be the best choice. 

This article covers all about LDAP, its advantages for businesses, and how it works. On the way, it will also cover LDAP authentication and the difference between LDAP and Active Directory. Let’s begin. 

What Is LDAP or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol?

LDAP is a core protocol mainly developed for directory services. Directory services mean the process where one can manage the users and their IT resources’ access rights securely. 

Companies store several data such as passwords, usernames, printer connections, email addresses, and other such static data in a directory. LDAP is a protocol that helps to access and maintain that data rapidly. 

It is a lightweight version of DAP or Directory Access Protocol. This protocol has a primary goal to enable users to find data and information about people, organizations, and more. It stores the data in the directory and then authenticates the users when they want to access it. 

LDAP works with computers, printers, and other devices connected to the internet. Despite how long LDAP has been used, it still has widespread usage globally. 

In short, LDAP uses directory storage and then facilitates the authorization and authentication of users to certain data, including files, servers, networking equipment, applications, and other IT resources. It’s faster, easier, and smaller, which leads to multiple benefits. Let’s see what’s the process that LDAP uses to work.

How Does LDAP work?

LDAP helps to delete, add, and modify records. It assists in searching those records to facilitate the authentication and authorization of those resources to the users. Certain processes within LDAP typically involve the following:

  • Secure connection: The user establishes a secure connection with the server through the LDAP directory.
  • Search request: The user then searches for their query. For example, they may lookup for an email or other useful data. 
  • Authentication: The LDAP directory authenticates if the user is authorized to access the data.
  • Response: The LDAP protocol searches the user’s required information through the directory and then delivers the required data. 
  • Finalization: The secure connection gets closed as the user disconnects from the port.

Although it may seem simple, it requires a good amount of coding behind the processes. Developers have to specify the time to process a search, the size limit of the search, variables that can work on the search, etc.

The search query only moves forward after the LDAP authenticates the users, as noted above. It can use 2 different methods to authenticate the search, which includes:

  1. Simple method: In this method, the user enters the accurate name and password to connect to the server
  2. SASL (Simple Authentication and Security Layer): Before connecting to the server, the user gets authentication from a secondary service. This method is beneficial for companies who need advanced security during the searches.

Most of the LDAP connection requests come without encryption or scrambling, making them less secure in some cases. To tackle this problem, organizations use TLS, also known as Transport Layer Security, to have secure usage of the LDAP communication. 

What Operations Does LDAP Help With?

Organizations can tackle multiple issues with the help of LDAP. Let’s see what operations they can perform with LDAP below:

  • Adding new data (files or information) to the database
  • Eliminating any unusable or unwanted data from the database
  • Finding files using the search query within the database
  • Examining and comparing different files to understand their differences and similarities
  • Making modifications to the existing data

What is LDAP authentication?

Authentication is a crucial factor when it comes to getting access to databases. In its absence, databases won’t be safe and secure. That’s why, without authentication, users can’t get access to the data that’s stored in the LDAP directory or database. 

First, they have to get the authentication from LDAP to ensure users are who they say they are. This database includes group, user, and permission information for the connected applications.

LDAP authentication refers to the process of verifying the username and password that the user has entered to access the directory services having the LDAP protocol. Some of the directory services that adapt to this process in LDAP include MS Active Directory, OpenLDAP, and OpenDJ. 

In the LDAP process, the user first sends their request query and then inserts their login credentials. 

After that, LDAP cross-checks the credentials against the stored user identity data in the database. If the credential matches, the user will get the requested information. 

However, if it doesn’t match, the database will deny access to the user. 

Note: User identity doesn’t only mean usernames or passwords. It may also include different attributes such as telephone numbers, addresses, and group associations. 

Why is LDAP Beneficial for Businesses in the Modern Era

In this modern era, technological advancements keep happening all around us. 

Although these advancements and digitalization make things easier, it also comes with numerous threats. There can be chances of data breaches and hacking. It’s because hackers can target data and systems to misuse the same. 

However, LDAP leads to a secure way of getting access to data. Hence, hackers cannot get their hands on the database using the LDAP protocol since it has a strong authentication method. 

  1. Central Hub

LDAP acts as the central hub when it comes to authentication. Organizations can store their data and verify the credentials effectively when someone tries to access the directory. It becomes better if they use the right plugins with it. All their data can be stored inside the LDAP directory. 

  1. Password Protection

LDAP ensures that organizations have high levels of security for access to their data. Hence, when a user tries to access the database to get information on the resources, they won’t be able to get access until they clear the authentication process. It protects the passwords by keeping them long, strong and unique. In addition, it also uses multi-factor authentication for different purposes (if required). 

  1. Identity Verification

Apart from centralizing data, LDAP can also enhance the level of security by enhancing encryption. This security layer helps organizations have complete security from external and internal threats. 

In addition, LDAP also helps to delete any sensitive data that isn’t required anymore. Many companies have to face cyber-attacks because they don’t delete sensitive data which is no longer needed. Deleting such data can ensure that no one can get access to it. 

  1. Backing Up Critical Data

Organizations need a safe place to back up their critical data. LDAP provides a directory to store and back up the crucial data. It helps companies to keep their data safe and secure while also being able to add other security extensions to it.

Is LDAP secure?

LDAP is a secure protocol, just like any other protocol. It has a secure implementation and a secure authentication process. In addition, it reduces the communication gap between Active Directory services and users. Moreover, it focuses on providing the maximum level of security by managing authentication with a layer of access management. It then moves the information to the users. It enables users to understand the digital infrastructure and database while retaining security. 

There are other security practices that companies can consider when it comes to advancing the security of the directories. These best practices for security include:

  • Using TLS/SSL for encrypting LDAP responses and requests
  • Not storing passwords as plaintext when using LDAP authentication. Instead, companies can use cryptographically strong hash functions.
  • Maintaining the directory data’s multiple reflections prevents a single point of failure.
  • Establishing an accurate access control policy. For example, granting access permission to administrators and denying access to anyone other than that.
  • Auditing from anomalies and logging access to LDAP directories
  • Using firewalls that are well configured to ensure better control access for the directory services

Difference Between LDAP and AD

Before getting into the difference between LDAP and AD, it’s crucial to understand what AD or Active Directory means. It’s a directory that requires a protocol to function. It requires a protocol for maintaining, querying, and authenticating its access.

LDAP is a protocol that helps AD to function efficiently. As the name suggests, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol is a lightweight protocol that helps to provide access to directory services.

It acts as a protocol solution for Active Directory. Although sometimes people use AD and LDAP interchangeably. However, as the above paragraph states, these two aren’t the same. LDAP helps to create query objects in the AD. 

In simple words, LDAP refers to the language that helps manage the directory services. Meanwhile, AD uses the directory services that LDAP manages. LDAP also permits users to access the directory services effectively and securely. 

LDAP can read AD, but companies can also use it with other programs. So, we can say that both AD and LDAP work together seamlessly to provide better database access and security for the users. Both have their functions and roles to play in such processes but they aren’t the same.

Conclusion

In simple terms, LDAP is useful for providing access to crucial files. It’s a crucial tool for companies due to its deep and strong interactions with directory services. Businesses can have a centralized way of accessing databases. 

In addition, they can add, remove, maintain, and modify critical files present in the database with LDAP. It provides a secure way of authentication for access to such files and databases. In addition, it’s an easy-to-implement protocol acting as the central hub of authentication. 

It automatically sends the user query to the directory services and retrieves the data to send back to the user if they are authorized to access it. 

As businesses grow in size and complexity, the use of secure and efficient user authentication systems has become a very important requirement. Single sign-on using LDAP is a very popular authentication mechanism used today. SSO systems provide access to a collection of systems using a single login, while LDAP is used as the authentication protocol for these SSO systems.

So, ready to learn more about  LDAP and SSO? We tell you more at Cryptr!

Cryptr users management As A Service offers a modern approach to handle end-users authentication security for web and mobile applications.

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