LDAP has a diverse subset of use cases, but its most popular purpose is acting as a central hub for authentication. What is LDAP authentication? Well, LDAP is particularly useful at helping organizations store and access usernames and passwords within their network and across applications. With the right plugins, organizations can use LDAP as a way to store and verify basic credentials whenever users are attempting to access an LDAP directory or LDAP-enabled systems and applications. To do so, IT professionals can use Docker, Jenkins, Kubernetes, Open VPN, and Linux Samba servers. LDAP single sign-on is also a popular choice.
However, LDAP credentials aren’t just about usernames and passwords. The software protocol can also be helpful for managing other organizational attributes that can be important for employees across your business to have access to. For example, LDAP can help store addresses, telephone numbers, data on organizational structure, and more—all of which make LDAP a useful tool for managing and protecting core user identities across an organization. Additionally, LDAP can connect users with information on network-connected assets and data, such as printers, files, and other shared resources.
Beyond these core use cases, LDAP is an essential tool in any business because of its interactions with the directory services—most commonly Microsoft’s Active Directory. As we’ll discuss shortly, LDAP is a means of communicating with Active Directory and connecting clients with the information they need that directory services actually store. By providing an efficient, shared language that different clients can all use, LDAP makes it easier for different assets to provide coordinated and coherent responses to client queries.
Is LDAP the Same as Active Directory?
While intimately related, LDAP and Active Directory are not the same thing. LDAP is a kind of software language used for directory services authentication—it simply provides the language and means of exchanging properly formatted messages between different clients. This is an essential step of the authentication process, but it does not provide the underlying infrastructure that directory services such as Active Directory deliver.
Microsoft’s Active Directory, on the other hand, provides organizations with critical directory services. These services range from authenticating user credentials and core identities to handling group and user management. Essentially, Active Directory stores and manages domains, user information, and other shared resources across an organizational network. This is a must for organizations that need to be able to locate thousands of objects throughout their digital infrastructure and carefully regulate who has access to what resources.
In short, Active Directory stores user information and logs organizational digital policy at the user and group level. LDAP makes it possible to format queries that can extract the necessary information and communicate responses to those queries between clients. Together, LDAP and Active Directory make it possible for clients throughout businesses to access the information they need—and use the applications that they need—to execute their responsibilities.
What Is LDAP Security?
Because LDAP facilitates communication between clients and Active Directory, it deals with a considerable amount of sensitive information. From employee credentials and core user identities to the locations of critical files and business resources, the data ferried from Active Directory to clients via LDAP is important to protect from cybercriminals and other bad actors. This represents a unique opportunity for bad actors to intercept messages between Active Directory and clients making requests for valuable proprietary information.
While the LDAP authentication process can provide a base level of security by implementing a built-in layer of access management, bad actors may still try to eavesdrop on information moving from Active Directory to clients in order to learn how to access your digital infrastructure. Accordingly, MSPs should work with their customers to add improved encryption to the LDAP authentication process. Doing so can make LDAP authentication more secure against both internal and external threats facing today’s businesses.
For example, using SSL/TLS encryption can add much-needed protection to the information shared via LDAP and bring additional security to communication channels. Additionally, the default port used during the LDAP authentication process—Port 389—is not secure on its own. In order to create a secure connection, organizations should consider additional security extensions. The LDAPv3 TLS extension can offer greater connection security, or the StatrTLS mode can help information move to a more protected TLS connection after connecting to the port.
What Products Are Helpful for LDAP?
Making the most of LDAP hinges on keeping business information secure and organized. Without properly protecting and storing information, organizations risk losing important institutional knowledge, suffering disruptions to business with their customers, and sullying their reputation as reliable partners. By properly maintaining organizational files and keeping data protected, however, MSPs can help customers retrieve, process, and act on the right information.
To keep this kind of information reliably protected, however, decision-makers need to invest in sophisticated IT tools capable of securing and backing up organizational data. Whether organizations suffer a cyber attack that complicates access to their own files or they have to enact business continuity plans after a crippling natural disaster, having duplicates of servers stored throughout IT infrastructure can keep a business operating smoothly.
Interested in learning more about how to securely backup your servers and critical applications? Explore our product suite to see how you can be prepared for potential disasters.