The Truth About Building Your Own Authentication Server

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One of the most common tasks when developing a software is establishing an authentication and identity management system. Whether that system only consists of a sign-up form and a login page or a more complex infrastructure, the number one priority should always be a seamless functionality: Errors in the implementation can have catastrophic consequences. To assure that your software is secure and working as intended, your identity management system should be implemented and managed by experts with in-depth knowledge on the topic.

Companies on the lookout for an authentication server have the possibility to buy functionality from third-party identity and access management (IAM) solutions, such as ZITADEL. Most of these vendors consist of highly qualified IT-experts who are universally entrusted to guarantee a safe and error-free IAM system for software products. Despite a large supply of these purchasable solutions, some firms still choose to build their own authentication server in hopes of saving money or due to distrust in pre-built applications. While a self-developed solution might work for some, there are various potentially unknown drawbacks that companies should consider before settling for this method. In this article, I will discuss the risks and disadvantages of building your own authentication server.

Common shortcomings of self-built Authentication Servers

1. Security Issues

The most significant risk of building your own authentication server lies in its generally higher probability of security issues. Since keeping your users’ data safe is among the greatest responsibilities of a platform and the primary task of an IAM server, it is essential to make sure an adequately established security system is a given. One of the most obvious advantages IAM vendors have over DIY developers is the possession of a dedicated team with IT and engineering expertise. The members of these teams can utilize their knowledge to create the best possible security system based on their diverse experiences. Additionally, IAM vendors commonly offer advanced security features, such as support for multi-factor authentication (MFA) and security keys. Another security aspect where third-party IAM solutions prevail is error prevention: They can prevent attacks more easily due to their large user base, whereas a custom-made solution does not possess enough data to recognize suspicious patterns.

2. Not as cheap as you think

Contrary to popular belief, you will likely find that building your own authentication server is not cheaper in the long run. While you initially save some money by not having to purchase the solution itself, it will quickly be compensated by the cost of development, maintenance, troubleshooting, upgrades, and the resources themselves that are needed for these procedures. It is also worth noting, that since your main product is likely in an unrelated field to the IAM itself, the inevitable shift in your working context would entail additional costs. When considering a handcrafted solution, it is therefore beneficial to evaluate if the needed investments over the lifetime of your product are ultimately less than the amount you would have to pay for the one-time fee of the purchasable alternative.

3. Complex and Time-consuming

When creating anything from scratch, you should probably reckon with a lengthy production process. The same principle applies to developing a server; given that authentication solutions require lots of API programming and complex security features, fully building one might take at least a year as a full-time job. Since the server will handle sensitive data, the development of an adequately functioning security system also involves constant testing and optimizing, which should not be neglected to save time. The need for handcrafted features also extends to the product phases beyond the initial development: Keeping your application functional and up to date requires you to additionally establish a maintenance system that will serve this purpose. Purchasing an already established IAM solution would therefore likely save you several years of time, and money spent on essential resources.

What you can do instead

In conclusion, even if you are an experienced programmer or your company possesses a dedicated IT-team, you will likely find that your time and effort will be better spent developing and optimizing your main product. Afterall, facilitating the job of software developers by not having to worry about building a dedicated authentication server on top of programming every other aspect of their application is the primary reason third-party IAM solutions exist. Buying functionally is therefore our clear recommendation if you strive for maximized security and wish to save time and money.

Should you be worried about being restricted by the ready-to-use features of a third-party IAM platform, ZITADEL customers have the possibility to choose a self-hosted deployment option. While this method still requires more resources compared to the software as a service alternative, it allows you to have full control over your authentication system without having to create a whole server from scratch.

The Takeaway

If you wish to receive a pre-established IAM solution instead of having to handcraft it yourself, ZITADEL ensures the best possible authentication server with its flexible pricing options, diverse deployment options, generous range of features, guaranteed high security and unlimited identities for all instances.

Should you have questions regarding authentication servers or any other related (or unrelated) topics, feel free to contact us anytime on our ZITADEL Discord Server. Alternatively, you can reach us on our Twitter, Linkedin or Github pages or on our Website.

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