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Alternatives to AWS Cognito

StrongDM manages and audits access to infrastructure.
  • Role-based, attribute-based, & just-in-time access to infrastructure
  • Connect any person or service to any infrastructure, anywhere
  • Logging like you've never seen

AWS Cognito is a user authentication service that lets you add access control to your web and mobile apps. Cognito manages sign-up, sign-in, password changes, token refresh, data synchronization, and updates to user account attributes. The service is initially free for AWS users, and the pricing model scales as your user base grows.

But Amazon Cognito may not be the best fit for all situations. If you're looking to centralize and secure access to databases, servers, and Kubernetes, you may find other tools to meet your needs. This article will take you through some popular alternatives, with a brief look at the strengths and weaknesses of each. But first, here are some features you may want to consider.

AWS Cognito

Brief product summary

Unlike AWS Identity and Access Management, which manages access to AWS services and resources, AWS Cognito allows developers to add user authentication and access control to web and mobile apps. With Cognito, your users can sign in using social identity providers (like Facebook, Google, and Amazon) or external identity providers (via SAML 2.0). The service generates ephemeral security credentials to access backend resources behind Amazon API Gateway.

Cognito adds security and convenience for your users, with data synchronization across devices and platforms. It is easy to integrate with your app and provides access management for your AWS resources, a customizable user interface for user sign-in, and security features like multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Use cases

  • Allow app users to federate through a third-party identity provider (IdP).
  • Provide access to server-side resources for your web or mobile app.
  • Enable app users to access your API.

Pluses

  • Easy integration with other AWS services.
  • Secures passwords.
  • Simple to set up.
  • Supports MFA.
  • Allows sign-in with social identity providers.

Minuses

  • Lacks rich customization.
  • Difficult to reconfigure.
  • Limited integration with non-AWS services.
  • Audit logging requires additional tools.

StrongDM

Brief product summary

StrongDM is a control plane to manage and monitor access to databases, servers, and Kubernetes. Their zero trust model means instead of distributing access across a combination of VPN, individual database credentials, and SSH keys, StrongDM unifies user management in your existing SSO (Google, Onelogin, Duo, Okta, SAML, etc...) and keeps the underlying credentials hidden. Neither credentials nor keys are accessible by end users. Because StrongDM deconstructs every protocol, it also logs all database queries, complete SSH and RDP sessions, and kubectl activity.

Use cases

  • Faster on-boarding- no need to provision database credentials, ssh keys, VPN passwords for each new hire.
  • Secure off-boarding- suspend SSO access once to revoke all database, server access.
  • Automatically adopt security best practices- least privilege, ephemeral permissions, audit trail.
  • Comprehensive logs- log every permission change, database query, ssh & kubectl command.

Pluses

  • Easy deployment - self-healing mesh network of proxies.
  • No change to workflow- use any SQL client, CLI, or desktop BI tool.
  • Standardize logs across any database type, Linux or Windows server, and Kubernetes.
  • Graphical client for Windows and MacOS.
  • See and replay all activity with session recordings.
  • Manage via a user-friendly web browser interface.
  • Simple, straightforward pricing.

Minuses

  • Requires continual access to StrongDM API for access to managed resources.

Google Cloud Identity-Aware Proxy (IAP)

Brief product summary

Google’s Identity-Aware Proxy aims to increase security, allowing admins to establish and enforce access-control policies. The service simplifies access for cloud administrators and remote workers, eliminating the need for a VPN.

IAP provides a zero-trust access model for GCP resources such as Google Compute Engine and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) instances, allowing access only to users with the correct identity and access management (IAM) role. Additionally, you can use TCP forwarding to control access to SSH and RDP. With proper configuration, IAP will also authenticate to apps on other clouds and on-premises.

Use cases

  • Authentication for web applications and cloud resources.
  • Access control for SSH and RDP.

Pluses

  • SSH access available.
  • RDP access available.
  • Automatically creates an OAuth 2.0 client ID and secret.
  • Easy to integrate with other GCP services.

Minuses

  • Requires additional configuration to use with multi-cloud apps.
  • Doesn't protect against activity within a project.
  • Limited third-party integration.
  • Initial setup is complex.

Okta Customer Identity

Brief product summary

Okta Customer Identity provides identity management for app developers. With Okta, developers can simplify signups, logins, and password management. Users synchronize authentication across all devices and platforms with a single global ID. Whether you’re building a new app, integrating multiple apps, or modernizing a platform, Okta aims to provide security, scalability, and ease for customer identity.

Use cases

  • Add authentication to your web and mobile app.
  • Synchronize customer identity across multiple devices.

Pluses

  • Includes a wide range of pre-built app integrations.
  • Offers social login and OIDC support.
  • Synchronizes customer identity across multiple devices.
  • Secures APIs from malicious attacks.

Minuses

  • Integrations can be difficult to implement.
  • Lacks access management for backend infrastructure.


About the Author

, Director, Global Customer Engineering, has worked in the information security industry for 20 years on tasks ranging from firewall administration to network security monitoring. His obsession with getting people access to answers led him to publish Practical Vulnerability Management with No Starch Press in 2020. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Clark University, an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Connecticut, and an M.S. in Information Management from the University of Washington. To contact Andy, visit him on LinkedIn.

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