What is Authentication?
The process of authentication is the validation of identity, in this case online, for the purposes of allowing access to a particular system, application, or other computer-based location.
In order to limit unauthorized access to these places, one or more methods of authentication may be used in order to confirm the identity of the user attempting to access the system.
Why Is Authentication Important?
Just as you want a lock on your front door, or a combination on your safe, digital assets should be protected against unwanted access from possibly malicious actors. Identity validation through authentication is the way that we protect critical assets in the digital world.
Knowing what level of authentication security a particular file, program, system, or application is locked behind can help you make informed decisions about the security of your digital assets.
What are the Types of Authentication?
There are many different types of authentication which contribute to the network of digital security, including password-based, adaptive, SAML, SSO, out of band, biometric, token, and more.
Single Factor Authentication
When it comes to the basics of authentication, there are three major kinds of identity dimensions:
- something you know (like a password, or your mother’s maiden name),
- something you have (like a mobile phone, or a physical hardware token), and
- something you are (biometric or behavioral attributes).
These identity dimensions can be used to validate your identity when accessing digital assets. Single factor authentication utilizes only one of these dimensions in order to confirm your identity.
A website that just asks for a password to gain access to your account is utilizing single factor authentication. Today, single factor authentication is considered to be an unsecure way of protecting digital assets.
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Two Factor Authentication
Two factor authentication utilizes two of the three identity dimensions to validate a user’s identity and grant them access to a digital asset. Usually, two factor authentication specifically refers to utilizing ‘something you know’ and ‘something you have’ identity dimensions in order to validate one’s identity.
A common misconception is that if you’re asked for a password, and then asked to confirm security questions such as what your elementary school was, that qualifies as two factor authentication — this is not true. Two factor authentication must involve two different types of identity dimensions, not simply two steps of the same type of identity dimension.
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Multi Factor Authentication
Multi factor authentication is the combination of many types of identity dimensions in order to grant a user access to a digital asset. The term can be used interchangeably with two factor authentication, but more specifically refers to the utilization of the third identity dimension — something you are — in order to validate identity, or more than two identity dimensions.
Multi factor authentication is a key component of moving towards a ‘zero trust’ infrastructure, which is when a user’s identity is continually re-validated and confirmed, through different methods at different points while accessing a digital asset. Through the use of multiple identity dimensions to validate access, and especially the use of more complex authentication methods that are harder to mimic, administrators can be more confident that sensitive and critical digital information is secure behind locks that only those authorized are able to access.
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Password authentication is a process that involves a user putting in a unique ID and key that are then checked against stored credentials. Passwords are a string of alphabets, special characters, numbers, which are supposed to be known only to the authentic person that is being authenticated.
Best practices suggest that users create passwords that are:
- At least 8 characters (the ideal number is around 12 characters long)
- A combination of uppercase and lowercase letters,
- Includes numbers, and symbols.
Passwords have been the default method of authentication for as long as most of us have needed to prove to a computer that we’re allowed to access it.
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Passwordless authentication refers to a method of verifying a user’s identity without the use of a password.
The most common passwordless authentication methods include verifying the possession of a secondary device or account a user has or a biometric trait that is unique to them, like their face or fingerprint.
Passwordless authentication can reduce costs and security risks for any organization.
Passwordless authentication creates a smoother experience than traditional username and password authentication for both you and your users.
Passwordless authentication is significantly more secure, reduces user friction, and saves organizations time, effort, and money.
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Adaptive authentication, selects the appropriate authentication factors depending on perceived risk and user behavior.
Factors including the user’s geographical location, the device used, user role, and more can play a part in whether and what access is granted.
Its goal is to try to lessen the security burden on users and provide a better experience, while enforcing strong authentication where it is most needed.
Organizations can set up adaptive authentication using static policies to define risk levels for various authentication factors, using machine learning to develop a baseline for “typical” user behavior and adjust user access appropriately using these factors, which is a combination of static and dynamic policies.
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Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is one of the main coding language protocols through which users are authenticated when they log in to websites, services, and apps. It verifies their credentials and the context in which they log in, and grants or revokes access.
It works with enterprises and solution providers to enable users to use one login to access multiple sites through a process known as Single Sign On Solution. It also keeps your digital identities and your business data safe and secure.
Common authentication protocols include:
- LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol)
- SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language)
- RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service)
- OAuth (Open Authentication)
SAML is the process by which you verify and manage the users.
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Biometric authentication solutions create a data-generated model that represents the individual. With that model and biometric information, security systems can authenticate access to applications and other network resources.
Biometrics is a technical term to refer to humans’ physical or behavioral traits. Biometric authentication is a concept in data security.
Biometric authentication is quickly becoming a popular component of multifactor authentication strategies simply because it combines a strong authentication challenge with a low-friction user experience. Biometric authentication systems are less exposed to this vulnerability because the user’s biometric data is unique which makes it incredibly difficult for attackers to duplicate.
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Token authentication is a form of “two-factor authentication”, meaning users must supply two unique factors when logging in. The first factor is something the user knows, like a password or PIN. The second factor is provided by an authenticator, a hardware or software “token” with a code that changes randomly, usually every sixty seconds.
Hardware tokens are the perfect authentication method for any security-conscious organization. Token authentication helps protect sensitive information while providing the following benefits:
- Enhanced security on multiple platforms
- Flexible access options
- Reduced risk
Token authentication is used by individuals and organizations to increase security for devices and networks.
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Out-of-band authentication is a type of two-factor authentication (2FA) that requires a secondary verification method through a separate communication channel. It involves two different channels: the customer’s Internet connection and wireless network on which their mobile phone operates.
Out-of-band authentication is often used in financial institutions and other organizations with high security requirements. Out-of-band authentication secures communications with only a slight increase in complexity for a user. The methods are also much cheaper to deploy.
In an out-of-band authentication (OOBA) system, the channel that is used to authenticate a customer is completely separate from the channel used by the customer to log in or perform a transaction.
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API Authentication is all about proving or verifying the identity of the people accessing your system. It’s the process of using a software protocol to ensure that clients on a network are who they claim to be before granting them access.
API authentication protects the user and the API developers from data loss, service outages, or user irresponsibility. It also allows developers to know what endpoints are most trafficked, and silence potential problems when users are making too many requests.
The goal of API authentication is to prevent attacks from cybercriminals looking for the slightest vulnerability in websites to take advantage of. It works as a gatekeeper that grants access to only authentic users.
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Single Sign On (SSO)
SSO is strictly related to the authentication part of a federated identity system. Its only concern is establishing the identity of the user and then sharing that information with each subsystem that requires the data.
Single sign-on (SSO) is a technology which combines several different application login screens into one. With SSO, a user only has to enter their login credentials (username, password, etc.) one time on a single page to access all of their SaaS applications.
SSO is often used in a business context, when user applications are assigned and managed by an internal IT team. Remote workers who use SaaS applications also benefit from using SSO.
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CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. It is a tool that helps differentiate between bots and humans. The CAPTCHA process makes it difficult for bots to complete but relatively easy for humans. CAPTCHA is used by any website that wants to decrease the presence of bots on the site. It includes:
- Maintaining poll accuracy: CAPTCHA security can prevent the skewing of polls by authenticating each user to ensure each vote is entered by a human. However, this makes the time required to cast a vote longer than normal which can deter people from voting multiple times.
- Limiting registration for services: Services can use CAPTCHA to decrease the amount of bots that create fake accounts. By restricting account creation, it prevents a waste of services and reduces opportunities for fraud.
- Preventing ticket inflation: Systems that sell tickets can use CAPTCHA to prevent scalpers from purchasing large amounts of tickets for resale. It can also be used to prevent false registration for free events.
- Preventing false comments: CAPTCHA authentication can prevent bot accounts from spamming comment sections, message boards, and news feeds. CAPTCHA can also reduce online harassment.
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