Best Authentication Methods

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By Vijay Singh Khatri

There is a growing demand for different types of user authentication technologies for online and physical systems. The need to authenticate users ranges from access control needs to business purposes like adding e-commerce elements.

Many big and small organizations need to understand that passwords are not the only way to authenticate users. There is a wide range of authentication tools and activities that require authentication methods.

What is Authentication?

Authentication is the process of finding if someone or something is who or what they claim to be. Authentication technology offers access control for systems by checking to see if a user’s credentials match the credentials available in the authorized users’ database or the data authentication server.

Access control determines user identity according to credentials like username and password. Other authentication technologies like biometrics and authentication apps are also used to authenticate user identity.

Importance of Using Authentication

User authentication helps to keep unauthorized users away from accessing sensitive information. For example, if User A has access to relevant information and cannot access the sensitive information of User B.

Cyber Attackers gain access to a system and steal information when user authentication is not secure. The data breaches faced by companies like Adobe, Yahoo, and more are examples of organizations failing to secure their user authentication.

Hackers gained access to Yahoo’s user information to steal contacts, calendars, and private emails between 2012 and 2016. The Equifax data breach that happened in 2017 exposed the credit card data of more than 147 million consumers. Without a secure authentication process, any organization can be at risk.

Authentication vs. Authorization

Authorization and authentication are separate steps in the login process. Therefore, you need to know the difference between the two.

Authentication is the form of a key. As the lock on the door only offers access to someone with the correct key in the same way a system only grants access to users who have the correct credentials.

Authorization is the form of permission. Once you are inside the room, the person has the authorization to access the kitchen and open the refrigerator. The person, however, may not have access to go into the bedroom for a power nap.

Authentication and authorization work together. A pet sitter has the right to enter the house (authentication), and once in the room, they have access to certain areas of the house (authorization).

Common Types of Authentication Methods

Hackers always find new ways to attack different computers. As a result, security teams are facing various authentication-related challenges. This is why companies are implementing more sophisticated strategies, including authentication as a part of the process. Here is a list of some common authentication methods:

1. Password

Passwords are the most common method of authentication. But what are passwords? In simple words, passwords are in the form of a string of letters, numbers, or special characters. To protect yourself, you need to create a strong password that includes a combination of all these.

Since passwords are the most common form of protection, passwords are prone to cyber-attacks and reduce the effectiveness of security.

Did you know that an average person has about 25 different online accounts, but only 54% of users use different passwords across their accounts?

The fact is that there are many passwords one has to remember. As a result, many people choose convenience over security. Most of us use simple passwords instead of creating secure passwords because they are easier to remember.

To conclude, passwords are very weak and are not enough for protecting your online information. Hackers can easily guess user passwords by running through all the possible combinations till they find the right one.

2. Certificate Authentication

Certificate-based authentication means using a digital certificate to identify the users, machine, or device before allowing them to access a resource, network, or application. It is often used with traditional methods of authentication like username and password.

Many certificate-based solutions come with a cloud-based management platform that helps the administrators quickly issue IDs to new employees, renew IDs of existing employees, and revoke the ID of an employee who leaves the organization.

Solutions that are integrated with Active Directory make the enrollment and issuance process easier. All you need to do is enable auto-enrollment and silent installation.

The best thing about certificate-based authentication is that you do not need any additional hardware, like in the case of biometrics or OTP tokens. It saves not only on the cost but also saves a lot of time.

3. Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication is a security process that relies on the unique biological features of an individual to verify their identity. A biometric authentication system compares the physical or behavioral traits to stored, confirmed, and authentic data in the database. If both the samples of the biometric data match, then the authentication is confirmed. They are commonly used to manage access to physical and digital resources like buildings, rooms, and computing devices.

Biometric identification methods include using biometrics like fingerprints or retina scans to identify a person. Whereas biometric authentication is the use of biometrics to verify the identity of people.

The different types of biometric authentication are:

    • Finger vein identification: This is the most common means of authentication used in many digital devices.
    • Face identification: This biometric technology scans and identifies your facial features.
    • Voice identification: This technology relies mainly on the specific characteristics created by the shape of the speaker’s mouth and throat.
  • Finger scanning: It is a biometric technology that is similar to the ink and paper fingerprinting process. This type of authentication is found in many phones and is known as “Touch ID”.
  • Iris recognition: This type of biometric authentication aims to identify people based on the unique pattern within the ring-shaped region of the eye around the pupil.


4. Token-based Authentication

Token-based authentication protocol allows the users to verify their identity and receive a unique access token. The users can access the websites or the application during the life of the token. So now you don’t have to re-enter the credentials every time you go back to the same webpage, app, or any other resource on the website protected with the same token.

Authentication tokens are similar to stamped tickets. The user retains the access till the token is valid. Once the user logs out from the website or application, the token becomes invalid.

Token-based authentication differs from traditional password-based or server-based authentication techniques.

These tokens offer a second layer of security to the users. The admins have full control over every action or transaction.

Using tokens needs a little coding knowledge. Many developers grasp the technology easily, but there is a learning curve.

5. Captcha Test

Captcha is a Turing test, and the primary goal is to ensure that you are a human accessing the website and not a robot. In this authentication method, the users are asked to perform tasks that bots are incapable of performing. In this test, various images are used, and the bots will not be able to identify what the image depicts because they can only identify an image by reading the source code.

6. Two-factor Authentication

Despite password authentication, many online services allow you to add a second level of security with the help of two-factor authentication. This two-factor authentication is either code generated on your device or sent to your phone. However, you can also generate this code on an external device.

Although this type of authentication might seem to be the most reliable one, there are some disadvantages. The problem is that the user can lose access to his SIM card or phone card or the process responsible for code generation, and sometimes you might even lose your device.

7. Public and Private Key Pairs

Private and public keys are a part of encryption that encodes the data. Both these keys work in two encryption systems known as symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric encryption or private key encryption uses the same key as encryption or decryption. Asymmetric encryption uses a pair of keys like public and private keys for better security. The sender encrypts the message with a public key, and the receiver decrypts the message with a private key.

8. Multi-factor Authentication

When you log in to an account that has multi-factor authentication enabled, after entering your password, you need to enter an additional generated code or authorize login with a push request to a secondary device.

If you lose your password at any point, your account will remain secure because the hackers will not authenticate the secondary requirements.

Here are some options for generating the multi-factor authentication codes:

  • Receiving a text message.
  • Use a dedication application for authentication.
  • Having a physical device on which you must push a button to verify that you are the authorized user of that account.

The protection that MFA offers allows you to use passwords for a longer length of time between password resets. If your service provider is compromised and your email and password end up in an open database on the open web, you will have time to change your password before losing your account.

ATMs are one of the best examples of MFA because you need a card and a pin to complete the transaction.

Which Authentication Method is Best for You?

Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to this question. It all depends on your business size, budget, and other internal and external factors. However, if you do not have any secondary authentication set up, then you can get started with multi-factor authentication for your business.

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