Authentication is the process of allowing people, often employees, to identify who they are so that they can gain access to the company’s facilities or computer network. The process is extremely important to help prevent unauthorized access, which can lead to catastrophic data breaches. There’s a wide variety of authentication methods available, ranging from a simple single password to complex multi-factor authentication, including passwords, one-time codes and biometrics.
Implementing authentication methods helps ensure authorized users can access your organization’s network and applications while keeping unauthorized people out. It helps to understand how each authentication method works to choose the best one for your business.
What Is Authentication?
Authentication verifies a user’s identity to ensure they have permission to use a particular network or application. Authentication is accomplished when a user provides a set of credentials that match those saved in the system, which verifies their identity and enables access.
Simply asking for a password or username may not provide the level of security an organization needs. For instance, a cybercriminal might be able to hack into a network and enter a user’s password to gain access. Organizations can use authentication methods to allow legitimate network users and exclude illegitimate ones.
What Are the Three Types of Authentication?
There are three basic types of authentication. The first is knowledge-based — something like a password or PIN code that only the identified user would know. The second is property-based, meaning the user possesses an access card, key, key fob or authorized device unique to them. The third is biologically based. This type of authentication might be a physical trait like a user’s fingerprint or retinal pattern. It could also be a behavioral process unique to each user, like their voiceprints or keystroke dynamics.
Within these main types of authentication are several common solutions that organizations may wish to use. Some of the most common authentication methods you’re likely to encounter include the following.
Token authentication is a property-based authentication that uses a unique access token to verify a user’s identity, like a smart card with an RFID chip. A token provides the necessary information to authenticate the user and allow them proper access throughout the token’s life.
To use token authentication, the user must possess a smart card or a dongle they can insert into a computer’s USB port. The card or dongle then sends a token to the server and requests access. When the server verifies the token, it sends a token back to the user that stays with them while they use the network. This method allows the user to log in once instead of several times for each application.
The advantage of this type of authentication is that a hacker would need the physical item to gain access. Users should handle their cards carefully to avoid losing them. However, token authentication can also be more expensive because of the need to issue devices for each user.
The most commonly used form of authentication is the password. Users set a password that only they know and link it to their username and account for an application or website. When the user enters that password, the system checks if it matches the user’s password in the database. If the password is a match, the system grants the user access.
While passwords are common and easy to set, they’re also inefficient as a sole method of authentication. A recent survey found that 31% of people write passwords in a notebook, and only 26% remember them without writing them down. These password storage methods are vulnerable to accidents, as users might misplace or lose them.
Many passwords are also easy to guess and steal. Cybercriminals use computer programs to try thousands of password combinations until they find the right one. The safety of a user’s password depends on several parameters, including the number and types of characters used.
Organizations that need enhanced security might use behavioral biometric authentication solutions. Certain behavioral patterns are unique to individuals, such as how quickly and how hard they hit certain keys when typing, how fast or slowly they speak and how big a stride they take when they walk. Behavior biometrics uses keystroke dynamics, voiceprints and gait analysis to authenticate a user based on their unique behavioral patterns.
Behavioral biometric authentication uses artificial intelligence to capture how a user interacts with a device like a computer. For instance, everyone types with a unique pattern, pressing and releasing keyboard keys with varying frequency and force. Behavioral biometric authentication captures a user’s typing pattern to compare it to a pattern saved in the system.
Behavior biometrics cannot be stolen under any circumstances and are nearly impossible to duplicate, making them highly effective authenticators. Using behavior biometrics also reduces the time users spend logging in. One downside of behavior biometrics is that users may feel this method violates their privacy.
Most companies are warming up to the fact that truly secure identity management requires multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA requires two different authentication requirements, such as a static password and a text sent to a user’s smartphone. MFA uses something the user knows and something they have — like an email address or smartphone — to protect the network from unauthorized users.
Hand-in-hand with MFA is the use of time-sensitive, one-time passwords. This method allows the user to obtain exclusive access to a password that will only work for a short amount of time, making it useless to steal after that period has expired. Any method of MFA is effective at keeping hackers out of a network. While one authentication factor may be hackable, it’s exponentially harder to hack two or more.
A downside of MFA is that it requires each user to have access to a smartphone, separate email address or another authentication factor. If a user loses their phone, they may be unable to generate a time-sensitive password.
One of the most secure types of authentication is single sign-on (SSO). SSO allows users to log in once for one application on a network and receive access to other applications without needing to log in again. SSO systems integrate across a network’s connected applications and websites to create a smoother authentication process.
In SSO systems, the user inputs their credentials, and the system verifies their identity using tokens. The SSO system then grants the user access to all systems and applications on the network.
SSO enables users to save time by only entering their credentials once. Another benefit of SSO is that it allows users to create and manage one password instead of different ones for each application. Yet SSO alone can increase a business’s security risks by enabling hackers to access every application as long as they gain entry to the user’s single password.
What Is the Most Secure Type of Authentication Method?
While every method has benefits, some types of authentication are more effective than others. For example, passwords alone provide the least amount of security of all these methods. The most secure authentication method combines many of these features to offer the most robust protection possible.
Businesses of any size can benefit from the OptimalCloud, the advanced identity management cloud solution from Optimal IdM. The OptimalCloud includes features like multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, behavioral biometrics, one-time passcodes and more in a fully customizable solution you can tailor to fit your business needs.
Keep Yourself and Your Business Secure With the OptimalCloud
Having robust security for your business’s network is essential for maintaining data security. At Optimal IdM, we provide authentication solutions for small and enterprise businesses. The OptimalCloud is our comprehensive identity and access management solution, offering user management, integration with thousands of applications across your network and easy installation for your IT team.
Whatever the size of your business, Optimal IdM can help you find the right solution. To learn how Optimal IdM products can protect your system with state-of-the-art authentication and authorization products, contact us today.