What Is Risk-Based Authentication?

Every business wants to keep its systems, information and applications secure. Whether your organization often deals with sensitive information or not, keeping your data secure can help prevent unexpected problems. You can improve your company’s security with solutions that contain your access information and important data in one place.

No matter how robust you think your company passwords are, it’s not always easy to ensure your system doesn’t have any weak links. If you want to feel confident that you have the highest level of assurance, it’s a good idea to use risk-based authentication. Implementing software that can keep track of your business’s user activity and authentication can also free up time on your end and increase productivity.

How Does Risk-Based Authentication Work?

Risk-based authentication (RBA) is a system that considers the risk score for access attempts. Depending on the risk level, users will be presented with different authentication options before being granted access to log in. The RBA system looks for the context behind each login or attempt to gain access to a file, account or site. 

Here are some of the factors that RBA considers:

  • Network: The IP address of the person logging in should be familiar. The RBA system wants to know whether the data is foreign, which could detect suspicious activity.
  • Device: The RBA system will notice if the user is attempting to log in from a mobile device or computer that has never been used to gain access before.
  • Location: If the user is in another time zone or in a different location from where the server is housed, the RBA solution might enable a verification process.
  • Sensitivity: The RBA solution will analyze the user’s intent when trying to gain access to your organization’s confidential files, accounts or important pieces of information.

Depending on these factors, the RBA system will let the user enter normally, such as by using a password, or they will need some other form of verification to gain entry. For instance, you may not need a verification code or password if you are signing in from a usual location and only trying to view your regular data. In some cases, the system can block the consumer from gaining access. 

The RBA system can also offer several security channels, known as risk-based multi-factor authentication, to send an SMS passcode or email for further verification. These different types of verification ensure the site administrator will be notified of suspicious activity or if an account is assumed compromised. 

There is also risk-based adaptive authentication, which ensures the right person is gaining access to the application without issue while preventing the wrong person from entering. An adaptive solution will certify that adding security to your business won’t cause frustration with the user experience.

Types of Risk-Based Authentication 

There are a few types of risk compiled in risk-based authentication. Be sure to check and compile said factors and considerations into your security solution so that it runs smoothly and according to your preferences. The most common types of risk-based authentication include the following examples:

1. Device Risk

This is one type of authentication risk that regards the device or hardware from which the user is attempting to gain access. You have to determine whether the device is secure before allowing access to your application. This could present a risk if your organization allows users to bring and use their own devices, as you might not know if there is malware on their devices.

You should also consider:

  • If the user’s device requires a passcode
  • How frequently that passcode needs to be entered
  • If their operating system is up-to-date
  • If there is a firewall installed on their device
  • If their device has a trusted platform module or other secure networking equipment

Once you determine your personal settings for this type of risk, your RBA solution will let you know the likelihood of a compromised attempt. Based on this likelihood, you can decide whether the device is secure enough to access your application or account.

2. Application Risk

The next step in assessing risk is to determine the potential impact if an unauthorized user were to gain access to your application. For instance, would they be able to view financial or private information or use this application to gain entry into other applications or systems?

These are questions you should consider in your authorization decisions if your business has some applications with many levels of access. The impact and security risk are high with payroll applications, and it becomes even higher if those who gain access can make transactions or other decisions. On the other hand, task management tools or other information not considered a security risk won’t need to be weighed as heavily during authentication. 

3. Contextual Risk

Assessing the contextual risk is the last part of the risk-based authentication system. You can use context-based authentication and authorization to reduce risk and set permissions for all users. This type of risk determines if the context in which a user is trying to gain access to your application is considered abnormal. 

Some more detailed factors this type of risk considers include:

  • If the device they are using is recognizable 
  • The geographic location of where the user is logging in and if that location is frequent
  • If the user is switching between remote work and office building work
  • If the user commonly uses this application
  • The time of day that the user often accesses the application

These factors build behavior patterns that can help raise the alarm when they are broken or abnormal. For instance, a user who always logs in in Miami, Florida, but suddenly wants to log in from Toronto, Canada, may raise a serious alarm. However, if a user usually logs in from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but is seen logging back in at 5:30 p.m., it’s probably not as high of a risk.

You can determine the differences in behavior that increase the likelihood of the user attempting to gain entry to the application as an act of fraud. 

Benefits and Considerations of Risk-Based Authentication

There are always benefits and disadvantages to improving security in your business. With any type of security measures you consider, you must take a look at every aspect to ensure it’s right for you. Here are a few benefits and considerations when it comes to risk-based authentication:


Ultimately, enhancing security wherever you can will help make employees, customers and clients feel more confident when using your platforms. A few specific pros of risk-based authentication include:

  1. It’s common: Risk-based authentication, in its many forms, is widely known and used. Consumers and users will most likely know why it has been implemented, but they will only need to interact with authentication when risk appears.
  2. Helps with compliance: Some businesses need to follow security and compliance regulations regarding safety. An RBA solution will show that you make security a priority. 
  3. Reduces the chance of hacking: It is widely known that anyone can be a victim of hacking. These breaches are expensive to deal with and can potentially expose credit card numbers and other financial information.
  4. Prevents fraud: An RBA solution can help reduce online fraud and improper access with alerts and multi-authentication factors.
  5. It’s not one-size-fits-all: This solution enforces different authentication levels depending on calculated risk scores
  6. Enhances security: It works as a high-performance security feature to prevent cyber leaks and compromised accounts.



Be aware of some potential drawbacks when bringing a risk-based authentication solution to your business. While they may not be deal-breakers for you, they are still good to remember to help prevent any issues. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Failing to notify: Before launching your program, you may want to address any complaints or concerns about the added security measures with your team. Some busy users may feel inconvenienced if they can’t access their apps or log in. Ensure that you notify users of the new changes upon login so they’re prepared.
  2. Improper setup: Setting up your systems improperly can lock users out of their particular access level or general settings. If your new system is too lenient, you can accidentally allow everyone access.
  3. Launching before testing: After making your particular adjustments and developments, test your system before deploying it for all to use.

Key Capabilities to Look for in a Risk-Based Authentication Solution

Here are some of the most important elements you should look for in your new security solution:

  • Configuration policies that enable administrators to set up secure authentication procedures other than just entering passwords
  • Analytics of user context, including their network connection, location and device
  • Access to threat data in real-time to help identify potential security impacts and hazards
  • Enabling users to enter additional authentication factors to prove identity in especially risky situations

What Authentication Techniques Are Best for Your Company?

The best authentication techniques for your business depend on your preference and what features suit your needs. Some RBA implementations use a question-and-answer protocol after submitting a username and password. While this is a great feature for things like internet connection, it’s usually not as secure as smartphone-based techniques.

Instead of using the question and answer — or challenge and response — authentication, consider choosing a strong authentication technique. Here are the most common risk-based authentication examples:

  • Push authentication: One of the fastest ways of authentication, push authentication eliminates password fatigue and allows users to accept or deny an app before logging in. It can also be coupled with other security elements.

  • One Time Password (OTP) or Time-Based One Time Password (TOTP) authentication: This is considered one of the strongest forms of authentication as it expires after a period of time — eliminating replay attacks. This technique sends a code to a mobile phone, typically used for remote access.

  • FIDO U2F tokens: Users will input their token in a USB slot, enter their credentials, press the button on the token and input a password or PIN. This technique is strongly resistant to many forms of hacking and malware.

  • Smartcards with PKI: This technique can be used for multiple purposes. Public key infrastructure (PKI) keys are associated with authentication for documents, encrypting data and operating different systems and applications. This technique uses a smartcard entered along with a PIN to facilitate and validate the keys. Smartcards with PKI are valuable, particularly if cards are already in use for facility access or other purposes.

  • Fingerprint biometrics: Fingerprints are an incredibly secure way to authenticate. This convenient method is easy for users because they will never forget or misplace their means of entry. This technique can also couple a PIN with the fingerprint for maximum security.

Can Small Businesses Use Risk-based Authentication?

Yes, small businesses can use and benefit from risk-based authentication. Because small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) face the greatest security risks, increasing your network security is important to combat various threats that could cost you financially and reputation-wise. A small business can easily experience the advantages of improved password security, secured sensitive data and increased IT staff’s productivity.

Some systems, such as Optimal IdM’s small business identity and access solutions, are specifically designed for SMB use. The OptimalCloud is a scalable, affordable cloud-based option that offers single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA). There are many OptimalCloud features that make it easy for you to access systems and applications, enhance your customer experience and enjoy minimal downtime and seamless use.

Protect Your Business From Unauthorized Access 

At Optimal IdM, we know how important it is for your business to stay secure. That’s why we offer products and solutions that simplify your environment for your authentication and authorization needs. Optimal IdM’s flagship platform, the OptimalCloud, is a simple, adaptable solution that automates processes for identifying users and establishing permission and access controls.

When you choose the OptimalCloud, you can either pay by user, or pay a flat monthly fee that allows you to easily predict and manage your IT budget. This cloud solution also offers one-click workflow approvals, delegated administration and self-service password reset — along with many other valuable tools for your business. Using an identity access management solution has never been easier with the OpitmalCloud.

Sign up to try the OptimalCloud for free today and contact us to learn more about our services and solutions.



  • The database in which all of your organization’s sensitive identity data is stored.
  • A digital ledger in which digital transactions are recorded chronologically and publicly.
  • Securely managing customer identity and profile data, and controlling customer access to applications and services.
  • The means of linking a person's electronic identity and attributes, stored across multiple distinct identity management systems.
  • A legal framework that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information of individuals within the EU.
  • The policy-based centralized orchestration of user identity management and access control.
  • An authentication infrastructure that is built, hosted and managed by a third-party service provider.
  • A security system that requires more than one method of authentication from independent categories of credentials to verify the user's identity for a login or other transaction.
  • A global provider of innovative and affordable identity access management solutions. 
  • Managing and auditing account and data access by privileged users.
  • Tools and technologies for controlling user access to critical information within an organization.
  • An authentication process that allows a user to access multiple applications with one set of login credentials.

Pin It on Pinterest