What is Authentication?

Authentication is the process of proving that an individual is who they say they are. In the digital world, this often involves granting users access to an online system or source of information. Authentication has become common practice, and several types of authentication methods have been developed to increase efficiency and security.

Read on to learn:

  • What authentication is
  • The different types of authentication methods and factors
  • Why authentication is important
  • How to get started

What is authentication?

Authentication is a way to verify the identity of an individual before granting them access to a particular system. Authentication is a crucial part of a business's security, as it prevents unauthorized people from accessing sensitive data or the company’s online services and systems

A well-functioning authentication system is key in making sure that sensitive information is only accessed by authenticated individuals. As technology evolved, a range of authentication techniques have been developed, including passwords, dedicated authentication devices, and biometric authentication.

One of the most common forms of authentication is the combination of usernames and passwords. For this type of authentication, the user is required to provide a username (or email) together with a unique password, which is made up of a set of characters, numbers, and symbols. If the credentials are correct, the user gains access to the desired system or application.

The three authentication factors

Authentication factors are different techniques used to verify a user’s identity. There are three main ones:

  1. Something you know
  2. Something you have
  3. Something you are

Let’s look at these three factors in more detail.

1. Something you know

For this authentication factor, the user must provide a piece of information that only they know, such as a password or a PIN code. This factor is one of the most well-known and commonly used in authentication processes.

2. Something you have

The second factor relies on a physical item or device used by the person who wants to authenticate themselves. This can be a physical code generator, smartphone app, or the like. In a typical scenario, the physical device grants the user access to a randomly generated code, which is then submitted to complete the authentication.

3. Something you are

Lastly, “something you are'' focuses on information that is a part of the person. Typical examples of this are biometric markers of an individual, such as voice, fingerprints, or facial features. Biometrics are seen as a secure way of authenticating a person because of their reliance on the individual’s unique features.

What are the different types of authentication?

There are many ways to authenticate a person, which use different combinations of the above authentication factors.

1. Single-factor authentication

Single-factor authentication (SFA) is the most basic type of authentication, as it only requires one factor. This could be the “username and password” combination or any other single factor we mentioned above.

However, SFA is not considered particularly safe and is an easy target for cyberattacks and security breaches. A password-based authentication system is a good example of a low-security SFA, since passwords are often reused and therefore easily compromised.

That’s why companies should consider setting up a two- or multi-factor authentication process to increase security. This approach requires users to provide more than one factor to verify their identity, making it much harder for unauthorized individuals to gain access.

2. Two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) requires two separate factors to verify a user's identity, such as a password (something you know), a code generator (something you have), or biometric features (something you are). By activating 2FA, users can significantly improve protection against hackers and other unwelcome users, thanks to the added layer of security.

With 2FA, even if an unauthorized person gains access to a user's password, they’d still need to provide the additional factor. This makes it significantly harder for them to succeed in their attack.

3. Multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) involves multiple factors in the authentication process. Unlike 2FA, MFA usually involves more than two different factors, with each additional factor providing an added security layer. This type of authentication can be necessary for systems that require an especially high level of security.

4. Biometric authentication

Biometric authentication requires individuals to authenticate themselves by using their unique biometric features, such as voice, fingerprints (Touch-ID), or facial recognition. Biometric authentication is considered highly secure, since the individual’s unique features are difficult to copy or steal. 

Furthermore, biometric authentication offers a more seamless user experience, as it eliminates the need for users to remember passwords or other credentials, and the authentication method is gaining popularity due to its high level of convenience. Thus, there are several business benefits to be gained by adopting biometric authentication, such as improved customer satisfaction and more efficient onboarding.

5. Passwordless authentication

Passwordless authentication processes enable secure and efficient authentication of individuals without the need for passwords. Biometric authentication and various types of code generators are typical examples of passwordless authentication methods.

Due to their ease of use, passwordless authentication is expected to grow. This form of authentication lets businesses significantly enhance the user experience, since authentication happens faster and users don’t need to remember passwords. Eliminating passwords also protects users from security breaches, as there’s nothing for hackers to steal.

6. Strong Customer Authentication

Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) is a special type of multi-factor authentication, created and managed by the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) of the European Union for online payments and transactions. 

With SCA, customers are asked to provide two or more authentication factors to verify their identity in order to improve the security of electronic transactions and payments.

The main ambition of SCA is to protect consumers and enhance the security of online transactions and payments.Through the use of additional authentication factors, SCA helps prevent fraud and unauthorized access to accounts.

What is the difference between authentication and authorization?

Authentication and authorization may sound similar, but they explain two completely different functions. It’s important to distinguish between these two concepts and the role they play in protecting data and other valuable information from unauthorized access.

  • Authentication is the act of proving the identity of an individual.
  • Authorization is about proving the access rights of that individual. 

So even if a person successfully verifies their identity, it’s not certain that they have the authorization to access certain systems or information. In that way, authentication and authorization both play a crucial role in digital security.

Why is authentication important?

There are at least three reasons for companies to treat authentication seriously.

1. Security

Authentication plays an important role in protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access. By requiring people to verify their identity through a secure authentication process, companies and organizations can effectively protect user details and other sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.

One way to enhance the security of the authentication process is to implement multiple types of authentication factors, such as two-factor (2FA) or multi-factor (MFA) authentication. 

2. Online trust

Secure authentication is also a vital part of building and maintaining digital trust with customers. Ensuring a secure process where users feel comfortable in using its services is an integral part of a company's customer journey. As fraud and various types of hacking attacks become increasingly common, companies should incorporate additional authentication factors and improve existing systems to gain their customers’ trust.

In several European countries, electronic identities (eIDs) have become a common practice for authentication. National eIDs are widely used in their respective countries to provide authentication for governmental, financial, insurance, and private services and systems. As eIDs are highly recognized and trusted as authentication tools, relying on them is a good way for companies to ensure the trust of their online customers.

3. Efficiency

The authentication process impacts how users perceive a company. A smooth authentication process can streamline the customer journey and reduce any potential friction. This increases the likelihood of a user completing the authentication process and improves conversion rates.

Passwordless or biometric authentication are the best ways to streamline the authentication process. Biometric authentication relies on unique features to verify identity, while passwordless processes eliminate the use of passwords altogether. 

When properly implemented, authentication processes can succeed in all three areas. They can help to streamline the customer journey while making it difficult for unauthorized individuals to gain access. In turn, this lets companies and organizations strengthen online trust without sacrificing security.

Get started with authentication through Criipto

Criipto offers a secure and efficient user authentication solution that uses electronic identification (eID) methods. 

By integrating eID authentication with Criipto, you can start verifying your user’s identities on your website or application with any of the eIDs we support.

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