What is Identity Authentication?

Authentication is the process of verifying a user’s identity as part of the process of granting them access to a network or resource. Authentication is one of the “three A’s” of identity and access management (IAM) alongside authorization — verifying the user’s right to access a resource — and auditing — tracking access requests, etc.

Authentication can be performed via various different means. Some common authentication mechanisms include passwords, biometrics, and digital certificates.

How Authentication Works

Authentication is the process of verifying a user’s identity. There are three main types of authentication factors that are used to verify identity, including:

  • Something You Know: Knowledge-based authentication factors include passwords, PINs, security questions, and any other form of authentication that uses a secret known to the user.

  • Something You Have: Authentication can also be performed based on the possession of a particular object. Smartcards, hardware tokens, and one-time passwords (OTPs) sent to or generated by smartphones are all examples of possession-based authentication.

  • Something You Are: Biometric authentication uses unique features of a person or how they behave. Fingerprint scanners, facial recognition, and gait analysis are a few examples of biometric authentication factors.

Authentication is the first step in the process of validating a user’s request for access to a resource. Before determining whether the user has the rights and permissions needed to access that resource, it’s necessary to verify that they are who they claim to be.

Authentication vs. Authorization

Authentication and authorization are both key parts of IAM. Together, they determine whether an access request is valid or whether it should be denied.

Authentication is the process of verifying a user’s identity. This step uses passwords, biometrics, and similar means to ensure that the user is who they claim to be.

Authorization takes this verified identity and uses it to determine whether an access request should be granted. With knowledge of the user’s identity, the IAM system can determine the level of access and permissions granted to that user and whether the access request is legitimate.

Authentication Best Practices

Strong authentication is critical to access management and protecting resources against misuse and potential cyberattacks. Some best practices regarding authentication include:

  • Use Strong Authentication Factors: An authentication factor is used to verify a user’s identity, so factors that are easily faked place the organization at risk. If passwords are required, use a strong password policy; however, it’s better to switch to a more secure authentication factor — such as biometrics — when possible.

  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA uses multiple authentication factors to control access to accounts. This makes it more difficult for an attacker to use stolen credentials to gain access to an account.

  • Educate Users: Phishing attacks, weak passwords, and similar security threats place an organization’s cybersecurity at risk. User education can help them to avoid these security risks.

  • Ongoing Monitoring: An attacker may steal or guess the credentials used to manage a user’s account. Continuous monitoring for abnormal behavior can help to detect compromised accounts.

Conclusion

Authentication is a core part of access management. Authentication uses various factors to verify a user’s identity, allowing the system to determine whether they should have access to a requested resource.

Howard Poston
Howard Poston is a copywriter, author, and course developer with experience in cybersecurity and blockchain security, cryptography, and malware analysis. He has an MS in Cyber Operations, a decade of experience in cybersecurity, and over five years of experience as a freelance consultant providing training and content creation for cyber and blockchain security. Howard is also a staff writer for Kelvin Zero, where he has contributed several articles and guides covering various cybersecurity and authentication topics. Additionally, he is the creator of over a dozen cybersecurity courses, has authored two books, and has been featured as a speaker at numerous cybersecurity conferences.

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