What is User Authentication: Importance, Types and Ways to Improve

User authentication is verifying a person’s or a user’s identity before allowing access to a connected device, an online service, or some other resource.

User authentication occurs differently across various services as the risk profile, and business logic can vary significantly between enterprises. Bringing together the authentication solutions is a foundation that the user must present.

There are three authentication factors: Knowledge (e.g. PIN), possession, and inheritance (e.g. Biometrics). Contextual information derived from mobile devices and web browsers is also widely used.

However, this is just a brief introduction to user authentication. Let’s delve deeper into the importance, types and ways of improving the user authentication process for heightened security.

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How Does User Authentication Work?

It is not enough to just understand what user authentication is but knowledge of the process in which it works is valuable. User authentication ensures that the application or network access does not get into the wrong hands by various means such as passcodes and identification cards.

The very first step in authenticating the user is to put in the login credentials on the login page. The next step is to authenticate this login information. This starts when the server you are trying to access decrypts the personalized information it has received.

The credentials are then compared with this information and stored in the database. Finally, the company either declines or approves the authentication information request that has been made.

When the computer declines the request, the reason is either you have entered incorrect information or forgotten your passcode combination.

Based on the settings, you might get the chance to initiate another request or might get blocked from accessing the web application altogether.

What is the Need for Authenticating Users?

User authentication is necessary because it is a crucial step in keeping unauthorized users from getting access to sensitive information. A robust user authentication process is a way to ensure that User A can access only the information he needs and not the sensitive information of User B.

When the authentication process is not secure, cybercriminals get the chance to hack systems and gain access to every piece of information that, otherwise, the user is authorized to access.

Several well-known and popular websites have been victims of data breaches in the past, pointing outwhat happens when organizations cannot secure their websites. Once a data breach occurs, there is a huge loss for an organization in terms of costs, damaged reputation and reduced user trust.

Enterprises must invest in high-quality authentication tools to be able to secure their website and protect it from potential breaches. User authentication is, therefore, of utmost importance. It is a way to prevent your organization from being the next one on the list of victims.

5 Common Types of User Authentication

Cybercriminals are ever willing to attack. That is why security teams face a lot of authentication-related challenges. So, here are some of the cybersecurity tips that organizations should follow:

1. Password-Based Authentication

Passwords continue to be the most common method of authentication. They can appear in numbers, letters, or special characters. Including all these options creates the strongest passwords.

However, passwords are pretty prone to phishing attacks. Also, most people keep easy passwords that can be remembered. The bottom line is that while password-based authentication is a way, it is not full-proof and has a lot of weaknesses.

2. Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication or MFA is a method of authenticating a user requiring two or more independent ways of identifying a user. An example is a code generated from the Smartphone of the user, Captcha tests, voice biometrics, facial recognition, and fingerprints.

MFA user authentication methods add multiple layers of security, thereby increasing the users’ confidence. It is a solid defense against account hacks though it has its disadvantages. When people lose their SIM cards or phones, they cannot generate an authentication code.

3. Certificate-Based Authentication

Certificate-based authentication technologies identify the users by using digital certificates. It is an electronic document based on the idea of a passport or driver’s license.

The certificate comprises the digital identity of users, including a digital signature of the certification authority or a public key. Digital certificates are issued only by a certification authority, and their primary purpose is to prove the ownership of a public key.

Users typically provide their digital certificates when they sign in to a server. This server verifies the digital signature’s credibility along with the certificate authority. Cryptography is then used to confirm the presence of the correct private key with the certificate.

4. Biometric Authentication

This is a widely popular security process replying to the unique biological characteristics of an individual. The primary advantages of these authentication technologies are:

  • The biological characteristics can be compared to the authorized features stored in the database
  • Biometric authentication can control physical access as it can be installed on doors
  • Biometrics can be added to the multi-factor authentication process

Depending on the types of IT services organizations are keen to avail, popular biometric authentication methods include Fingerprint scanners, facial recognition, eye scanners, and speaker recognition.

5. Token-Based Authentication

Token-based authentication technologies allow users to log in to their credentials once and, in return, receive a unique encrypted string of random characters. Users can use this token to access the protected systems.

The purpose of the digital token is to prove that the access permission is already with you. An example of token-based authentication is RESTful APIs, used by multiple clients and frameworks.

3 Steps to Improve User Authentication

Enterprise authorities can be doubly confident when they know intruders cannot access their network without permission. User authentication doesn’t require them to be physically present to grant or deny access.

Some of the ways to improve the user authentication process are:

Step #1: Creating Strong Passwords

Passwords play a very significant role in cyber security and IoT security issues in a few instances. Passwords are like the key to your vital accounts.

Using weak and easy passwords makes your data vulnerable to disaster. That is why creating a strong password is a prerequisite. The so-called good passwords can come in different forms, such as a mixture of alphabets and numbers with a minimum of 8 characters and a maximum of 12 characters in length.

Passwords can be made even more robust with a combination of numbers, upper & lower-case alphabets and symbols. What is even more important here is to ensure you do not end up using the same password on multiple platforms.

Step #2: Using a Passcode Manager

Managing so many different passwords is not an easy task. Humans are prone to forgetting them or exposing them. In such a scenario, adopting a password manager is a safe bet.

A passcode manager is like a secure briefcase keeping track of your entire team's passwords. You do not need to recall the passwords as the manager does this vital job for you.

Among all the passwords in the manager, there happens to be a primary one that cannot be retrieved, which is the master password. It acts as a security measure to mitigate damages in unforeseen situations when cybercriminals get hold of your password manager.

Though you can find free password managers, they do not always have top-notch security features. On the other hand, the most effective ones are available for free. They offer a range of advanced features to heighten password security.

Step #3: Using Multi-Layer Authentication

Multi-factor authentication offers an additional layer of protection, ensuring that all the social and official accounts are secure. Users must go through more verification to come in.

One fundamental advantage of MFA is that apart from requiring passcodes, it necessitates you to use biometrics such as fingerprint or the much-advanced facial or eye scan to grant access to the verified requests.

User Authentication Takeaway

The technology surrounding the process of authenticating users is changing and evolving. Enterprises can no longer stay restricted to passwords and consider authentication just as a means of enhancing user experience.

Newer user authentication methods such as biometrics have eliminated the need to memorize complicated and long passwords. As a result, there is a lot more scope to prevent data breaches by attackers as they cannot simply exploit passwords and get a breakthrough.

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