With transactions going completely online today, many platforms are giving their users easy access through different authentication methods. Gone are the days when you needed to show up at the bank to verify your identity before carrying out a transaction. Today, you are asked to authenticate yourself in one way or another for security reasons, and then allowed to carry on. However, there are different types of authentication and some are more secure than others.
The type of authentication used depends on the sensitivity of the information you’re trying to access. More sensitive information requires thorough authentication corresponding to its risk level. This article discusses the different types of authentication used to verify users, helping you understand each one and their most suitable use cases.
Why is authentication important?
With the amount of cyber insecurity and data breach in the news daily, asking “why is authentication important?” is almost a crime. Regardless, it is necessary that you understand why it is important before we go ahead to discuss the different types of authentication. Authentication basically exists as a defence line against data breaches. For example, as an organization, there are trade secrets and other data you do not want to fall into the wrong hands.
Although there are usually several layers of protection, the first step to protecting such information is using an authentication method. This ensures that it is not accessible to unauthorized individuals and any failed attempt is flagged immediately.
However, just like every security measure, some are stronger than others, and the level of authentication applied depends on how sensitive the data is. You wouldn’t protect your trade secret compartments with the same easy authentication as your customer service hall would you?
If we're being factual, simple passwords or credentials don’t cut it anymore, especially for online transactions. What’s best for your organization depends on the nature of your business. This is why it is important that you understand the different methods you can use to authenticate users online.
What are the different types of authentication?
There are several types or methods of authentication today that you can use to validate users' identities. Common authentication methods vary from biometrics to passwords, tokens, OTP, and more. In a nutshell, here is a full description of the different types of authentication we have today:
1. Biometric authentication
Arguably the most common and one of the most secure forms of authentication today, biometric authentication verifies an individual based on their biological traits. Basically, the system originally captures and stores authentic data of an individual’s trait, it then compares it with the physical trait of the individual during a verification process.
There are different forms of biometric authentication, which include:
a. Face Match
Face match is a biometric authentication method that validates a user using their facial biometric features. Some of the features include eye length, forehead, ear distance, and more. It uses this data to confirm whether a returning customer is who they claim to be.
b. Voice recognition and identification
Voice recognition is widely used in the banking and finance industry to verify a customer's identity when they call in. It makes use of machine learning to analyze the voice pitch, speech pattern, accent, and many other features to confirm the identity of the individual.
c. Fingerprint scanner
Our fingerprints are one of the most unique properties in our body, making them a very popular and reliable form of biometric authentication. Basically, the system makes use of sensing technology to capture and compare the biometric loop patterns on the print for a match.
d. Eye scanner
The iris and pupil are also very unique parts of our body. The technology makes use of infrared light to check a person’s eye, scanning the iris for a match in the database.
What are the advantages of biometric authentication?
The advantages of biometric authentication include:
They are very secure
- Convenience and high speed
- Non-transferability means that everyone has their unique set of biometrics
- They are hard to fake or steal
What are the disadvantages of biometric authentication?
The disadvantages of biometric authentication include:
- They are expensive to setup
- Susceptibility to data breaches and hacks
- It requires advanced machine learning and algorithms
- False positives and inaccuracy
Biometric authentication is widely used during most KYC procedures.
2. Token authentication
Token authentication works like a ticket, where the system sends a token to the mail or number registered with the user’s account on an attempted login. This token needs to be provided or the user would not be allowed to log in to the account. It is one of the most simple authentication procedures, therefore, isn’t really high-level secure.
What are the advantages of Token authentication?
The advantages of token authentication include:
- It can be generated from anywhere
- It can be used to easily control permissions for a seamless user authentication experience
- It is difficult to fake
What are the disadvantages of Token authentication?
The disadvantages of token authentication include:
- It can be easily lost by the user, causing a breach by unauthorized parties
- It is subject to network availabilities and errors
3. Password authentication
This is outrightly the most common form of authentication. It involves you providing a preset combination of characters called a password to access an online system. The password could be in numbers, letters, special characters, or a combination of all. Generally, the more complex your password is, the more it’d be harder to guess and as a result, the more secure your account would be.
What are the advantages of Password authentication?
The advantages of password authentication include:
- It provides a good level of security
- Low cost
- It allows easy access to user accounts
What are the disadvantages of Password authentication?
The disadvantages of password authentication include:
- Possibility of a user forgetting his or her password
- Highly susceptible to breaches when password falls into the wrong hands
4. Certificate-based authentication
This is more of a cloud-based management authentication system. Basically, the user needs to provide a digital certificate which he or she would be identified with before accessing a resource. The certificates are usually issued, monitored, and controlled by an administrator for their employees. This is one of the most common forms of digital identity verification.
What are the advantages of Certificate-based authentication?
The major advantages of certificate-based authentication include:
- It allows easy control over resources
- Good level of security
What are the disadvantages of Certificate-based authentication?
The major disadvantages of certificate-based authentication include:
- Digital certificates are susceptible to theft
- They are susceptible to spoofing
5. Multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication simply refers to a system that requires two or more verification steps for you to access. Most of the time, it combines different types of authentication for a higher level of security, making it usually very effective against cyber-attacks.
What are the advantages of Multi-factor authentication?
The advantages of multi-factor authentication include:
- Low cost to implement
- The multi-layer of authentication makes it more secure than many single-factor authentications
What are the disadvantages of Multi-factor authentication?
The disadvantages of multi-factor authentication include:
- Susceptible to theft or spoofing
What is the most secure method of authentication?
Now that we have discussed the different types of online authentications, we can proceed to establish which is the most secure. Although it seems like an easy task, the debate on the most secure authentication or which to use for a particular business is one of the biggest challenges in the digital security world.
However, we recommend what we think is best based on two factors, which are – how secure it is, and how easy it is to use. These factors are very crucial to all forms of authentication.
Biometric verification is the most effective, secure, and easy-to-use form of authentication of the available options. This is because it does not require that the user remembers a password, and it takes validates identity in mill seconds. This is why we always recommend customer liveliness checks, especially for businesses in the financial sector.
Use cases – Alternative methods of authentication
Coming more to the more practical level, there are several use cases where different types of authentication are used. This all depends on the type of organization, nature of their operation, and sensitivity of data they deal with.
Here are some of the most commonly used authentications for distinct cases:
a. Identity authentication
This is outrightly the most commonly used authentication method to validate identities. Its use cases range from Touch ID to Face ID and voice recognition as seen in smartphones.
b. User authentication
This usually makes use of one or more types of authentication as seen in so many social media platforms today. It could be a combination of password and OTP authentication or single sign-on, two factor, or more as the case may be.
c. Web application authentication
Web apps are one of the most commonly used software today, therefore, they employ several security measures to protect their users. Some of these include SAML, Open ID, cookie-based, third-party access, token-based authentication, and more.
d. API Authentication
Businesses that work a lot with APIs make use of different authentication methods for security. Examples of this include OAuth, API Key, and more, ensuring that information remains secure on their platforms.
e. Wireless authentication
Common wireless authentication includes Open authentication or the more secure WPA2-PSK. Wi-Fi is generally the first defence layer, therefore, needs to be protected.
F. Vault authentication
This is a type of authentication when information is verified against an internal or external system. Vault authentication mostly makes use of CLI or API.
g. Payment authentication
Payment authentication usually makes use of a multilayer verification system to ensure the user isn’t making use of unauthorized third-party data for transactions. Therefore, authentication usually happens twice or more using address verification, ID verification, passwords, and biometric verification.
h. Email authentication
Regardless of how technology has simplified communication, email is still one of the most used means today for sharing information. Therefore, it needs to be secure and some of the standards used include AND DMARC, SPF, and DKIM.
i. Database authentication
This authentication is mostly used by websites and local business servers to ensure the right people can access necessary databases securely. The most commonly used form is the Security Socket Layer (SSL) protocol. However, other third-party services are used too.
j. Online banking authentication
Banks need to have an extremely secure authentication system to prevent fraud and unauthorized access to accounts. They make use of multilayer authentication like pins or security questions and OTP. This helps prevent fraudsters from using stolen credentials.
k. Server and network authentication
Servers and networks need to be protected from hackers and unauthorized access, therefore, there is a need for users to prove who they claim to be. This authentication method makes use of two factors, single sign-on, computer recognition, and more.
l. Passport, document, and ID authentication
Authenticating individuals are usually highly done by running their documents through a database. Methods used include Open ID, Session-Based authentication, and ID matching.
m. Cryptograph authentication
This is basically encrypting a message, and transferring it to a third party who has the code to decrypt it. With cryptograph authentication, you can transfer private information through an open channel. The most common examples include Password Authentication Protocol (PAP), Biometric Authentication, Symmetric-Key Authentication, Authentication token, and more.
n. Remote authentication
This is necessary for companies with staff that work remotely, as they have to take extra precautions to protect sensitive data. Methods used include Password Authentication Protocol (PAP), Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol (CHAP), and Microsoft’s Implementation of Chap (MS-CHAP).
o. Web browser authentication
The biggest use cases for web browser authentication are HTTP Based Authentication, Session-Based, Token-Based, and HTTP Digest Authentication. The layer of security is usually implemented by developers for a web browser.
Which type of authentication is right for my business?
The type of authentication that’s right for you totally depends on your type of business. You have to take into account important factors like your business size, available budget, level of sensitivity and corresponding security required, and more. However, as a bare minimum, it is important that you have a secondary authentication setup, i.e. multi-factor authentication across all your accounts.
This is exactly what YOUID does for you. The Africa’s number 1 digital identity wallet helps you manage all your identity data on the go, however, it more importantly can be used to turn on MFA on all your business or personal accounts.