In 2022, business security is serious business. Employees across sectors of all stripes work on a range of applications on a daily basis, and often they can only access such applications through authentication of some kind or another.
The type of authentication you may choose to use depends on the sensitivity of the information that your employees are accessing. Likewise, what might be suited to one application might not work as effectively with others.
Authentication options come in many forms, including both physical checks controlled by ID and access cards, and digital variations like two-factor security checks. As such, understanding business verification should form an important part of your security provision.
To help you out, we’ll look at authentication in more detail, including why it matters so much and the various types that are available to your business right now.
What is authentication?
At its most basic, authentication is simply the process of determining whether someone or something is who or what they say they are. Under the lens of cybersecurity, it specifically refers to the technology that provides access control for systems, pairing a user’s credentials with a database of authorised users to see if they match.
Through the right form of verification, a business can ensure more secure systems, more secure processes, and greater information security.
Why is authentication important?
Still with us after all that? Before we move onto the various types of authentication, understanding why it matters is worth going over first.
Despite what you may think, adding an extra number or character to your existing password won’t cut it anymore. To authenticate your users, you need something stronger – especially now that data breaches are as rife as ever.
Multiple factors of authentication provide a greater line of defence, keeping your most sensitive data out of the hands of cybercriminals. Without it, your data can be used for all sorts of nefarious actions.
Whether you take a hit financially or your name gets dragged through the mud as a result of an attack, you can’t afford to forego the protection that authentication provides. So, use a combination of both digital and physical verification factors to check users and keep tight control of your data and assets.
The most common types of authentication
Broadly there are three main types (or factors) of authentication:
Passwords and PINs – i.e., something you know and type in upon request. Commonly used, but most probably the weakest form of authentication, a password without any other kind of protection can leave you seriously exposed.
And sure, passwords can be effective, as long as you properly manage them, keep them strong, and your employees are in the habit of changing them regularly. But generally, they’re easily compromised and should be strengthened with other forms of authentication.
- ‘Soft’ and ‘hard’ access tokens – A soft token generated through an application such as PingID or Google Authenticator, or a physical (hard) token such as a plastic key fob, USB device or a separate code generator, like a YubiKey or RSA fob.
Think of both of them like stamping a ticket. In the case of hard tokens, the device will contain an algorithm used to calculate a random number. The device then transfers this code either by entering a number on a screen or directly via USB connection.
Soft tokens, meanwhile, generate a one-time password (OTP) via a smartphone.
- Biometrics – Biometrics have emerged as one of the safest ways to validate a person’s ID. Your fingerprint, your face, or your eye along with some sort of hardware provides a totally unique form of security, and makes duplication a real challenge.
More sophisticated methods are also gaining ground, too. Voiceprints and brainwave signatures are on the more advanced side of things, while heart signatures pick up on an individual’s unique surface movement caused by their heartbeat.
One form of verification will provide some security but is generally not enough. Increasingly, two-factor authentication (2FA) is becoming the norm, while multi-factor (MFA), where two or more factors are required, is capable of strengthening your access in a big way.
There are several other ways to check a person’s identity too. Closely related to soft tokens, device authentication gathers the unique characteristics of a computer (and how it is used) to verify someone’s ID. How does it do this? Everything from typing speed and cadence can be used as an identifier in order to grant access.
Elsewhere, context-based authentication is a completely different beast altogether. By collecting signals such as geolocation, IP address and even the time of the day, it can help to determine whether the user is the real deal.
Which authentication method is the most secure?
The sheer amount of authentication types is, if nothing else, a clear indicator of how challenging business security is right now. But which one is the most effective? Well, for one, it’s not so clear cut as that. In measuring the “effectiveness” of an authentication factor, we need to look at both its security and overall usability.
It’s for this reason that biometric methods and Public Key Cryptography (PKC), where data is encrypted via a public key, are said to be the most secure, effective options. As well as providing the strongest safeguarding, they do away with the need for passwords – which means not having to create or remember them in the first place!
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