Authentication vs. Authorization

Authentication verifies a user’s identity while authorization grants permissions to access resources. So, how exactly do they differ? Let’s have a closer look at both.

What is Authentication?

Authentication is the process of verifying who you are, usually through a username and password. Your identity is verified during the authentication process by comparing the information you enter against a list of known credentials.

If your username and password match those on file, you are authenticated and allowed access to the system. Authentication is a necessary first step to gaining access to a network, but it only verifies who you are.

It does not determine what level of access you’ll have once authenticated. This step is known as authorization, but we’ll elaborate more on that below.

Authentication Techniques

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication is one of the most common ways to authenticate users. It requires a two-step process in order to gain access, which adds an extra layer of security.

When two-factor authentication is implemented, you’ll be required to enter your username and password as usual. After your credentials have been verified by the system, you will also need to enter a passcode that is usually sent via SMS text message.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication is similar to two-factor authentication in that it requires multiple steps before access to a system is granted. However, the additional verification methods needed for multi-factor authentication can vary.

An example of MFA would be going to your local ATM in which your card serves as “something you have” or the Possession factor and your unique PIN number represents “something you know” or the Knowledge factor.

Single Sign-On (SSO)

Single sign-on is a method of authentication that allows users to remain signed in across multiple systems. If you are using single sign-on, you will only have to login once, and your authentication token will be passed from system to system until you reach the network that you require.

An example of SSO is when you log on to third-party applications with social media credentials such as Google, Facebook, or other social platforms.

Passwordless Authentication

Passwordless authentication is an improved method of authenticating users. Rather than requiring a username and password to login, this system uses a piece of unique information to verify users.

A unique ID can be a string of numbers, letters, or even an image unique to the user. For example, the scanning of a QR code.

Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication uses a unique physical trait such as a fingerprint, voice recognition, or retinal scan to authenticate users.

Biometric authentication is becoming a popular form of authentication, particularly in the workplace, because it provides an extra layer of security and it’s extremely accurate since the verification is specific to each individual.

Token Authentication

Token authentication is a type of two-factor authentication where a physical object is used in addition to a username and password. There are several different types of tokens, including key fobs, USB devices, and RSA SecurID cards.

They are also ideal in granting temporary access to guests or third-party contractors at a company facility.

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What Are The 5 Authentication Factors?

Token Authentication

The knowledge factor is the most common form of authentication. This factor requires that users prove they know a piece of information that’s unique to them. This could be a username, password, PIN, or pattern. In most cases, the knowledge factor is a password or PIN number.

Possession Factor

The possession factor requires users to possess something unique to them. This can be a physical token or key fob, or it could even be a smartcard that’s used to activate an authentication program. Passwords are typically sent via SMS to the recipient to verify the information.

Inherence Factor

The inherence factor requires users to be a part of something that’s unique to them. This usually means that the system is programmed to know your appearance and to confirm it based on the measurements.

Biometric authentication is an example of the inherence factor because only you can unlock the system using your unique characteristics. 

Location Factor

The location factor is based on where a user is physically located. The location factor requires that you are in a certain place before being able to authenticate successfully, which would prevent someone from trying to gain access from a restricted location.

For example, admins might restrict access to employees that are outside a specifically defined location or boundary to prevent potential attacks.

Behavior Factor

The behavior factor is based on the way you use the system. The authentication system will monitor how you interact with it and then compare that to a predefined set of rules. If your behavior matches what is expected of you, then you will be allowed access.

What is Authorization?

Authorization is a security process that identifies what someone is allowed to do once they have been authenticated. For example, a user may be authorized to access a certain network and no others.

Authorization is implemented on authentication programs and can be set to allow or deny specific permissions after the user has been authenticated. 

Due to the constantly evolving digital landscape, organizations today are adopting a Zero Trust security which provides a more granular authentication approach.

Organizations can segment their networks based on policy-based permissions and authenticate users or devices from anywhere in the world when accessing sensitive company resources.

Authorization Techniques

SAML

The Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an open standard for authentication that enables single sign-on (SSO). It works by exchanging user information between different systems to verify identity and check permissions. This is often used to verify the identity of people who are logging in from a mobile device.

A major benefit of SAML is that it allows you to access multiple web applications such as Salesforce and Google Drive using a single set of login credentials.

OAuth

OAuth is an open-standard authorization protocol that grants access to certain applications or websites while users are logged into a service. From that point forward, the application using OAuth has access on the user’s behalf without needing to obtain a separate password.

OAuth is compatible with HTTPS, APIs, and servers. It also allows access tokens to be issued to third-party clients by an authorization server.

OpenID

OpenID works by allowing users to create an ID that can be used across different websites. Each website can verify the user’s identity without needing to know their password, but the password is still used for encryption purposes.

OpenID users can even have multiple IDs that are used for different websites. OpenID Connect (OIDC) adds another identity layer and is built on top of the OAuth 2.0 framework.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC is a security framework that restricts access based on user roles. This allows different people within an organization to have the same access privileges, regardless of their role in the organization.

RBAC is great when you need to quickly add or remove employees from a restricted area, and it can also be used in complex systems when there are multiple people who need access to the same data. RBAC is also beneficial for auditing and for staying atop compliance regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA.

JSON Web Token (JWT)

JSON or JWT is an open standard that can be used to authenticate users, devices, servers, and more. This standard has become very popular because it has a wide range of uses and is simple to integrate into existing systems.

JWT works by encrypting information about users, groups, or devices and then sending it to another system for verification. They are also ideal for the exchange of information as the transmission is highly secured.

Authentication vs. Authorization Example

Let’s take a real-world example and analogy of when both authentication and authorization are used together. The airport. You present your ID when checking through security in order to verify your identification.

This is the authentication process. Once you arrive at the gate, you then show your boarding pass to board the flight and allow you access to the plane.

This second step is the authorization process. Both steps are vital when identifying a passenger before travel and ensuring that all security checks have been met.

Authentication vs. Authorization: Understanding The Differences

Authentication Authorization 
Verifies someone’s identityEstablishes the rules for what is and is not permitted
When you enter a password into a computer to verify your identity, this is known as authentication.Authorization acts itself to validate your privileges and ensure only the correct people have access to specific information. 
IT determines the authentication factors Departments within the organization define access criteria
Takes place before AuthorizationTakes place after Authentication
Authentication is what occurs when your identity is verified by a password or other credentials.Authorization is what occurs when an administrator sets up rules to restrict company access. 
Data is transmitted using ID TokensData is transmitted using access Tokens

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Identity and Access Management (IAM) in The New Remote Workforce

As more people begin to work remotely, identity and access management (IAM) is becoming increasingly important. This is because systems need to be able to distinguish between different types of users and allow access for some while blocking it from others.

IAM is used to manage user identities and access permissions within an organization. It can also help reduce OpEx costs as it is cloud-based and extremely scalable. Cloud providers such as AWS offer AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) to control who has access to use cloud-based resources.

IT or network administrators typically have full control and decide who gets access to what, especially when working remotely. 83% of cloud breaches are the result of access vulnerabilities. IAM is important for remote workers because it allows them to securely access sensitive information when outside of their office and minimize the attack surface drastically.

Securing User Identities and The Corporate Network with Perimeter 81

It is crucial to implement authentication and authorization policies across your organization as part of your security strategy.

Perimeter 81’s ZTNA solution provides organizations with identity-based access rules so that only authorized users can access certain sections of the network to reduce the risk of a breach. 

Perimeter 81 also provides a wide range of security controls to help customers prevent unauthorized access to applications, data, and devices.

Organizations using Perimeter 81 can manage their identity and access management systems in a cost-effective and scalable way. Integrate IAM with a Zero Trust approach and discover why Perimeter 81 was named a Forrester New Wave™ Leader in ZTNA.

Authentication vs Authorization FAQ

What is authentication?
Authentication is the process of verifying identity. It’s what occurs when you enter your password into a computer or mobile device.
What is authorization?
Authorization is the process of enforcing rules for specific users. An example of this would be when a network administrator decides to set rules for access.
What is the difference between authentication and authorization?
Authentication verifies identity while authorization implements rules that determine what is and isn’t allowed for specific users.

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