User authentication is the process of identifying a user and confirming their identity. It’s one of the first lines of defense against breaches, but it’s also one of the easiest things to get wrong.
A recent report from Verizon found that 63% of all breaches involved weak or stolen passwords. And as we become more dependent on digital services, this problem will only worsen.
So how do we fix it? Here are five user authentication methods that can help prevent a breach:
What are the 6 methods available for user authentication?
- Knowledge-based authentication
knowledge based authentication is a two-factor authentication (2FA) method that uses questions and answers to verify the identity of a user. The answers are stored in an offline database, and the user can change them anytime.
Users must provide their username and password when logging into the system and an answer to a knowledge-based question. For example, you may be asked what your mother’s maiden name is, or what your favorite pet’s name was when you were ten. The answers to these questions are often called “secret questions” because they are private information that only you would know.
The advantage of knowledge-based authentication is that it’s easy for users to set up, doesn’t require additional tokens or hardware devices, and doesn’t require extensive configuration. The downside is that it relies on human memory, which can be less reliable than other methods like biometrics or one-time passwords (OTP).
- Password-based authentication
In a password-based system, users log into an application using a username and password combination. This is the most common authentication method used today, but it has several drawbacks that make it vulnerable to attacks.
To securely implement password-based authentication, you must ensure that your users’ passwords are unique and long enough to provide iron-clad protection against brute force attacks — where hackers attempt to guess or crack weak passwords through trial and error. Password length requirements vary among organizations, but the longer they are, the better protected they are from brute force attacks.
The downside of a password-based system is that some users find long and complex passwords difficult or impossible to remember. This means these individuals may choose easier-to-remember — but less secure — passwords like “123456” or “password.”
- Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication is a challenge-response authentication mechanism that requires a user to provide two or more pieces of evidence to prove identity.
The two factors are “something you know,” like a password, and “something you have,” like a physical device. Multi-factor authentication is commonly used as an additional security layer on top of single-factor authentication.
Multi-factor authentication has been around for decades. In the 1980s, companies started using tokens — physical devices that generate one-time passwords (OTPs) via an embedded microprocessor. The most common token today is the YubiKey, which supports multiple protocols like OATH, FIDO U2F, and OpenPGP.
Nowadays, most companies use multi-factor authentication because it’s more secure than single factor alone. And with past breaches like Equifax, Yahoo!, and Uber, businesses are looking for ways to strengthen their cyber defenses and protect their customers’ data from hackers.
- Biometric Authentication
Biometrics is another authentication method that uses physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, irises, and facial recognition, to verify a user’s identity.
Biometrics is a secure form of authentication because it relies on unique physical attributes that can’t be duplicated or shared. Biometric authentication methods have been used for years in law enforcement and national security applications, but their use has expanded to include the private sector.
Biometric authentication uses physical characteristics like fingerprints, facial features, or retina scans to verify identity. This type of authentication is gaining popularity because it’s challenging to replicate and doesn’t require passwords or tokens.
Fingerprint scanners are common biometric scanners used today. Fingerprint scanners require users to place their finger on a glass panel or pad where it will be scanned and matched against an existing template stored in the system. If no match is found, the user must try again until they successfully place their finger on the scanner and verify their identity with the fingerprint scan.
Other types of biometrics include retinal scans and facial recognition software which can be used together with fingerprint scanners to provide additional layers of security when logging into accounts or accessing sensitive information such as financial data.
- Token-Based Authentication
Token-based authentication is an increasingly popular method of securing access to online accounts. A token is a small code that verifies your identity when you log in to an account. For example, suppose you have a traditional username and password (also known as a “credential”), then you enter the correct credentials into an account each time. In that case, the system checks to see if they match the ones stored in its database. If they do, then the system grants access to the account.
Token-based authentication works similarly, but instead of storing usernames and passwords in the database, it stores tokens — random strings of characters generated every time someone logs in or out of an account. So every time you log into an account, you enter your username and password and then provide your token proof that you’re who you say you are. Then, the system compares your token with the one stored on file for that user’s account and either permits or denies access based on whether or not they match.
If you want to strengthen your user authentication services and reduce the likelihood of breaches occurring within your company, the user authentication methods discussed in this article can help. However, the five methods have their strengths and weaknesses, so you must consider which is best for your business.
If unsure which method is suitable for your company, you can always consult a security professional to get advice on which process would work best. The more secure your user authentication methods are, the less likely hackers will be able to breach your system and access sensitive data.