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Exploring the Cybersecurity Aspect: Differentiating Identification from Authentication

We’ve already begun to experience the latest AI-generated phishing attacks, but some of the oldest tricks in a hacker’s handbook are weak passwords and login credentials.

Since 2021, there has been a 450% surge in breaches containing usernames and passwords globally. That’s not all. According to research taken from the Verizon Security Report, 81% of corporate data breaches were the result of poor passwords.

So, how can you keep your accounts protected from unauthorized access and potential data breaches?

In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between identification vs. authentication and introduce the future of online security verification known as passwordless authentication. Let’s dive right in.

Identification vs. Authentication: Breaking Down the Differences

Although both identification and authentication serve a similar purpose of keeping your account secure, they differ in several ways. Here is a side-by-side comparison.

Identification Authentication Verifies who you areVerifies who you claim to beVery limited security Enhanced security measuresSimple for anyone to accessDetermines access permissionsVerifies someone via a username, phone number, or emailLeverages biometrics (i.e. facial recognition, fingerprints) for verification

As you can see from the table above, authentication has the edge in terms of security measures and protection against unauthorized access.

And one of the strongest authentication methods is Multi-factor authentication (MFA).

MFA mitigates the risk associated with password theft or credential stuffing attacks. Even if attackers were to have access to a user's password, they wouldn't be able to proceed without the additional authentication factor.

MFA is so powerful that it has been proven to stop 96% of bulk phishing attempts and block over 99.9% of account compromise attacks.

Not bad, right?

MFA drastically reduces the risk of unauthorized access, particularly in today’s remote workforce environment where organizations need to manage and secure many remote devices. MFA ensures that only authorized devices are granted access, keeping sensitive data out of the hands of malicious actors.

And speaking of authentication methods, let’s take a closer look at the various ways a user can gain access to an account.

Different Methods of Authentication

There are three main factors of authentication including some of the challenges each provides. Here are the main categories.

Something you know: The simplest way to authenticate. It is super convenient and takes less than a few seconds to verify. This factor includes passwords, PINs, and security questions. On the flip side, it is also the most vulnerable to password cracking and brute force attacks. Oh, and by the way, 80% of data breaches caused by hacking were the result of brute force attacks.

Something you have: This authentication factor involves possessing a physical object or token required for authentication. Examples include authenticating via an SMS code push notification sent to your mobile device, smart cards containing embedded chips, and One-Time Password (OTP) Tokens - which can be a major drawback as they can get lost or stolen. Resetting the tokens can also be a time-consuming process, resulting in downtime and user inconvenience while waiting for a replacement to be issued.

Something you are: The highest level of the authentication factors. It is heavily centered around biometric data, unique to each individual. A person can be verified via facial recognition, iris or retina scanning, or through fingerprints.

This makes hacking more of a challenge. One caveat to note, however, is that biometric data cannot be changed if compromised. if someone's biometric data is ever compromised, it cannot be changed or revoked so easily, potentially leading to long-term security concerns.

Each factor has its own advantages and disadvantages, which brings us to the future of online security, a frictionless process known as passwordless authentication.

Passwordless Authentication: The Next Level of Identity Security

Passwordless authentication is considered superior to traditional password-based authentication and even identification in several key ways.

  • Reduced Password-Related Risks: Passwords are often reused across multiple accounts, which can lead to security breaches when one account is compromised. This is not the case with passwordless authentication as it relies on unique and more secure factors like biometrics or physical hardware tokens, ensuring that each authentication is distinct, rather than being dependent on a single shared credential.

  • Enhanced Security Measures: No two people have the same set of characteristics or ID. Biometric authentication methods are inherently tied to the individual and are increasingly difficult to impersonate. These preventive security measures also help thwart credential stuffing or phishing attempts.

  • Resilience to Phishing Attacks: Phishing attacks rely on duping users into revealing their passwords. Passwordless methods, specifically the use of biometrics that involve the form of some unique human characteristics, are highly resistant to phishing attempts because attackers can't easily replicate these factors.

  • Reduced Risk of Account Takeovers: Passwords are often reused across multiple accounts, which can lead to security breaches if a single account is compromised. Passwordless authentication greatly reduces those risks. Users don't have to remember complex passwords or write them down, reducing the risk of weak or compromised passwords. Take into consideration that an alarming 44% of employees reuse passwords across personal and work-related accounts.

  • Improved User Experience (UX): Eliminating passwords can offer a more streamlined user journey and smoother login experience. Users also don’t have to worry about account lockout if they forget their passwords. Less headache remembering and managing multiple passwords, not to mention wasting time just coming up with a new and complex password every now and then. Not a fun task, especially for your IT department.

Those are just some of the benefits that passwordless authentication has to offer.

Wrapping Up

When it comes to picking a winner between identification vs. authentication in the battle of unauthorized access prevention, the advantage clearly goes to the latter. But when you are looking to increase your overall online security measures across multiple accounts and cloud environments, passwordless authentication might be the most effective route you choose.

Research taken from an IDG Report highlighted the fact that nearly one-third (33%) of IT departments have already adopted passwordless authentication. Regardless of what vertical you’re in, you will definitely want to consider adding passwordless authentication to your security checklist.

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