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What Is Identification, Authentication and Authorization?

The concept of identity is complicated, but the ways in which we verify it can be far more simple.
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December 19, 2023

In more analog days, hard copies of official government documents, physical identification cards and biometric information like fingertips were all viable ways to make sure a person was who they claimed to be. The digital age with its myriad online transactions, however, requires new ways to identify, authenticate and authorize a person's identity.

Let's take a closer look at identification, authentication and authorization and why each process is increasingly important in the modern world.

The Importance of Identification

In most digital transactions, identification is the step where users prove their identity by providing a name, email address, phone number or username.

Identification is the first step in confirming a person's identity and must happen before authentication and authorization. Users can also provide more information, like a government-issued photo, ID, or social security number, to further identify themselves.

Identification happens in the initial setup stage of accounts and services. A username and password typically identify a person each time they access that account or service.

However, it can be challenging in digital environments to verify identification simply by receiving personally identifiable information and usernames and passwords. A stolen wallet or hacked email account is also enough for someone to attempt to steal an identity.

Given these risks, identification is simply the first step to establishing the baseline for the authentication process.

Forms of Identification For Authentication

Depending on the transaction's requirements, identification can require one or all of the following:

What you know

Information that only the person in question would easily know, including passwords, personal identification numbers (PINs), maiden names or answers to security questions.

What you have

Possessions that are unique to a specific person, like keys, badges or swipe cards.

What you are

As the most secure form of identification, biometric information is immune to theft or replication and can definitively prove identity. This information includes things like fingerprints or a facial scan.

The Importance of Authentication

Authentication requires users to prove they are still the person they claimed to be during the identification phase.

In 2021, the FTC received more than 2.8 million reports of fraud, resulting in over $5.8 billion in losses. If identification was the only barrier between access to an account or a system, these fraud and identity theft instances would be even more rampant. Authentication provides a layer of protection beyond identification to help users keep their accounts and their identities secure.

Following basic identification, authentication initiates a match between the user's previously provided information. Increasingly, authentication systems ask for a one-time verification code sent to an email address or phone number, even if the user's provided details and stored information match. Authorization requires both identification and authentication.

Methods of Authentication

Password-based authentication

Passwords are the most common method of authentication. Optimal protection requires using many varied passwords using different strings of letters, numbers and characters. However, many people use the same or similar passwords across accounts, which leaves them vulnerable to phishing and password breaches. Malicious entities can easily bypass password protection if they can access the user's email account or a previously used password. In short, passwords alone are not sufficient to provide account protection.

Multi-factor authentication

A safer authentication method involves multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires using more than one form of authentication, like a Captcha request or a security code sent to your email or phone as an SMS message. MFAs have their own drawbacks, as some users may lose access to a previous email or phone number, effectively locking them out of their account without intervention.

Certificate-based authentication

Essentially, certificate-based authentication (CBA) uses a digital certificate to identify a user, device or machine before providing access to an application, network or other resource. This form of authentication is more secure because it's based on both what the user has (the digital certificate) and what they know (their password).

Biometric-based authentication

Biometric-based authentication relies on individuals' unique biological characteristics to authenticate their identity. Methods like facial recognition, fingerprint or eye scanning and voice recognition provide a high level of security with minimal disruption. When paired with multi-factor authentication, this method provides an additional layer of security. However, biometric-based authentication does present privacy concerns — and ethical questions for some.

Token-based authentication

Token-based authentication simplifies the authentication process for recognized users. After entering a username and password, a user can access protected systems without providing credentials again.

The Importance of Authorization

Authorization grants users access, rights and privileges to a service, account, or system based on previously secured identification and authentication.

Identification and authentication validate a person's identity, but authorization ensures the person in question should have access to the system or resource.

Authorization gives users rights and privileges after identifying, authenticating and authorizing them. It secures sensitive resources in a system and protects individual users from unauthorized access to their accounts or information.

Types of Authorization Methods

API keys

An API key is a secret code that gets you inside a system or resource, essentially acting like an ID card to assign proper permissions and track data usage. In more technical terms, it's a string of characters used to identify and authorize an application or user who requests the service of an API (application programming interface).

Basic auth

Basic auth is akin to providing a key in the form of user credentials to access an online account. Although this process is straightforward, it can leave your credentials and, eventually, your online account vulnerable.

HMAC

HMAC stands for Keyed-Hashing for Message Authentication. Because it uses cryptography keys to enforce integrity and authenticity, HMAC is similar to digital signatures. Secure file transfer protocols like FTPS, SFTP and HTTPS use HMAC to ensure data integrity.  

OAuth

OAuth uses authorization tokens vs. a password to connect an app to a user account. It allows users to give other websites or applications access to their information without resupplying passwords.

Notarize Can Help Businesses Identify and Authenticate Online Notarizations

Many applications and processes require consumers to identify, authenticate and authorize their digital identity.

Notarize uses dynamic knowledge-based authentication and database-driven information to confirm a person's digital identity to prevent fraudulent notarizations and secure online notarizations for business.

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