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Two different processes, hand-in-hand

Authentication vs Authorization | What is the Difference?

Harman Singh
© Shutterstock / 300 librarians

Authentication and authorization are two different processes that go hand-in-hand. Authentication happens first, and then authentication actually grants you access to a certain resource after it is verified whether or not you have the correct authentication credentials.

It’s important to understand authentication and authorization. They’re two different techniques that are crucial for protecting your site from unauthorized access.

Let’s take a look at authentication vs authorization and their techniques, such as authentication with username/password or authentication via an API token.

What is authentication?

Authentication is a process in which it is determined whether someone is who they say they are or not. This is commonly done by asking for login credentials (username and password) but can also be done with other methods, such as an API token.

Once authentication has been successful, the user will gain access to the requested resource.

SEE ALSO: Identity Security in 2022: Why Automation, UX, and Best-of-Suite Software Will Lead the Way

Example of authentication

The user enters a username and password into a login form. The web server compares the entered values with the values stored in its authentication database. If it matches, the user is successfully authenticated and granted access to the requested resource.

If authentication fails, the user is not granted access to the requested resource.

Authentication techniques

There are various authentication factors or techniques that can be used to verify one’s identity avoiding any authentication vulnerabilities. The technique you want to use depends on what your site does, the type of user it caters to, and how much information needs protecting.

1. Password-based authentication

This authentication technique is the most common and simplest way to verify someone’s identity. It relies on a username and password combination that is entered by the user to grant access to a site or system.
The biggest downside of password-based authentication is that it can be easily guessed or hacked, especially if users choose weak passwords.

2. Passwordless authentication

This authentication technique is gaining in popularity due to the number of confidential data breaches that have occurred as a result of stolen usernames and passwords. Passwordless authentication relies on something the user has, such as a one-time code or authentication token, instead of a password.

3. Two-factor authentication

Two-step authentication verifies credentials grants that require not only a username and password but also something only the user knows to provide an extra measure of security. For example, it may be an ATM pin that only the user knows.

4. Multi-factor authentication

It’s the most sophisticated technique of authentication, which combines two or more levels of security from different authentication types to grant user access to the system.

5. Single sign-on authentication

This authentication technique is used by large organizations with multiple systems and platforms to grant users quick access to all of their applications.

6. Social login

A social login is a form of a single sign-on authentication technique that leverages a user’s social media accounts to verify their identity.

It’s convenient for users because they can use the same account to sign in to multiple websites. Social authentication is also more secure than password-based authentication if a social media account is secured with two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is provided by all the popular social media sites.

What is authorization?

The process of allowing a user access to a certain resource or function is referred to as authorization. This term is frequently confused with client privilege and access control.

Example of authorization

Giving someone permission to download a file from a server or providing users with administrative rights to an application while avoiding any third party penetration risks are examples of authorization.

Authorization techniques

These are the primary authorization techniques used:

1. Role-based access controls

Role-based access controls allow you to restrict users’ permissions based on the roles they play in an organization. For example, a user who is part of the accounting department can only view financial documents and not HR or marketing information.

Roles should be created depending upon every team member’s responsibilities within a company. This authentication technique provides fine-grained authentication, which is essential for large organizations.

2. JSON web token authorization

JSON web tokens (JWTs) are used to authenticate users and applications.

They’re an efficient way to transmit information because they’re compact and can be easily verified. JWTs also contain metadata, which allows administrators to control the access a user has to certain resources.

3. SAML authorization

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an XML-based authentication protocol that allows organizations to exchange authentication and authorization information.

It’s commonly used in enterprise environments because it provides a single sign-on authentication mechanism for web applications. Administrators can also use SAML to determine which resources users are authorized to access.

4. OpenID authorization

OpenID authorization is a popular authorization type for web applications because it provides a reliable way to authorize users.

The major benefit of OpenID authorization is that it’s standards-based, which means the process works consistently across different systems and platforms.

Administrators can also easily control what resources an authorized user has access to.

5. OAuth authorization

OAuth is an authorization protocol, which enables the API to authenticate and access the requested resources. For APIs developed or in use by the organizations for their application, ensure that OWASP API top 10 risks are taken into account during development.

SEE ALSO: Accelerated code quality is the key to software’s new industrial revolution

Difference between authentication and authorization

Authentication and authorization are two different processes that go hand-in-hand. Authentication happens first, and then authentication actually grants you access to a certain resource after it is verified whether or not you have the correct authentication credentials.

Authorization is necessary because authentication cannot happen without having something unique to reference your identity with, such as a username or password combination, for example.

After successful authentication, it provides the authentication credentials to the system for authorization. Authorization determines if you have access rights or not. If one does not provide authentication credentials when trying to access a certain resource, then they will be denied that particular resource by default without any further investigation into the user’s identity.

After authentication has taken place, the authentication access token is passed to the authorization process. Authorization checks if the authenticated user is authorized to access that particular resource or not- and this decision can be based on a variety of factors, including role-based access control (RBAC), location, time of day, and more.

FAQs

What comes first, authentication or authorization?

Authorization is dependent on authentication. Authentication can take place without authorization, but you cannot have authorization without authentication taking place first.

Is login authentication or authorization?

Login is authentication, and it is what confirms user identity and allows you to log into a system. Authorization happens after authentication has taken place, and this is what determines if you have access to the requested resources.

Can authorization be bypassed with authentication?

No, authentication cannot happen without first authorizing the user. Authentication provides the necessary information for authorization so that it can then proceed with determining if that user should have access or not.

Author

Harman Singh

Harman is a director at Cyphere where he advises businesses on how to protect from cybersecurity threats to businesses. It involves performing hacking simulations in real-time to explain technical concepts just like you would to your grandparents.


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