As enterprises advance towards digital maturity in the times of robust cloud-based systems and stringent online security, authentication and authorization are used in conjunction (also, often interchangeably) with each other.
Though both the terms sound similar, they refer to entirely different security processes. Within the scope of customer identity and access management (CIAM), authentication verifies a user's identity, while authorization validates if the user has access to perform a specific function.
In other words, authentication is identifying users by confirming who they say they are, while authorization is the process of establishing the rights and privileges of a user.
Both processes play equally important roles in securing sensitive data assets from breaches and unauthorized access.
Here, we'll cover how they're defined and what distinguishes one from the other.
What is Authentication
Authentication is the process of identifying users and validating who they claim to be. One of the most common and obvious factors to authenticate identity is a password. If the user name matches the password credential, it means the identity is valid, and the system grants access to the user.
Interestingly, with enterprises going passwordless, many use modern authentication techniques like one-time passcodes (OTP) via SMS, or email, single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA) and biometrics, etc. to authenticate users and deploy security beyond what passwords usually provide.
What is Authorization
Authorization happens after a user’s identity has been successfully authenticated. It is about offering full or partial access rights to resources like database, funds, and other critical information to get the job done.
In an organization, for example, after an employee is verified and confirmed via ID and password authentication, the next step would be defining what resources the employee would have access to.
Authentication vs Authorization: Understanding the Techniques
IAM administrators should understand the core of utilizing both authentication and authorization, and how one differentiates from the other.
For example, an organization will allow all its employees to access their workplace systems (that’s authentication!). But then, not everyone will have the right to access its gated data (that’s authorization!).
Implementing authentication with the right authorization techniques can protect organizations, while streamlined access will enable its workforce to be more productive.
Here is the common authentication vs authorization techniques used by CIAM solutions.
However note that technologies like JWT, SAML, OpenID Authorization, and OAuth are used in both authentication and authorization.
Popular authentication techniques
- Password-based authentication is a simple method of authentication that requires a password to verify the user's identity.
- Passwordless authentication is where a user is verified through OTP or a magic link delivered to the registered email or phone number.
- 2FA/MFA requires more than one security level, like an additional PIN or security question, to identify a user and grant access to a system.
- Single sign-on (SSO) allows users to access multiple applications with a single set of credentials.
- Social authentication verifies and authenticates users with existing credentials from social networking platforms.
Popular authorization techniques
- Role-based access controls (RBAC) can be implemented for system-to-system and user-to-system privilege management.
- JSON web token (JWT) is an open standard for securely transmitting data between parties, and users are authorized using a public/private key pair.
- SAML is a standard Single Sign-On format (SSO) where authentication information is exchanged through XML documents that are digitally signed.
- OpenID authorization verifies user identity based on an authorization server's authentication.
- OAuth allows the API to authenticate and access the requested system or resource.
To learn more about the authentication vs authorization - concept, differences, and techniques, check out the infographic created by LoginRadius.
Implementing Identity and Access Management with LoginRadius
Centralized identity and access management solutions can play a major role in delivering robust authentication and authorization for users within the organizational framework.
A cloud-based CIAM solution like LoginRadius verifies authoritative user identities and automates privileges and rights based on pre-defined roles.
What more? Not having to manually define permissions saves time, reduces backlogs, and ensure hassle-free user experience.
Furthermore, with LoginRadius, opportunities to streamline CIAM are endless. That also includes securing access to privileged resources and safeguarding IT infrastructure from cyber attacks.