Using Authentication for Network Security

Poorly secured networks often prove to be an attractive way to gain illegal access to company resources. The consequences of breaches today are costly, ranging from tarnished reputations, data exposure, loss of consumer trust, lawsuits, fines, ransoms, physical damage and loss of life. This explains why different network security protocols and typologies prioritize the ability to recognize which user is trying to access a network.

A user usually reveals their identity when they attempt to connect to a network using the credentials they have. The system ensures that the user is an authorized user before granting network access. However, this introduces a big flaw. What if the user is an impostor with valid credentials? Authentication mitigates such scenarios by ensuring that the user attempting to connect is responsible for the credentials they used before providing network access.

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Network Security Authentication Types

Single factor authentication

Single-factor authentication is not only the most common form of authentication, but also the least secure, as it requires only one factor to gain full access to a system. Its authentication is implemented through three factors; something you know, something you have and something you are.

something you know is the most widely used single-factor authentication factor because it involves a PIN and password along with a username. However, the use of authentication methods such as passwords puts users at risk, as these methods are not sufficient to guarantee the security of information online. Passwords are a target for phishing attacks because users can choose to have the same password across multiple accounts for convenience as they don’t have to remember or store different passwords .

Users can also use simple passwords to ensure they are memorable. This promotes poor security hygiene and limits the effectiveness of single-factor authentication methods. It also presents a risk of data breach and exploitation, which is costly for businesses.

Single-factor authentication is effective when implemented correctly. In such scenarios, single-factor authentication is simple, easy to use, and takes little time. Biometric authentication methods are the best example. Using finger vein scans, voice recognition, and retina scans can improve the effectiveness of single-factor authentication, but may require significant investment for enterprise deployment.

Two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication adds a second factor to mitigate the shortcomings of a single-factor method and bolster security efforts. This is a method that forces users to check twice using different methods. The additional step requires end users to complete an additional process after providing their primary authentication credentials to access a system.

The extra step should be difficult, unrelated to the network involved, and require information that only the correct user would have access to. This gives businesses an extra layer of protection against attacks that would affect single-factor methods such as social engineering, man-in-the-middle, and brute-force attacks. The additional step also gives enterprises options regarding how to approach authentication and align the method with their security policies.

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Multi-factor authentication

As two-factor authentication is also considered a form of multi-factor authentication (MFA), multi-factor authentication involves two or more factors to legitimize users. Factors include device-based confirmation, biometrics, and captcha testing, among others. These non-system-relevant factors provide an additional layer of security while providing organizations with a variety of approaches to align their approach to security with their unique needs and goals.

Depending on their size, businesses today can struggle to keep track of which third parties have access to their networks. With multi-factor authentication, companies can increase the security of their interactions with third parties. Companies can also use multi-factor authentication to determine who can access critical data and enforce access control policies. Additionally, multi-factor authentication helps organizations meet regulatory requirements, as some compliance requirements may involve implementing multi-factor authentication as a technical protection to prevent unauthorized access.

As efficient as multi-factor authentication can be, it can be time consuming because satisfying more than two authentication processes means more time before accessing a network. Additionally, an effective multi-factor authentication solution does not come free because organizations cannot implement MFA on their own. It must be outsourced.

Single sign-on

Single sign-on (SSO) allows users to log into a single application and access multiple applications. Single sign-on helps simplify access, improve user experience, and reduce the complexity of today’s IT management. It enables enterprises to provide employees with secure and effortless access to applications from anywhere by reducing password fatigue.

Users only need to focus on a single password, which can improve productivity through faster logins. Seamless user experience can also encourage end users to use an application more frequently, which can improve adoption rates for a company’s end product. Single sign-on also improves the efficiency of B2B collaboration as it encourages B2B partnerships to provide users with access to services offered by different companies.

However, if single sign-on fails, users are denied access to many related networks, applications, and services. Additionally, in the event of a network breach, attackers gain access to multiple linked systems, data, and applications.

Transaction Authentication

Transaction authentication differs from other authentication methods because it uses context to flag reasonable errors when comparing a user’s data with the details of an ongoing transaction. It compares a user’s characteristics with what it already knows about a user to find discrepancies. Transaction authentication is particularly useful in businesses dealing with personal information, sales as well as banking. This, however, makes it a target for man-in-the-middle attacks, as threat actors seek to hijack credentials of active sessions.

Companies could use this type of authentication to improve the security of their networks by outsourcing it to a monitoring team because the authentication method does not depend on the users. By relieving the user of responsibility, transaction authentication stands out from previous authentication methods.

Token authentication

Token authentication involves using a physical device like an RFID chip, dongle, or card to access secure networks. This authentication method makes it difficult for an attacker to gain access to the network as they would need long credentials in addition to the device itself. Additionally, it makes fake token authentication difficult, as the device’s digital identity is obtained through complex security standards.

However, the physical loss of the device can frustratingly undermine a company’s security efforts. For companies to ensure the effectiveness of token authentication, they need to keep track of devices to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. For example, employees at the end of their contract must return their tokens. It also turns out to be an expensive method of authentication as it involves the purchase of new devices.

Certificate-based authentication

Using digital certificates, certificate-based authentication technologies identify users, devices, and machines before granting access to a network. Certificate-based authentication simplifies management and deployment as it can be accompanied by a cloud-based management platform. This makes it easier for network administrators to issue, renew, and revoke certificates.

With certificate-based authentication, organizations can leverage existing access control policies and permissions to determine which users and machines are accessing a network. Mutual authentication also helps ensure that whether user-to-user, machine-to-user, or machine-to-machine, both parties identify each other. Certificates can also be issued to external users such as partners who may need access to their networks.

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