Poorly secured networks often prove to be an attractive means of illegally gaining access to the resources of an enterprise. The consequences of breaches today are expensive, ranging from tarnished reputations, data exposure, loss of consumer trust, lawsuits, fines, ransoms to physical harm, and loss of life. This underpins why different network security protocols and typologies prioritize the ability to recognize which user is attempting to gain access to a network.
A user usually indicates his or her identity when they attempt to log into a network using the credentials they have. The system ensures that the user is among the authorized users before granting them access to the network. However, this introduces a great flaw. What if the user is an impostor with valid credentials? Authentication mitigates such scenarios by verifying that the user attempting to log in is in charge of the credentials they used before providing access to the network.
Types of Network Security Authentication
Single-factor authentication features as not only the most common but also the least secure form of authentication as it requires just one factor to attain full access to a system. Its authentication is set up through three factors; something you know, something you have, and something you are.
Something you know is the most used single-factor authentication factor as it involves a PIN and password along with a username. However, the use of authentication methods like passwords puts users at risk as these methods are not enough to ensure online information is secure. Passwords are a target for phishing attacks as users may choose to have the same password across multiple accounts in favor of convenience as they do not have to memorize or store different passwords.
Users may also conveniently use simple passwords to ensure they are memorable. This promotes bad security hygiene and limits the effectiveness of single-factor authentication methods. It also poses the risk of data breaches and exploitation, which is costly for enterprises.
Single-factor authentication is effective when implemented correctly. In such scenarios, single-factor authentication is simple, easy to use, and consumes little time. Biometric authentication methods provide the best example. The use of 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 adds a second factor to mitigate the shortcomings of a single-factor method and reinforce security endeavors. This is a method that requires users to verify twice using different methods. The additional step has end users complete an extra process after providing their primary authentication credentials to gain access to a system.
The additional step should be challenging, have no relation to the network involved, and require information that only the correct user would have access to. This gives enterprises an extra layer of protection against attacks that would plague single-factor methods like social engineering, man in the middle, and brute force attacks. The extra step also provides enterprises with options concerning how to approach authentication and align the method to their security policies.
Also read: Fending Off Socially Engineered Attacks
As two-factor authentication is also considered to be a form of multi-factor authentication (MFA), multi-factor authentication involves two or more factors to legitimize users. The factors include device-based confirmation, biometrics, and captcha tests among others. These system-irrelevant factors provide an extra layer of security while offering enterprises a variety of approaches to align their security approach to their unique needs and goals.
Depending on size, enterprises today may struggle to keep track of third parties with access to their networks. With multi-factor authentication, enterprises can increase the security of their interactions with third parties. Enterprises can also use multi-factor authentication to determine who gets to access critical data and implement access control policies. Additionally, multi-factor authentication helps enterprises satisfy regulatory requirements, as some compliance requirements may involve implementing multi-factor authentication as a technical safeguard to prevent unauthorized access.
As effective as multi-factor authentication may be, it can be time-consuming as satisfying more than two authentication processes means more time taken before gaining access to a network. Furthermore, an effective multi-factor authentication solution is not free as organizations cannot set up MFA by themselves. It has to be outsourced.
Single sign-on (SSO) has users log in to a single application and obtain access to multiple applications. Single sign-on provides a means to simplify access, improve user experience, and reduce the complexity of today’s IT management. It enables enterprises to offer employees secure and effortless access to applications from anywhere by reducing password fatigue.
Users only have to focus on a single password, which may improve productivity through faster log-ins. The seamless user experience may also encourage end-users to use an app more frequently, which may improve the adoption rates of an enterprise’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 enterprises.
However, if single sign-on fails, users are denied access to many related networks, applications, and services. Furthermore, in the event a network is breached, attackers have access to multiple linked systems, data, and applications.
Transaction authentication differs from other authentication methods as it uses context to point out reasonable mistakes as it compares a user’s data with details of an ongoing transaction. It compares the characteristics of a user with what it already knows about a user to find discrepancies. Transaction authentication is particularly useful in enterprises 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 the authentication information from active sessions.
Enterprises could use this type of authentication to enhance the security of their networks by outsourcing it to a monitoring team as the authentication method does not depend on the users. By taking away the responsibility from the user, transaction authentication stands out from the previous authentication methods.
Token authentication involves the use of 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 since he or she would require lengthy credentials plus the device itself. Additionally, this makes it difficult to fake token authentication as the digital identity of the device is attained through complex security standards.
However, physically losing the device can frustratingly undermine the security efforts of an enterprise. For enterprises to ensure the effectiveness of token authentication, they need to keep track of the devices to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. For example, employees at the end of their contracts must give back their tokens. This also proves to be a costly authentication method as it involves buying new devices.
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 may 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, enterprises can leverage existing access control policies and permissions to determine the users and machines that access a network. Mutual authentication also helps ensure that whether user-to-user, machine-to-user, and machine-to-machine, the two parties identify themselves. Certificates can also be issued to external users like partners who may require access to their networks.