Organizations are migrating their functions to the digital ecosystem. The move has many benefits, but security remains a crucial challenge. As a result, terms associated with cloud security have gone mainstream. For example, authorization and authentication are usually thrown around when people are discussing cloud-based security. Are these words similar, or do they mean something different?
Authorization and authentication have similar pronunciations, but they mean different things. Authentication is a critical process in the verification of a user within a security system. On the other hand, authorization offers access to a particular function. Simply put, authentication validates a user’s identity, while authorization provides specific privileges and rights to the confirmed user.
There is no doubt that both processes are essential in the protection of cloud-based data. They work hand in hand to reduce leakages or security breaches. This article will examine the differences between authentication and authorization.
What Is Authentication?
Authentication is an identity verification method that involves two sections: a username and a password. The username is a verification element that has little security protection. That is why a secret feature, usually a password, is introduced to verify the username. Therefore, authentication confirms that your identity is legitimate.
The number of secrets that you can use as a password is unlimited. Nevertheless, some people can guess the username and password. The strength of the authentication relies primarily on secrecy, especially the password. When only the username and password are involved in authentication, this process is called single-factor authentication. It is no longer a very secure type of online protection because hackers only need to identify your password to access your data.
In order to make the authentication more secure, organizations and users can implement different tools:
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA): Installing an authentication app on a mobile device that will generate a security code to grant you access or receiving text message on your cell phone with a code are two examples of MFA.
- Single sign-on: Users only have to enter their login credentials (username, password, etc.) one time on a single page to access all their web applications. This way, they don’t have to sign in multiple times to navigate between their apps. This method is used by organizations and helps create stronger passwords and can be complemented with multi-factor authentication.
- Biometric authentication: Users can use their fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock their device.
Authentication, therefore, is just the confirmation of a person’s identity. It proves that the person trying to access a specific account is the actual owner of that account. The critical element is the presence of a secret password that only the account owner knows. Anybody with the username and password can access and enjoy the privileges of the account.
You may be forgiven if you thought that authorization is the same as authentication. While the two work together, authorization and authentication have distinct theoretical differences. Nevertheless, the control and deployment of authorization and authentication are relatively similar.
What Is Authorization?
Once authentication is complete, authorization kicks in. As indicated above, you can only enjoy the rights of a specific user account after your identity has been authenticated. Even in systems that don’t require usernames and passwords, the system might assume that you have been authenticated as a Guest. In that light, you can only access the privileges and rights of Guests.
Access to a particular system is granted through the combination of the authentication process and the subsequent rights of a user account. Simply put, it is what a user can do after they have been authenticated. The main reason only a few individuals can access a specific resource/data is due to certain privileges. People without the right combination of username/password and level of authorization are explicitly denied the ability to enjoy or perform certain functions on one particular platform.
The rights can exist on an operating system, an online application, or any computing infrastructure. Usually, the management confers these rights on a specific user. The administration may use unique infrastructure such as privileged access management platforms to distribute and control the rights and privileges.
Controlling authorization for a few users is an easy task. However, the complexity becomes more significant when the number of users and privileges increases. Some platforms have different levels of user accounts. Each group comes with specific rights. Therefore, there should be different levels of authorization. At the same time, authorization on a single-ownership device such as a mobile phone is not necessary. That is because the same identity will be operating and accessing all the device’s rights and privileges.
The grouping of privileges and rights introduces strong foundations. These foundations are referred to as the Role. In some instances, the Role serves as the authorization manager for multiple user accounts. It has the power to assign specific functions to an individual entity simultaneously or at certain intervals. Grouping them enables to streamline the assignment of permissions and reduces complexity.
Authorization vs. Authentication
If you are an IT administrator, you must understand the difference between authorization and authentication. Several techniques are associated with both processes. For instance, your company may have authentication systems for all employees. This means that any employee can access the company’s main operational platform. However, there may be specific sections within that platform that only certain employees can access. This second step requires effective authorization mechanisms.
The simplest way to understand the relationship between authorization and authentication is by answering the following questions, “Who are you?” and “What are you allowed to do?”
Therefore, authentication allows to identify users while authorization determines their permissions within the systems. Even though they are different processes, they work in tandem to provide a seamless login experience to the end user.
If an organization doesn’t have a strong authentication process in place to identify users, then hackers may access all the information available based on its privileges. Implementing authorization ensures that your employees only have access to the resources they need to perform their job and prevent access to sensitive data.
No matter the size of your organization, you are a target for hackers. Consequently, authorization, and authentication are the starting point of strengthening your security posture.
An extensive understanding of the principles of authorization and authentication is the first step towards creating a secure platform. Your organization will need powerful authentication methods and effective authorization protocols to protect your online and offline data. Contact Softlanding now if you want to learn more.