Authentication is used by computer systems and applications to check that a user or other application is who they claim to be, and can access the system and its data. If a user positively authenticates themselves, they are then granted access to the application and data.

Terms related to Authentication: Two-factor authentication, multifactor authentication, biometrics, access, authorization.

Authentication demands credentials from a user or integrated application so that they can prove who they say they are. When the user enters these credentials, they are compared against a baseline “good” credential, and if they are found to match, they are granted access.

The level and sophistication of authentication varies, depending on investment in authentication, sensitivity of data and systems, and other factors. There are typically three levels of authentication:

  • Single-factor authentication only requires one type of authentication, in addition to a login.
  • Two-factor authentication demands a second type of credential, like a one time password or security code.
  • Multi-factor authentication demands a third type of credential, typically a biometric identifier like a fingerprint or voice recognition.

Types of credential vary, with common ones being:

  • Login — a unique identifier for specific users, often a user name, email address, or social media account login.
  • Password — a password that is paired with a login — this is the simplest type of single-factor authentication.
  • Security code — a code provided as a one-time password, email, or text message, or a dynamic security code created by algorithm.
  • Biometrics — a unique biological identifier like an iris scan, facial geometry recognition, or fingerprint.

Authentication becomes exponentially more secure, the more factors that you add. Multifactor authentication is many times harder to break than single-factor authentication.

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