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7 min read
Types and methods overview
Unsure which type of authentication is right for your platform? Discover everything you need to know about authentication types and methods.

A complete guide to authentication types and methods

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There’s no shortage of ways to authenticate users. For some apps, passwordless authentication might make sense while others might need to use a combination of factors throughout the process of multi-factor authentication.

It isn’t about right or wrong. Instead, it’s about matching the needs of your company or app with the most suitable authentication method. By learning how authentication factors work and what types of authentication are available, you’ll be best placed to decide which approach is right for you.

A brief introduction to authentication

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Authentication is the process of figuring out if a person is who they say they are. Once verified, the user will then gain access to a secure system (such as an app or platform).

The process helps companies give access only to specific, authorized people, such as employees. It helps to protect the sensitive data of companies and users, ensuring that processes are in place to protect personal information and keep hackers out.

The most common method of authentication is one-factor authentication, typically using a username and password. But there are other more secure types of authentication, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), single sign-on (SSO), and passwordless authentication.

Authentication vs authorization

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Despite their similarities, authentication, and authorization perform separate functions when it comes to keeping apps and resources secure. Authentication is the first step of the process and determines the user’s identity by checking user credentials against the app’s records.

Authorization follows authentication to determine the access rights of the user. Authorization acts as a permission structure ensuring access to certain parts of the system is granted to the approved user.

While the two processes are similar, there are key differences:

  • Authentication helps you confirm a user’s identity.
  • Authorization confirms which parts of the system this user has access to.

Authentication factors

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Passwords might be the most common method of authentication, but it’s by no means the only option. When designing your app’s authentication processes, it’s important to draw on all three types of authentication to boost the security of your platform.

Knowledge factor

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As the name suggests, knowledge factors are pieces of information that only the user knows.

A simple way of thinking about knowledge factors is - it’s something the user knows.

Knowledge factor is one of the most commonly used authentication types and includes things such as:

  • Usernames and passwords
  • Personal identification numbers (PIN)
  • Answering security questions

While it is one of the most common authentication types, it’s important to remember that passwords are one of the weakest forms of authentication. That’s because replicating passwords across multiple apps is incredibly common and setting easy-to-remember, weak passwords is a habit for many users, too.

Knowledge factors are a good baseline for your authentication processes but should be bolstered by additional layers and authentication factors.

Possession factor

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Possession factor authentication requires the user to have access to something tangible, such as a mobile phone, or an authenticator app that generates a one-time password (OTP).

In this category, the authentication relies on something the user has.

Typically, the user will have a mobile device, smart cards, SIM cards, or other external hardware. The user may receive an OTP via text or email. It could also be something reminiscent of an actual key, like ownership of a fob key or security key.

Inherence factor

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One of the most secure authentication factors is inherence factors. Usually, this involves a user’s biometric data in the form of fingerprints, voice activation, or facial recognition.

Another way of thinking about the inherence factor is to consider something the user is.

Typically these factors are unique only to the authorized user and are generally considered to be one of the strongest forms of authentication. It’s growing in popularity, and its ease of use and heightened security will continue to make it more common in new tech and apps.

Types of authentication

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The most common example of the knowledge factor and the first type of authentication to look at is the password.

The user is required to memorize a password and then correctly enter the username and password combination in order to verify their identity. The simplicity of this authentication method does mean it isn’t the most secure option.

With the rise in cyberattacks and data breaches, more apps and companies are moving away from password-driven authentication. But that doesn’t need to make the process harder for the user.

That’s where other types of authentication come into play, including:

  • Token authentication: an authentication token is generated after a user signs in. This token allows the user to continue to use the app or platform again without the need to sign in. The token verifies the user’s identity rather than a sign-in credential.
  • Biometric authentication: this is an example of an inherence factor in action. Using biological factors unique to the user (such as fingerprints or retina scans) the system compares this real-time reading to the data previously stored. It’s convenient for the user and hard for hackers to replicate, too.
  • Certificate-based authentication (a.k.a. CBA): this type of authentication uses digital certificates to authenticate users. What makes this approach secure is the use of unique, private keys that are needed to gain access. CBA is a solution often used in cloud-based management systems.
  • Multi-factor authentication (a.k.a MFA): combining two or more authentication factors. For example, you may need to enter a username and a password and then confirm your identity with a face ID scan. This is generally one of the safest ways to authenticate as makes it nearly impossible for intruders to gain access to your platforms.
  • Passwordless authentication: this refers to any type of authentication that doesn’t need the user to enter a password. Instead, the user provides another form of identification. This could be a fingerprint scan, a real-time OTP, or a magic link, and is generally combined with single sign-on (SSO) and MFA to boost security.

Types of authentication at Kinde

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Here at Kinde we’re all about boosting security and creating an easy experience for users and companies alike.

No matter what platform or app you’re building, we offer a range of authentication methods that give you the control and flexibility you need to keep your software secure.

Rather than expecting the user to remember their password, passwordless authentication at Kinde combines the benefits of MFA with the security of email. Passwordless authentication sends a single-use code to the user’s email to verify their identity.

With such an influx of apps and platforms requiring authentication, it can be difficult for the user to remember which password corresponds to which account.

Passwordless authentication cuts out the expectation that the user will memorize the password, increasing ease of use.  It minimizes friction, speeds up sign-up, and protects against phishing and brute-force attacks.

Single Sign-On (SSO)

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This is when a third-party app or platform asks you to sign in using the credentials of one of your existing accounts. Like passwordless authentication, SSO allows users to sign in without memorizing a password or code and can streamline the sign-up process.

SSO makes the authentication process quick and reliable, benefiting users and companies.

Kinde’s social SSO allows users to access a new app with an existing account, such as a Google, Facebook, or Apple account, bypassing the need to sign up for a new account.

Supported by Microsoft Azure AD, Kinde’s enterprise-level SSO is a seamless and flexible way to tailor authorization and access.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

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To boost security, Kinde’s’ multi-factor authentication requires users to use a minimum of two authentication methods. For example, this could be a combination of password sign-in and verification codes or an authenticator app.

Cyber security has become a must for all digital platforms, and using robust authentication and authorization methods is key to keeping user data safe.

Kinde takes a serious approach to security. With best-in-class protocols, our approach to authentication is streamlined to boost engagement, conversions, and usability.

See how Kinde compares to other authentication providers.

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