Small Business Tips

What level of authentication does your business need?

Brian Van Buren

Workplace security is always important. As workplaces become more interconnected and information needs to be accessible as well as secure, a simple password may not be enough to secure your business. You need to determine the level of authentication that your business requires.

What is authentication?

In the security world, authentication is the process of verifying a person or device.  A common example is using a username and password to log into a website. Entering the correct information lets the website know who the user is and if they have access rights.

There are several points where authentication happens in a secure workplace. Entrance to the workplace is usually restricted; a key or ID badge is usually needed for entry. Sometimes, dedicated security guards are part of the security system.

A username and password is commonly used to access a computer. Access to work emails or cloud storage may require additional authentication, especially if it occurs off-site.

As people do more remote work, and use personal devices to access secure materials, cyber security becomes even more important. A robust authentication system can be the difference between a secure connection and a data breach.

There are three types of authentication used in security procedures. They are something the authenticator knows or has in their possession in order to complete the authentication.

  • Something that you know: These include things like usernames, passwords, PIN, and answers to security questions.
  • Something that you have: These are physical items like badges with RFID chips, smart cards, or smartphones.
  • Something that you are: This covers biometric data, like fingerprints and voice or facial recognition.

In addition to the types of authentication, there is also different levels of authentication. These include normal, two-factor, and multi-factor authentication. In two-factor and multi-factor authentication, all authentication steps must occur in order to get access.

  • Normal authentication: This requires only one type of authentication. Using a PIN to unlock a smartphone is an example of normal authentication.
  • Two-Factor Authentication: This occurs when you use more than one type of authentication. A debit card with a smart chip that also require a PIN is a common usage of two-factor identification.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication: This uses multiple types of authentication, sometimes several times. A computer that requires a username, password, and facial recognition to unlock would be an example of multi-factor authentication.

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What is adaptive authentication?

Adaptive authentication is a way that two-factor or multi-factor authentication is configured and deployed. It adapts the type of authentication to the user’s situation.

Depending upon user history and the risk level of the activity, adaptive authentication changes the level as needed. It can change between normal, two-factor or even multi-factor authentication as the situation dictates.

As an example, to enter an office, there may be only one level of authentication needed. Accessing a dedicated personal workstation at an office is a common situation. This is a low-risk situation, so authentication using only a password is acceptable.

In a high-risk setting, such as using an internet connection from a remote location, multiple factors are needed. Not only would a password be necessary, but also a one-time code sent through a smartphone app. Having multiple layers of authentication makes it more likely that the person attempting access is who they claim to be.

Adaptive authentication takes the next step, deciding how much authentication to use based on the risk factors and user history. It uses various factors to determine risks, such as the IP address and geolocation of the access point.

User history is also part of the authentication process. If a user regularly logs in from home, then that IP address is recorded and recognized. The same level of authentication used at the office may be appropriate at home.

Adaptive authentication can also escalate the authentication requirements if needed. If an IP address and geolocation do not match, that raises a red flag. The security system might then add a one-time use code to the process to verify identity.

Many users like adaptive authentication because it balances security and usability. It makes it easy to authenticate in safer circumstances, and it also teaches users which situations are risky. If it takes multiple authentication factors to complete an action, it’s obvious that there is a lot of risk involved.

What level of authentication do I need?

All businesses need some level of authentication to protect themselves. Whether you are protecting a physical location, a computer network, or a global eCommerce website, you will need authentication.

The level of authentication depends on several factors. Something as simple as entry becomes more complicated the greater the number of visitors the location has. You may need keys for a small number of workers, or ID badges for large number.

When dealing with digital security, the number of factors increases dramatically. The simplest case is a small workplace with a small computer network. A simple username and password may be enough to cover authentication.

If you store or access large amounts of shared data over the internet, then additional layers of authentication are needed. This is also the case if remote work is a regular part of your business. The access environment is an important factor in deciding the authentication level.

If using personal devices to access secure information, then you will need to understand the properties of those devices. Using two-factor or multi-factor authentication might be necessary for these situations.

One of the best aspects of adaptive authentication is that the system decided the level of authentication needed. You don’t need to spend time worrying about authentication procedures when the system picks the right one for you.

Is authentication important for my business?

Regardless of the type of business you run, a security plan is paramount in keeping you safe. In the world of digital security, it is important to determine what level of authentication your business needs. Hopefully, this article has given you a starting point in determining what level of authentication your business needs.

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