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Authentication VS Authorization: Functions, Types & Differences

authentication vs authorization

Figure Out Authentication vs Authorization difference where Authentication allows users to confirm their identity while Authorization is the process of allowing users to access certain resources.

Digital security has varied technical terms which have different functionalities and processes. This confuses many web owners though some are aware of the exact meaning and functions of these terminologies. 

Two such words which have confusing synonyms are authentication and Authorization. 

Though both of them are used by web owners to secure their systems and networks, there is a vast difference between the two. Their role-play in securing site data and web apps are also different. 

Hence, knowing how one differs from the other is pivotal before implementing the same. 

But, before we move to find their differences, let’s check out their functionalities and how each one is clubbed with the other to secure your network.

What is Authentication (AuthN)?

what is authentication

The authentication process confirms the user’s identity. The foremost step in digital security is to validate the identity of the user. The same is done by giving identity proof to the authentication platform.

Authentication Types:

  • Identity proof can be in the form of a username and password, key, passcode, PIN, DOB, social security number, face scan, etc., or any other proof which confirms user identity.
  • Usually, passwords are commonly used to authenticate identities before granting access to networks and systems. Once the system confirms the same, they grant access. 
  • Ever heard of 2FA (two-factor authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication)? These are stricter methods of authentication since they have additional security levels, which go much beyond passwords to confirm the user identity before granting access. 

Example: a password and an OTP number to be punched before gaining system access.

Authentication Factors:

  • What you know: This is the feeblest factor since people can instantly guess what you know (password, PIN, etc.) to authenticate themselves. 
  • What you have: This is stronger than the above factor, but much more secure since people can steal what you have (key, swipe card, etc.) and authenticate themselves.
  • What you are: This is the strongest factor, which can neither be stolen nor guessed (facial scan, fingerprint, etc.) and hence used in the majority of the cases.

What is Authorization (AuthZ)?

what is authorization

Authorization is a process in which an authenticated user gains authority to access a website, network, or web application. 

Though this term is used along with authentication, it’s a grave mistake, because Authorization always comes after authentication, i.e., once the user has confirmed their identity, they are authorized and permitted to access, or enter the same.

But permissions are defined by organizations and not all are granted entries, though they are authorized.

Example: 

In an office, you may have permission to access varied apps, but rights to the admin apps are restricted to the IT team only. 

So, authorization is defined by the organization which decides what you can access and what you can’t.

Types of Authorizations:

  • User-based Access Control Lists (ACL): Authorizes access to users as per their needs. They deny access depending on user authorization levels.
  • OAuth: Open authorization as you name it is commonly used to authorize internet visitors to grant access to site information, without the use of passwords.
  • JSON Web Token (JWT): JWT uses private/public key pairs for authorization purposes.

The IT team ensures that both these security processes are implemented so that the organization’s security stays top-notch. 

When both these securities are clubbed and configured, they help in patching the security loopholes and in ensuring a secured network.

Authentication VS Authorization:

authentication vs authorization

Though both the above-stated terms sound similar and they work hand-in-hand, there are many differences. Let’s check them out:

Authentication Authorization
What does it Do? validates user identity based on the credentials. Access can be denied in case of any suspicions
How does it Work? uses passwords, OTP codes, PINs, etc. for validating user identity. given via settings by the organization or the IT team
User Visibility The credentials are known and visible to the user The user is ignorant of the same and their settings are not visible to them
Possibility of Changes  the changes can be done, i.e., passwords and other codes can be changed. After identity verification, employees can access data. the chances of change are nil. i.e., authorization of internal software codes and other critical data is usually denied to employees
Data Transfer

 

done via ID tokens done via access tokens
Types

 

passwords, 2FA, Captcha test, MFA, etc. OAuth, permissions, user access, etc.
Confirmation

 

Authentication confirms user identity.

 

Authorization verifies user access.

 

Hierarchy

 

Authentication comes 1st in the identification and access management process.

 

The authorization follows authentication and is 2nd in the security process.

 

Governed By

 

OpenID Connect (OIDC) protocol. OAuth 2.0 framework.

Wrapping Up:

Both of them confirm identity though for different reasons, one for verification purposes, whereas the other for granting access makes both of them a great security solution. 

A secured digital strategy with both these processes in place helps organizations to verify the users, validate and grant them access, thus preventing intruder-access into the networks. 

The digital world needs both these security processes since they are pivotal for your business in enhancing productivity, security, revenue, and business reputation.

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