Which password authentication method works best for businesses?
Every day, it seems another company falls victim to a data breach. Hackers are using increasingly sophisticated techniques, which is why it has become so crucial that businesses have robust security measures in place. The key aim of a secure system is to certify that only authorized users can gain access—in other words, your security measures should allow legitimate users in and keep cybercriminals out.
Password authentication methods can assist with access management by providing MSPs with extra layers of protection. In order to choose the right password authentication methods for your MSP and your customers, it’s important to understand the differences between them. This article will explain how each of the main password authentication methods work and compare the advantages of various password authentication methods to help you make an informed decision.
Common password authentication methods
A diverse range of authentication methods have been developed in recent years, including two-factor authentication, biometrics, CAPTCHAs, and many more. Here is a list of the most common password authentication methods, with a brief explanation of how each one can work for your customers.
1. Standard password authentication
This is the most basic form of authentication that everyone will be familiar with. Standard password authentication involves a user entering their username, accompanied by a secret code or passphrase that allows them to gain access to a network, account, or application. In theory, if a password is kept private and secure, unauthorized access will be prevented. In practice, however, even securely stored passwords are vulnerable to hacking. Cybercriminals use programs that try thousands of potential passwords, allowing them to gain access when the correct password is attempted.
To reduce the risk of a password being compromised, users should choose passwords with a combination of both letters (uppercase and lowercase), numbers, and symbols. A strong password should not use words found in the dictionary and should be at least eight characters in length. Users should have a unique password for each of their accounts—but this can often make remembering all their passwords a challenge. A secure password manager or password management software can help with this, storing your passwords under a single master password for optimal security.
2. Two-factor authentication (2FA)
Two-factor authentication, or a form of multi-factor authentication, builds on top of passwords to create a more robust security solution. Two-factor authentication requires you to authenticate yourself via something you know and something you have. A password serves as “something you know,” and the possession of a specific physical object such as a smartphone serves as “something you have.” ATMs were an early system to use two-factor authentication because they require both the insertion of a debit card and a PIN.
In computer security, two-factor authentication usually requires the user to enter their username, a password, and a one-time code that has been sent to a physical device. The device might be sent to your cell phone via text message or might be generated using a mobile application. Two-factor authentication is a great option for MSPs and other businesses because it adds an additional layer of security that is very difficult for hackers to crack. Even if a hacker were able to guess your password, it would be unlikely that they could also simultaneously gain access to the one-time code sent to your device.
3. Token authentication
If you prefer not to rely on mobile phones, you might instead use a token authentication system. Token systems use a purpose-built physical device to deliver two-factor authentication. This could be a dongle that is inserted into your device’s USB port, or perhaps a smart card with radio frequency identification or near-field communication chip.
To keep a token system secure, it is crucial that you ensure that your physical authentication device (i.e., dongle or smart card) does not fall into the wrong hands. Token-based systems are generally more expensive than other password authentication methods because they require you to purchase purpose-built hardware for each of your users. They are, however, very secure, and more cost-effective options are entering the market as time goes on.
4. Biometric authentication
Biometric authentication has become increasingly popular—and you’re likely already familiar with it, as it’s commonly featured on smartphone devices as well as some laptops. Biometrics rely on a user’s physical characteristics to identify them. For example, biometric authentication might make use of fingerprints, retinal or iris scans, or facial and voice recognition. This is a highly secure form of authentication because no two individuals will have the same physical characteristics. Biometric authentication is an effective way of knowing precisely who is logging into the system.
Another advantage of biometric authentication is that it doesn’t require users to have a card, dongle, or cell phone to hand. They don’t even necessarily need to remember their password. However, it is worth noting that biometric systems are more secure when paired with a password.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to biometrics systems. Firstly, they are very expensive to install and require specialized equipment like retinal scanners or fingerprint readers. There are also concerns regarding the privacy of biometric systems. Some users balk at the prospect of sharing their biometric information with a company. As such, biometric authentication systems are most common in environments that require the highest level of security, like the intelligence and defense sectors.
5. Computer recognition authentication
Computer recognition is a password authentication method that verifies a user’s legitimacy by checking that they are on a particular device. These systems install a small software plug-in on the user’s device the first time they successfully login. This plug-in contains a cryptographic device marker. When the user next logs in, the marker is checked to make sure they are on the same, trusted device.
This system is invisible to the user and doesn’t require any additional authentication actions from them. They simply enter their username and password as usual, and verification happens automatically. The disadvantage of this authentication method is that it can be cumbersome when users switch devices. To maintain a high level of security, computer recognition authentication systems must enable logins from new devices using other forms of verification (i.e., two-factor authentication with a code delivered via SMS).
CAPTCHAs do not focus on verifying a particular user, as the other methods listed in this article do. Instead, CAPTCHAs aim to determine whether a user is human, to prevent computer-driven attempts to break into accounts such as brute force attacks. The CAPTCHA system displays a distorted image of letters and numbers, or pictures, and asks the user to type in what they see. Because computers and bots struggle to identify these distortions correctly, CAPTCHAs enhance security by creating an additional barrier to automated hacking systems.
These systems can, however, still cause problems—individuals with disabilities, such as blindness, may not be able to pass a CAPTCHA test. Even non-disabled individuals sometimes have trouble with CAPTCHA, which can cause frustration and delays.
A Password manager with built-in authentication methods
SolarWinds® Passportal™ is a password manager and access management tool built specifically for MSPs. This password management software helps you make the most of the advantages of password authentication, helping you achieve the following:
- Manage risk around credentials
- Shorten incident resolution times
- Demonstrate compliance for the creation, usage, and storage of credentials
- Share privileged customer knowledge across your technicians
- Maintain consistent service delivery for your customers
Passportal is built with security in mind, and stores credentials and knowledge in an encrypted vault, protected by multi-factor authentication and Touch ID (biometric) authentication. The vault also utilizes role-based permissions to ensure that users have the correct permissions to access specific passwords.
As this article has demonstrated, there are multiple factors to consider when selecting the right password authentication methods for your customers. We recommend two-factor authentication for MSPs, because it achieves high security and cost-efficiency, without requiring too much effort from your customers.
The best way to take advantage of password authentication methods is to employ a password management tool with authentication methods built in for ease. SolarWinds Passportal delivers enterprise-grade password management software with support for two-factor authentication, self-service password resets, and Touch ID authentication. To learn more, schedule a demo of Passportal today.