Authentication is relevant to multiple fields. In art, antiques, and anthropology, a common problem is verifying that a given artifact was produced by a certain person or in a certain place or period of history. In computer science, verifying a user's identity is often required to allow access to confidential data or systems.
Authentication can be considered to be of three types:
The first type of authentication is accepting proof of identity given by a credible person who has first-hand evidence that the identity is genuine. When authentication is required of art or physical objects, this proof could be a friend, family member, or colleague attesting to the item's provenance, perhaps by having witnessed the item in its creator's possession. With autographed sports memorabilia, this could involve someone attesting that they witnessed the object being signed. A vendor selling branded items implies authenticity, while they may not have evidence that every step in the supply chain was authenticated. Centralized authority-based trust relationships back most secure internet communication through known public certificate authorities; decentralized peer-based trust, also known as a web of trust, is used for personal services such as email or files and trust is established by known individuals signing each other's cryptographic key for instance.
The second type of authentication is comparing the attributes of the object itself to what is known about objects of that origin. For example, an art expert might look for similarities in the style of painting, check the location and form of a signature, or compare the object to an old photograph. An
Attribute comparison may be vulnerable to forgery. In general, it relies on the facts that creating a forgery indistinguishable from a genuine artifact requires expert knowledge, that mistakes are easily made, and that the amount of effort required to do so is considerably greater than the amount of profit that can be gained from the forgery.
In art and antiques, certificates are of great importance for authenticating an object of interest and value. Certificates can, however, also be forged, and the authentication of these poses a problem. For instance, the son of Han van Meegeren, the well-known art-forger, forged the work of his father and provided a certificate for its provenance as well.
Currency and other financial instruments commonly use this second type of authentication method. Bills, coins, and cheques incorporate hard-to-duplicate physical features, such as fine printing or engraving, distinctive feel, watermarks, and holographic imagery, which are easy for trained receivers to verify.
The third type of authentication relies on documentation or other external affirmations. In criminal courts, the
In computer science, a user can be given access to secure systems based on user credentials that imply authenticity. A network administrator can give a user a password, or provide the user with a key card or other access devices to allow system access. In this case, authenticity is implied but not guaranteed.
The ways in which someone may be authenticated fall into three categories, based on what is known as the factors of authentication: something the user knows, something the user has, and something the user is. Each authentication factor covers a range of elements used to authenticate or verify a person's identity before being granted access, approving a transaction request, signing a document or other work product, granting authority to others, and establishing a chain of authority.
Security research has determined that for a positive authentication, elements from at least two, and preferably all three, factors should be verified. The three factors (classes) and some of the elements of each factor are:
- Knowledge: Something the user knows (e.g., a password, challenge–response (the user must answer a question or pattern), security question).
- Ownership: Something the user has (e.g., wrist band,
- Inherence: Something the user is or does (e.g., fingerprint, biometricidentifiers).
As the weakest level of authentication, only a single component from one of the three categories of factors is used to authenticate an individual's identity. The use of only one factor does not offer much protection from misuse or malicious intrusion. This type of authentication is not recommended for financial or personally relevant transactions that warrant a higher level of security.
Multi-factor authentication involves two or more authentication factors (something you know, something you have, or something you are). Two-factor authentication is a special case of multi-factor authentication involving exactly two factors.
For example, using a bank card (something the user has) along with a PIN (something the user knows) provides two-factor authentication. Business networks may require users to provide a password (knowledge factor) and a pseudorandom number from a security token (ownership factor). Access to a very-high-security system might require a mantrap screening of height, weight, facial, and fingerprint checks (several inherence factor elements) plus a PIN and a day code (knowledge factor elements), but this is still a two-factor authentication.
The United States government's National Information Assurance Glossary defines strong authentication as a layered authentication approach relying on two or more authenticators to establish the identity of an originator or receiver of information.
The European Central Bank (ECB) has defined strong authentication as "a procedure based on two or more of the three authentication factors". The factors that are used must be mutually independent and at least one factor must be "non-reusable and non-replicable", except in the case of an inherence factor and must also be incapable of being stolen off the Internet. In the European, as well as in the US-American understanding, strong authentication is very similar to multi-factor authentication or 2FA, but exceeding those with more rigorous requirements.
Conventional computer systems authenticate users only at the initial log-in session, which can be the cause of a critical security flaw. To resolve this problem, systems need continuous user authentication methods that continuously monitor and authenticate users based on some biometric trait(s). A study used behavioural biometrics based on writing styles as a continuous authentication method.
Recent research has shown the possibility of using smartphones sensors and accessories to extract some behavioral attributes such as touch dynamics,
The term digital authentication, also known as electronic authentication or e-authentication, refers to a group of processes where the confidence for user identities is established and presented via electronic methods to an information system. The digital authentication process creates technical challenges because of the need to authenticate individuals or entities remotely over a network. The American National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a generic model for digital authentication that describes the processes that are used to accomplish secure authentication:
- Enrollment – an individual applies to a credential service provider (CSP) to initiate the enrollment process. After successfully proving the applicant's identity, the CSP allows the applicant to become a subscriber.
- Authentication – After becoming a subscriber, the user receives an authenticator e.g., a token and credentials, such as a user name. He or she is then permitted to perform online transactions within an authenticated session with a relying party, where they must provide proof that he or she possesses one or more authenticators.
- Life-cycle maintenance – the CSP is charged with the task of maintaining the user's credential over the course of its lifetime, while the subscriber is responsible for maintaining his or her authenticator(s).
The authentication of information can pose special problems with electronic communication, such as vulnerability to man-in-the-middle attacks, whereby a third party taps into the communication stream, and poses as each of the two other communicating parties, in order to intercept information from each. Extra identity factors can be required to authenticate each party's identity.
Counterfeit products are often offered to consumers as being authentic.
In their anti-counterfeiting technology guide,
Products or their packaging can include a variable
A secure key storage device can be used for authentication in consumer electronics, network authentication, license management, supply chain management, etc. Generally, the device to be authenticated needs some sort of wireless or wired digital connection to either a host system or a network. Nonetheless, the component being authenticated need not be electronic in nature as an authentication chip can be mechanically attached and read through a connector to the host e.g. an authenticated ink tank for use with a printer. For products and services that these secure coprocessors can be applied to, they can offer a solution that can be much more difficult to counterfeit than most other options while at the same time being more easily verified.
Packaging and labeling can be engineered to help reduce the risks of counterfeit consumer goods or the theft and resale of products. Some package constructions are more difficult to copy and some have pilfer indicating seals. Counterfeit goods, unauthorized sales (diversion), material substitution and tampering can all be reduced with these anti-counterfeiting technologies. Packages may include authentication seals and use security printing to help indicate that the package and contents are not counterfeit; these too are subject to counterfeiting. Packages also can include anti-theft devices, such as dye-packs, RFID tags, or electronic article surveillance tags that can be activated or detected by devices at exit points and require specialized tools to deactivate. Anti-counterfeiting technologies that can be used with packaging include:
- Taggant fingerprinting – uniquely coded microscopic materials that are verified from a database
- Encrypted micro-particles – unpredictably placed markings (numbers, layers and colors) not visible to the human eye
- Holograms– graphics printed on seals, patches, foils or labels and used at the point of sale for visual verification
- Micro-printing – second-line authentication often used on currencies
- Serialized barcodes
- UV printing – marks only visible under UV light
- Track and trace systems – use codes to link products to the database tracking system
- Water indicators – become visible when contacted with water
- DNA tracking – genes embedded onto labels that can be traced
- Color-shifting ink or film – visible marks that switch colors or texture when tilted
- Tamper evidentseals and tapes – destructible or graphically verifiable at point of sale
- 2d barcodes – data codes that can be tracked
- RFID chips
- A difficult-to-reproduce physical artifact, such as a
- A shared secret, such as a passphrase, in the content of the message.
- An public-key infrastructureis often used to cryptographically guarantee that a message has been signed by the holder of a particular private key.
The opposite problem is the detection of plagiarism, where information from a different author is passed off as a person's own work. A common technique for proving plagiarism is the discovery of another copy of the same or very similar text, which has different attribution. In some cases, excessively high quality or a style mismatch may raise suspicion of plagiarism.
Literacy and literature authentication
In literacy, authentication is a readers’ process of questioning the veracity of an aspect of literature and then verifying those questions via research. The fundamental question for authentication of literature is – Does one believe it? Related to that, an authentication project is therefore a reading and writing activity in which students document the relevant research process (). It builds students' critical literacy. The documentation materials for literature go beyond narrative texts and likely include informational texts, primary sources, and multimedia. The process typically involves both internet and hands-on library research. When authenticating historical fiction in particular, readers consider the extent that the major historical events, as well as the culture portrayed (e.g., the language, clothing, food, gender roles), are believable for the period.
History and state-of-the-art
Historically, fingerprints have been used as the most authoritative method of authentication, but court cases in the US and elsewhere have raised fundamental doubts about fingerprint reliability.
In a computer data context, cryptographic methods have been developed which are not spoofable if the originator's key has not been compromised. That the originator (or anyone other than an attacker) knows (or doesn't know) about a compromise is irrelevant. However, it is not known whether these cryptographically based authentication methods are provably secure, since unanticipated mathematical developments may make them vulnerable to attack in the future. If that were to occur, it may call into question much of the authentication in the past. In particular, a digitally signed contract may be questioned when a new attack on the cryptography underlying the signature is discovered.
The process of authorization is distinct from that of authentication. Whereas authentication is the process of verifying that "you are who you say you are", authorization is the process of verifying that "you are permitted to do what you are trying to do". While authorization often happens immediately after authentication (e.g., when logging into a computer system), this does not mean authorization presupposes authentication: an anonymous agent could be authorized to a limited action set.
One familiar use of authentication and authorization is access control. A computer system that is supposed to be used only by those authorized must attempt to detect and exclude the unauthorized. Access to it is therefore usually controlled by insisting on an authentication procedure to establish with some degree of confidence the identity of the user, granting privileges established for that identity.
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