Authentication methods allow you to manage user access to your business network and stop unauthorized users from accessing your resources and sensitive data.
The number of businesses subjected to cyberattacks is on the rise globally, and small to medium businesses (SMBs) are no exception. In fact, over 45% of SMBs have fallen victim to cybercrime in the last year.
You may think your business is too small to think about cybersecurity, but the numbers tell a different story:
❌ Around 28% of all cybersecurity breaches in the last year have involved a small business.
❌ These small business attacks hit companies with less than 1,000 employees.
❌ About 27% of all small businesses are unsure whether they have insurance coverage for cyberthreats.
❌ Over 50% of data breaches are a result of employee error.
❌ More than 95% of SMB cyber attacks are motivated by monetary gain.
Perhaps what is most jarring about these statistics is that only 14% of small businesses are prepared to face attacks. If you’re not one of these, it is time to take steps toward protecting your organization against cyberthreats.
One of the simplest ways to secure your business against cybercrime is to implement network authentication methods.
In this article, we will cover:
- What authentication methods are.
- The different types of authentications you can use in your SMB.
- How GoodAccess uses authentication to keep your business safe.
Table of contents
What Are User Authentication Methods?
Authentication is how your employees are identified and verified when they want to access your business resources.
Your business resources include:
- Software and applications.
The main goal behind authentication is to ensure a user is who they say they are.
There are a variety of technologies available to help authenticate users who are attempting to access your business resources.
Authentication methods involve using a form of credentials—like a username or password—to help determine the identity of a user.
However, these technologies span further than the simple use of passwords. More sophisticated authentication methods now exist to help protect your business resources.
How does authentication work?
Authentication is how a network, for example, confirms a user’s identity.
When an employee wants to gain access to your network, they will need to provide proof of their identity in the form of a username.
Your network will then cross-check the username against a list of authorized users saved in the system to ensure they have permission to access the network.
However, the process of providing a username to authenticate identity is not enough to protect your network from unauthorized access. If a hacker gets hold of an employee’s username, they can access your network and attempt a data breach against your business.
This is where authentication becomes useful. It requires an additional step that verifies both your employee’s identity and that they own the username they’ve provided.
Authentication in the real world
You can imagine authentication as being invited to an exclusive event. At the door, your name must appear on the guest list to gain access to the venue.
However, having your name on the list is not enough.
You must also verify that you are the owner of the listed name by showing the doorman your ID card or another form of identification that proves you are who you say you are.
What makes user authentication important for SMBs?
None of your business resources are safe if they do not require some type of authentication to verify users.
A system that is not protected by an authentication method can be accessed by anyone and could result in your sensitive data being compromised.
If your authentication process is not up to scratch, it becomes easy for hackers to:
- Access your business resources.
- Steal your data and demand a ransom for the safe return of this data.
- Leak your private information to the public.
- Cripple your systems and operations.
99% efficiency against phishing attacks
Experts from Google have said that enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA), which we will explain shortly, can block 100% of cyberattacks attempted by automated bots, 99% of bulk phishing attacks, and 66% of targeted attacks.
Why you need user authentication for remote teams
Authentication is extremely useful if you have remote employees who need to access your business resources from a location outside your physical office.
You want your sensitive data to remain private even though you have teams working in different geographical locations.
Requiring authentication before a user can gain access to your corporate network remotely is an efficient way to ensure privacy and security, while also allowing your employees the flexibility of remote work.
What are the three types of authentication?
Although there are multiple common authentication methods that your business can use to protect your resources and data, these methods are usually categorized into three types, namely:
👉 Knowledge-based authentication: This is something that a user would know, such as a PIN code.
👉 Property-based authentication: The user would need something like an access card, key, or device to access your system.
👉 Behavioral biometric authentication: This type of authentication relies on a physical trait that is unique to a user, such as their fingerprint, retina, or their voice.
6 Authentication Methods to Protect Your Business
Now that you know more about how authentication works and why it is crucial to keep your business secure against cyberthreats, let us unpack six of the most common authentication methods that you can use to protect your organization.
#1: Password authentication
This is the most basic type of authentication technology available today. Password-based authentication, which falls under the knowledge-based type of authentication, is when a user requires a PIN or password to identify themselves.
Password authentication involves a user providing a password, a secret code, after entering their username to gain access to your business.
While this is the most popular type of authentication, it is also the easiest method for hackers to abuse.
When it comes to password authentication, your employees will often reuse the same password over and over, or they’ll create passwords that are easy to guess.
Employees may also be tempted to simplify their passwords if they have to enter one for every application and device in your business system.
Reusing a password on multiple systems or creating one that is easy to guess opens your business up to security threats.
Cybercriminals can run programs that quickly test thousands of possible passwords. They will gain access to your network if they guess the right one.
To reduce the risk of a username and password being compromised, you can:
✅ Implement strict password policies that include using complex passwords and not—accidentally or intentionally—sharing usernames and passwords with anyone else.
✅ Require your employees to use password managers.
✅ Train employees on how to create and use passwords safely.
✅ Require employees to change their passwords regularly.
✅ Use more advanced authentication methods—like the ones identified below.
#2: Two-factor authentication (2FA)
Two-factor authentication—also known as multifactor authentication—is when an employee is required to provide at least one other identifier in addition to a password.
An example of two-factor authentication would be to provide a unique PIN sent via SMS or email before being allowed to log into a software application.
Out-of-band authentication is a type of two-factor authentication that requires the second factor to be provided on a different channel from the original device.
A channel could be an email or text message, but it could also mean a device like a smartphone or a laptop.
If an employee needs to access your software on a laptop, out-of-band authentication would require the second authentication factor to be provided by a cell phone, for example.
Withdrawing cash at an ATM
Bank users must provide both a PIN code and their bank card at an ATM if they want to perform a transaction linked to their account.
➡️ The PIN code serves as a single-factor authentication, much like a username and password.
➡️ The physical bank card is an additional authentication factor that must be provided. This card would represent the second channel required.
It is worth noting that hackers may be able to access your email accounts, for example, to steal the second authentication factor. For this reason, 2FA is not an airtight security solution for your business, and you may want to consider additional types of authentication like the ones that follow.
#3: Biometric authentication
Your biometrics are something that only you have, like your fingerprint. No other person in this world shares this unique identifier.
This is what makes biometric authentication so powerful and harder to hack, as only the authorized user can provide a biometric identifier.
Some common biometric authentication methods include:
👍 Fingerprints: Fingerprint authentication involves scanning a user’s fingerprint to authenticate their identity.
👨 Facial recognition: This type of biometric authentication is when the characteristics of a user’s face are used to identify them.
👀 Retina scans: This is when the iris or retina of a user’s eye is scanned with infrared technology.
🗣 Behavioral biometric authentication: This is based on how a user speaks, types, or walks. An example of this is the voice recognition technology built into our smartphones.
Believe it or not, this authentication method can also be hacked. For example, older devices may store a static image that can be easily misappropriated by a cybercriminal.
#4 Single sign-on (SSO)
If you have multiple systems, servers, networks, and software programs that you need your employees to access with an authentication method, single sign-on might be your best option.
Single-sign-on gives employees a single set of credentials that they can use to access your business resources. They only need to enter their credentials once to get access to multiple systems.
#5: Token-based authentication
This authentication method requires your employees to use a designated physical device to access your business resources.
This token authentication device can be a:
- Security key.
- Dongle that gets inserted into a computer’s USB port.
- Smart card containing a radio-frequency identification chip.
- Regular smart card.
- Digital token—which is a device that generates a unique code.
The benefits of using token-based authentication include not having to use passwords or facing the risks of having user credentials stolen.
However, if a hacker were to steal a token authentication device, they would get access to your business systems easily. You would need to act cautiously and keep track of these devices to ensure they are not stolen.
#6: Certificate-based authentication
One of the more common authentication methods businesses use today is called certificate-based authentication.
This authentication method uses digital certificates and public key cryptography to authenticate an employee’s identity.
Digital certificate: A digital document that contains information, much like a driver’s license or passport.
Public key cryptography: This involves a pair of key, a public key and a private key, which are associated with a user that needs to be authenticated. The public key is published, while the private key is stored virtually.
Your employee’s device will have a digital certificate that verifies its identity, which then functions as the employee’s private key to gain access to the system.
This is one of the most secure authentication methods out there, as the certificates are difficult for hackers to forge, and the process involved in verifying the certificate is automated.
How GoodAccess Uses Authentication Technologies to Keep Your Business Safe
When you use a cloud business virtual private network (VPN) like GoodAccess, you will be given the option to use authentication methods for access management. This puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing your cybersecurity.
This is just one of the many layers of security our VPN provides your business.
User access can be controlled using two-factor authentication each time an employee logs into your GoodAccess account.
GoodAccess is also configured to form part of your SSO authentication. Logging in with a third-party identity provider (Okta, MS Azure, Google, JumpCloud, or SAML.) will be easy for your employees. They will automatically be added to your GoodAccess team of users when they first log in.
Wrapping Up on Types of Authentication
Of the different types of authentication that we have discussed above, there is no one perfect solution for all SMBs. However, it is important to understand that you must use some form of user authentication within your organization to keep your business resources and data secure.
Now that you know more about the various types of authentication, you can make an informed decision as to which methods to use within your company.
If you want to take control of access management within your organization, using a cloud business VPN like GoodAccess is the perfect solution.
Our VPN is designed to help you manage who accesses your resources and data, and to keep track of user activity.
Sign up for a free, full-feature GoodAccess trial to find out how we are helping businesses worldwide to keep their data safe from cyberthreats.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the most popular authentication protocols?
Popular authentication protocols include:
- Extensible authentication protocol (EAP).
- Lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP).
- Password authentication protocol (PAP).
- Challenge-handshake authentication protocol (CHAP).
What is the most secure authentication method?
All authentication methods have their benefits, and some are more secure than others.
Using a username and password alone, for example, is not enough to secure your business.
The most secure authentication method is to combine multiple authentication methods to create the best possible defense against cybercrime.
What is a password authentication protocol (PAP)?
This process involves sending authentication data between a client and a server. An authentication protocol is how the server verifies the user.
Password authentication protocol (PAP) is used if the server cannot manage stronger protocols.
However, because PAP sends usernames and passwords in plaintext during the authentication process, it is easier for hackers to access these details.