September 4, 2019

Authentication vs Authorization vs Encryption: What's the Difference?

 

Authentication, authorization, encryption...tomato, tomahto, right? 

Wrong. 

All three are related to your digital security, but they each handle a slightly different aspect of security. 

And if you want to prevent a security breach (or prevent one from happening again) you need to know what they are and how to use them. Otherwise, you're leaving your system open to attack. 

Here's what you need to know about authentication, authorization, and encryption. 

Authentication

You've probably heard of multi-factor authentication, a.k.a. that thing your employees and management love to complain about every single time they try to access information on your server. 

But multi-factor authentication actually helps you understand how regular authentication works. 

Basically, authentication is the process of confirming a user's identity. It begins the moment a user tries to access information. 

The easiest way for a computer system to do this is to check a user's credentials (i.e. username and password) and verify whether those credentials are cleared to access the requested information. 

First, the system asks you to establish your identity. The simplest way to do this is to provide the username and password uniquely assigned to them. Then, the system uses various factors to validate your identity. The trick is that hackers can bypass a username and password combination. 

This is why we have two-factor or multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication is the most sophisticated form of authentication, requiring two or more independent identity categories. 

Authorization

Authorization is the next stage in the process. 

If authentication is your key to open the door, authorization determines what doors your key can open. In the case of a computer system, this means things like files, databases, restricted information, etc. 

However, authorization only grants access to resources after determining your ability to access the system and to what extent you're allowed to do so. 

Authorization is a bit more complex than authentication because it can be applied on a more granular level. Your identity could be included in a group of identities that share a common authorization policy. 

The easiest example of this is a company with varying levels of employee security clearance. One employee, a brand new junior hire, may only be authorized to access basic information or certain floors. Senior employees working on restricted projects have a much higher authorization level. 

Encryption

Finally, there's encryption. 

If authentication opens the door and authorization determines what doors you're allowed to open, encryption is about protecting data. 

In its simplest form, encryption is the process of encoding data to make it scrambled and unintelligible. This would render the data useless to anyone who isn't allowed to access it. 

Typically, encrypted data is paired with an encryption key, which is a unique collection of algorithms. Only those with an encryption key can access encrypted data, as the encryption key unscrambles the data to make it useable. 

Encryption works hand-in-hand with authentication and authorization in data security. Your access levels (authorization) determine what data you're allowed to view. Your access levels are attached to your unique identity, which must be verified (authentication) before you can access data. 

Once your identity is verified and your access is determined, the system can apply the appropriate encryption key. 

Ready to Protect Your Data?

Authentication, authorization, and encryption work together to protect your data. 

But in order to keep your system safe, you need the right tools to enact them. That's where we come in. 

Want to find out how we can strengthen your data security? Use our contact page to get in touch. 

multifactor authentication encryption authorization