Identification, Authentication, Authorization – What’s The Difference

Unauthorized access is one of the most dangerous prevailing risks that threatens the digital world. It leads to dire consequences such as ransomware, data breaches, or password leaks. According to according to Symantec, more than 4,800 websites are compromised every month by formjacking. For most data breaches, factors such as broken authentication and broken access control are responsible, necessitating  robust data protection products and strong access control mechanisms such as identification, authentication, and authorization to ensure high levels of security checks.

Access control ensures that only identified, authenticated, and authorized users are able to access resources. But even though it has become a mainstream security procedure that most organizations follow, some of us still remain confused about the difference between identification, authentication, authorization. 

The three concepts are closely related, but in order for them to be effective, it’s important to understand how they are different from each other.

What is Identification?

When a user (or other individual) claims an identity, it’s called identification. A username, process ID, smart card, or anything else that may uniquely identify a subject or person can be used for identification. Security systems use this method of identification to determine whether or not an individual has permission to access an object.


Identification entails knowing who someone is even if they refuse to cooperate.

Surveillance systems, fingerprints, and DNA samples are some of the resources that can be used to identify an individual. On the other hand, the digital world uses device fingerprinting or other biometrics for the same purpose. Individuals can also be identified online by their writing style, keystrokes, or how they play computer games.

All in all, the act of specifying someone’s identity is known as identification.

Why Is User Identification Important?

Personal identification refers to the process of associating a specific person with a specific identity. It is considered an important process because it addresses certain concerns about an individual, such as “Is the person who he/she claims to be?”, “Has this person been here before?”, or “Should this individual be allowed access to our system?”

Identification is beneficial for organizations since it:

  • Can be easily integrated into various systems
  • Is inexpensive
  • Serves as a deterrent to imposters

Types of Identification

To identify a person, an identification document such as an identity card (a.k.a. IC, ID card, citizen card), or passport card (if issued in a small, conventional credit card size format) can be used. Some countries also issue formal identity documents such as national identification cards, which may be required or optional, while others may rely upon regional identification or informal documents to confirm an identity.

Some other acceptable forms of identification include:

  1. Something a Person Knows: A password, PIN, mother’s maiden name, or lock combination. Authenticating a person using something they already know is probably the simplest option, but one of the least secure. 
  2. Something a Person Has: A key, swipe card, access card, or badge are all examples of items that a person may own. This method is commonly used to gain access to facilities like banks and offices, but it might also be used to gain access to sensitive locations or verify system credentials. This is also a simple option, but these items are easy to steal.
  3. Something a Person Is: An individual’s biometrics are uniquely theirs, and cannot be lost or stolen. Using biometrics to identify someone is the most accurate and secure option.

What is Authentication?

Authentication is the process of verifying one’s identity, and it takes place when subjects present suitable credentials to do so. When a user enters the right password with a username, for example, the password verifies that the user is the owner of the username. In a nutshell, authentication establishes the validity of a claimed identity.

In a username-password secured system, the user must submit valid credentials to gain access to the system. It not only helps keep the system safe from unknown third-party attacks, but also helps preserve user privacy, which if breached can lead to legal issues.


Based on the number of identification or authentication elements the user gives, the authentication procedure can classified into the following tiers:

  • Single-Factor Authentication
  • Two-Factor Authentication
  • Multi-Factor Authentication

Why is User Authentication Important?

Authentication assists organizations in securing their networks by allowing only authenticated users (or processes) to access protected resources, such as computer systems, networks, databases, websites, and other network-based applications or services.

User Authentication provides several benefits:

  • Theft Prevention: The basic goal of an access control system is to limit access to protect user identities from being stolen or changed. Many websites that require personal information for their services, particularly those that require credit card information or a person’s Social Security number, are required by law or regulations to have an access control mechanism in place.
  • Levels of Security: Modern control systems have evolved in conjunction with technological advancements. A person who wishes to keep information secure has more options than just a four-digit PIN and password. Locks with biometric scanning, for example, can now be fitted to home and office points of entry. 

Methods of Authentication

Cybercriminals are constantly refining their system attacks. As a result, security teams are dealing with a slew of ever-changing authentication issues. This is why businesses are beginning to deploy more sophisticated plans that include authentication. Some of the most frequent authentication methods used to protect modern systems include:

Password Authentication: The most frequent authentication method is usernames and passwords. A mix of letters, numbers, and special characters make for a strong password, but these can still be hacked or stolen.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): 2FA requires a user to be identified in two or more different ways. Codes generated by the user’s smartphone, Captcha tests, or other second factor beyond username and password, provides an additional layer of security. But a stolen mobile phone or laptop may be all that is needed to circumvent this approach.

Biometric Multi Factor Authentication (MFA): Biometric authentication relies on an individual’s unique biological traits and is the most secure method of authenticating an individual. With biometric MFA technologies, authorized features maintained in a database can be quickly compared to biological traits. When installed on gates and doors, biometric authentication can be used to regulate physical access.

Some common types of biometric authentication are:

  • Voice recognition
  • Face recognition
  • Fingerprint
  • Palm print

What is Authorization?

Authorization is a security technique for determining a user’s privileges or eligibility to execute specific tasks in a system. The authorization procedure specifies the role-based powers a user can have in the system after they have been authenticated as an eligible candidate.  

It’s vital to note that authorization is impossible without identification and authentication. Because if everyone logs in with the same account, they will either be provided or denied access to resources.


If everyone uses the same account, you can’t distinguish between users. However, once you have identified and authenticated them with specific credentials, you can provide them access to distinct resources based on their roles or access levels.

Why is Authorization Important?

Authorization governs what a user may do and see on your premises, networks, or systems. So, how does an authorization benefit you?

  • Ensures users  do not access an account that isn’t theirs
  • Prevents visitors and employees from accessing secure areas
  • Ensures all features are not available to free accounts
  • Ensures internal accounts only have access to the information they require

Methods of Authorization

Authorization can be done in a variety of ways, including:

Application Programming Interface (API) Keys: In order to utilize most of the APIs, you must first sign up for an API key, which is a lengthy string, typically included in the request URL or header. and mostly used to identify the person performing the API call (authenticating you to use the API). The API key could potentially be linked to a specific app an individual has registered for.

Basic Auth: Basic Auth is another type of authorization, where the sender needs to enter a username and password in the request header. Base64 is an encoding technique that turns the login and password into a set of 64 characters to ensure secure delivery.

HMAC: HMAC stands for Hash-based message authorization code, and is a more secure form of authentication commonly seen in financial APIs. Both the sender and the receiver have access to a secret key that no one else has. The sender constructs a message using system attributes (for example, the request timestamp plus account ID). The secret key is used to encrypt the message, which is then sent through a secure hashing process.

When the API server receives the request, it uses the identical system properties and generates the identical string using the secret key and secure hash algorithm (SHA). It accepts the request if the string matches the signature in the request header. If the strings do not match, the request is refused.


An Identity and Access Management (IAM) system defines and manages user identities and access rights. Both the customers and employees of an organization are users of IAM. IT managers can use IAM technologies to authenticate and authorize users. 

Now that you know why it is essential, you are probably looking for a reliable IAM solution. We are just a click away; visit us here to learn more about our identity management solutions.