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10/14/2010
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Proof Of Identity: How To Choose Multifactor Authentication

Choosing the right Web authentication method means weighing cost vs. risk

[Excerpted from "Proof of Identity: How To Choose Multifactor Authentication," a new report posted this week on Dark Reading's Authentication Tech Center.]

To control access to your Web-based applications, you need to identify and authenticate anyone wishing to use them -- that is, verify they are who they say they are. But how do you choose the right method of authentication? There's the rub.

Why do you need to implement strong or two-factor authentication for your Web applications? First, lawmakers have pushed security to the top of the agenda, and strong authentication is part of that agenda. Laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and requirements such as PCI DSS mean single-factor authentication is no longer adequate for protecting access to high-value or personally identifiable information and providing reliable audit trails.

Second, any organization that sees customer trust as a business priority needs to provide secure authentication, and the password approach doesn't do that. Many organizations, though, are wary of implementing strong authentication due to its perceived cost. However, managing passwords can be expensive, too. They provide too low a level of trust to be considered a viable option where assets of any value are involved.

And the situation's getting worse. The growing use of number-crunching power of modern graphics cards to carry out brute-force attacks will soon make it trivial for hackers to crack strong passwords. Adding a second-factor credential to the authentication process provides additional security as well as a higher level of trust between a user and an application. Let's look at some of the options for authenticating users to Web applications.

The technologies for implementing strong Web authentication are:

  • Soft or hard digital certificates
  • One-time passwords (OTP)
  • Challenge-response
  • Authentication-as-a-service (AaaS)

Management is going to want a solution that's effective, flexible, and scalable, and can be implemented with minimum disruption and cost. Your customers, on the other hand, will want a solution that not only offers increased security but is easy to use.

There are three key factors to consider when choosing the right solution: time, risk and cost. If you know what your users will bear in terms of time to log on, and if you can weigh the risks associated with each method against its costs, you will find the solution that fits best for your applications.

For a detailed discussion of how to evaluate these factors and how they stack up against the various alternatives in Web authentication, download the full report.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

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