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Exploring authentication methods: How to develop secure systems

Use this guide to discover authentication options and learn how to implement, maintain and secure several methods of authentication, such as biometrics, single sign-on (SSO) and smart cards to avoid security breaches and protect sensitive corporate and customer data.

At a time when identity theft is running rampant, it's crucial to have sound practices for user authentication,...

customer authentication and partner authentication. Are user names and passwords enough? Is two-factor authentication an effective tactic or useless in the face of emerging threats? This learning guide from is a comprehensive resource that will help you understand today's authentication methods and challenges, and show you how to implement secure authentication systems. Send us an e-mail to let us know what other guides you'd like to see on

What is authentication?

Authentication involves determining whether a user is, in fact, who he or she claims to be. Authentication can be conducted through the use of logon passwords, single sign-on (SSO) systems, biometrics, digital certificates and a public key infrastructure (PKI).

User authentication is critical to ensure proper authorization and access to systems and services, especially since data theft and information security threats are becoming more advanced. Although authentication cannot completely stop information and identity theft, we can make sure that our resources are protected throughout several authentication methods.

There are three factors of authentication to consider: something you know, such as a user ID and password; something you have, such as a smart card; and something you are, which refers to a physical characteristic, like a fingerprint that is verified using biometric technology. These factors can be used alone, or they can be combined to build a stronger authentication strategy in what is known as two-factor or multifactor authentication. This guide reviews the methods associated with all three authentication factors.

Related authentication content

   Introduction: What is authentication?
   ID and password authentication
   Biometric authentication devices, systems and implementation
   Enterprise single sign-on: Easing the authentication process
   PKI and digital certificate authentication and implementation
   Security token and smart card authentication

This was last published in November 2008

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