What is Web Authentication?
In the digital world attackers use stolen information to impersonate genuine users for fraud and online abuse. Web Authentication enables digital businesses to tell these attackers from good users by making sure that the users are actually who they claim to be.
The process of verifying the identity of a digital user against a registered credential on a website or app is called web authentication. It is also sometimes called assertion as the correct ownership of user credentials is asserted. It is, however, different from authorization which determines the extent of permissions users have to access network resources and the kind of actions they can take.
Although a recent W3C standard, web authentication is supported by major companies such as Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Mozilla, and Qualcomm. It aims to strengthen the security of the authentication process by reducing reliance on password-based authentication. For this, a web-browser API is being created to facilitate the use of strong authentication credentials based on public key cryptography.
Why Web Authentication is Important
Fraud and online abuse are growing challenges for digital businesses. Every online service requires users to create and log into digital accounts. As the number of digital users proliferates, the risks of attacks for digital businesses have increased manifold. Therefore, it is critical that businesses are able to identify malicious actors from good users and prevent them from harming business and customer interests.
By enabling businesses to identify and stop bad actors right at the entry gates, web authentication can help them protect their business ecosystems and ensure the sanctity of customers’ digital accounts. A safe business environment boosts the trust of the customers and helps augment revenues.
Common Authentication Factors
Web authentication uses three common factors as described below:
This refers to an authentication piece which only the user knows such as a password or an answer to a security question. Users can use this information to verify their digital identity.
A security token or a physical object such as a mobile phone is considered a possession factor as this is something that a user possesses. Users can verify their identity by proving that in addition to the login credentials they have access to these factors.
These factors are something that a user is or does. For instance, every user has unique patterns of behavior and biometrics such as fingerprints or retina. These characteristics can help users to verify their identity.
How Does Web Authentication Work?
Web authentication is a behind-the-scenes process, which gets initiated when a user tries to log into a digital account. During the account creation process, a unique username and a corresponding password are created. These credentials are stored in web servers and enable the user to verify the account during future log ins. This ensures only the users that have access to their valid username-password combinations can log in.
Frequent incidents of data breaches, however, have made large volumes of personally identifiable consumer information available to the fraudsters. They use automated credential stuffing and password spraying to match usernames with valid passwords. Once fraudsters are able to gain valid credentials, they use them to impersonate good users and break into legitimate accounts, which can allow them to take control of the website or the application. Furthermore, fraudsters can combine these stolen details with fake elements to stitch together synthetic identities that can then be used to create new fake accounts.
Strong customer authentication using the three authentication factors – knowledge, possession, and inherence – can help businesses protect user accounts against account takeover and attempts to create accounts en masse.
Limitations of Current Approaches
The authentication mechanisms most commonly used commonly are weak, not only because they fail to protect businesses from attacks, but they also degrade user experience. Most bot detection solutions are outdated when compared with the advanced capabilities of bots that can mimic human behavior. Also, they are programmed to hand over the attack to an actual human attacker when faced with a fraud defense mechanism that requires more nuanced human interaction.
Authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) are often costly and add an additional step for consumers that may add unnecessary friction to the user experience.
Furthermore, years of data breaches have ensured attackers have a wealth of verified consumer information which they can exploit to bypass authentication mechanisms with ease. Availability of commoditized tools that allow attackers to spoof identities and IP addresses further aggravate the challenge for businesses.
Web authentication can also suffer from infrastructural deficiencies such as poor coding that attackers can exploit to their advantage.
Fresh and Effective Approach to Web Authentication
Clearly, web authentication is critical to maintaining account security and protecting business interests. However, passwords have been stolen and digital identities manipulated. In such situation, digital businesses need a proactive approach to web authentication that focuses on fraud prevention in a user-centric way.
Arkose Labs adopts a fresh approach to web authentication, which eliminates complete reliance on password-based authentication. Its no-block approach to web authentication means all incoming users must authenticate themselves by clearing an enforcement challenge.