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Web Authentication: What it is and How to Approach it

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:

Knowledge Factors:

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.

Possession Factors:

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.

Inherence 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.


Authentication is the process of verifying that a user is really who they claim to be, whereas authorization involves verifying whether a user is allowed to do something.

Some of the best practices that businesses can explore for web authentication are:

  • To facilitate password-less authentication, businesses can choose biometrics.
  • If businesses choose to continue with password-based authentication, they must encourage the use of strong passwords.
  • Set a limit for the number of times a password can be attempted or reset.
  • Consider implementing multi-factor authentication to add an additional layer of security to the existing defense mechanisms.
  • Use Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication to eliminate the need for users to enter their credentials repeatedly.

There are three common authentication factors used for web authentication namely:

  • Knowledge factors: Something that a user knows, such as a password or an answer to a security question.
  • Possession factors: Something that a user has, such as a mobile phone.
  • Inherence factors: Something that a user is or does, such as unique user behavior and biometrics (fingerprints, retina, and so forth).

Arkose Labs’ superior web authentication approach keeps user experience front and center. Instead of blocking any user, the Arkose Labs platform presents adaptive 3D challenges to all users based on their real-time risk assessment. This ensures potentially revenue-generating customers are not filtered out.

As a first step, the incoming traffic is diverted to the Arkose Labs network, which acts as a buffer between the attackers and the business network. The Arkose Labs platform then uses targeted friction to stop fraudsters. The adaptive, step-up challenges cause bots and scripts – of various advancement levels – to fail. Malicious human users are continuously presented with increasingly complex challenges to waste their time, effort, and resources. This bankrupts the business model of fraud and eliminates any ROI from the attack. In the absence of any profits, attackers abandon the attacks and move on.

This ensures businesses can confidently face evolving fraud attacks and protect themselves and their customers long-term, while keeping the user experience intact.