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Authentication Vs Authorization- What’s The Difference?


The terms authentication and authorization are often used interchangeably. Most people believe there is only a subtle difference between authentication and authorization and they basically mean the same. While you know that authentication and authorization are excellent ways to secure and protect digital identities, it is important to understand that they are independent of each other and serve different purposes.

Here’s an example to help you understand the meaning of authentication vs. authorization in a better way;

Say, you head a team of 50 employees out of which 5 employees are granted the permission to access certain critical business applications in your absence; when these employees try to access the applications, their identities will be verified, typically by validating their credentials. This is known as authentication.

Once the identities are authenticated, it is established that they are indeed the same 5 employees, who have been granted the right to access. So, the next step is to check on the authorization. Are these employees authorized to use the applications? If yes, they will be able to access the applications and if not, it will be identified as “unauthorized access”.

Let’s now understand the difference between authentication and authorization as explained by Gartner.

Authentication VS Authorization – what’s the difference?

According to the Gartner IT Glossary;

An authentication service is a mechanism, analogous to the use of passwords on time-sharing systems, for the secure authentication of the identity of network clients by servers and vice versa, without presuming the operating system integrity of either (e.g., Kerberos).

Authorization is defined as a process ensuring that correctly authenticated users can access only those resources for which the owner has given them approval.

Therefore, the two main differences between authentication and authorization are;

  •  One can determine “who you are” with authentication and “what you can do” with authorization.
  • The first step is always the authentication. While authorization is done only after successful authentication

As you become familiar with the process of authentication and authorization, you will notice the following differences between authentication and authorization,

Authentication needs a username and password for validation, whereas for authorization, various other factors such as the role of the user, necessity of granting the right to access, etc. are taken into consideration.

Since authentication is the first step to securing the digital identity, opting for MFA (Multi-factor authentication) is encouraged. It is a validation technique where two or more independent credentials are validated through an E-mail OTP, SMS OTP, biometric, soft token or other methods and authorization relies on various policies within the organization. Typically, a request is matched with the policy in order to identify the user’s privileges.

As you understand the difference between authorization vs authentication you will understand the importance of implementing both and not just one of these processes to secure the identities from cyber vulnerabilities.

Authenticate and Authorize your accesses with Cross Identity

Authentication and Authorization are both extremely vital for securing digital identities and there should be no glitches in the way these two processes run.

Most companies tend to invest in complex and expensive authentication and authorization models or tend to rely on a third-party vendor to manage their authentication and authorization services. This may not be the best foot forward.

Cross Identity’ CI offers authentication solutions that include Multi-Factor Authentication and Lifecycle management solutions such as entitlement provisioning, rule-based role assignments, suspension, and restoration, etc. that respectively provide secure authentication and further support validation of identities with appropriate authorization.

Drop-in a line to know more about how we help organizations secure their digital identities with our authentication and authorization techniques.

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