6 types of authentication for a comprehensive cybersecurity plan

| By:
Anthony Johnson

Authentication refers to the process that verifies the identity of a user, system, or device before granting access to data or resources. It's an essential layer of protection in any network monitoring program. 

So, what type of device is used for user authentication? It depends on the authentication processes in place. Some might involve a physical token containing the user's credentials, like a smart card or smartphone. Other methods might involve biometrics, using a specialized scanner or even a general-purpose device like a smartphone.

In the digital world we live in, your choice of method of authentication is critical. This article will guide you through the various options and help you make an informed decision. In addition, we’ll also cover how the rise of AI is impacting each of these different options.

The role of authentication in endpoint monitoring

While authentication is a cornerstone of cybersecurity, it does not function in isolation. It is part of a unified network of components.

Authentication interrelates closely with other network monitoring measures such as encryption, secure logging, and firewalls. Authentication processes verify the identity of users, allowing authorized access through different security authentication methods. Meanwhile, encryption safeguards data in transit, protecting it from unauthorized access and tampering.

Secure logging tracks and records user activity, facilitating accountability and aiding in incident response. Firewalls act as gatekeepers, controlling inbound and outbound network traffic based on predetermined security rules.

In conjunction, these measures establish a multi-layered defense that bolsters security, prevents unauthorized access, and maintains the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive data.

The 6 authentication types to consider

Choosing a method of authentication is no trivial task. It's not one-size-fits-all but rather a tailored strategy that takes into account your unique business needs and those of your clients. 

To help you navigate this choice, we'll delve into six different authentication methods. Each one comes with its strengths and weaknesses, and it's important to understand them in the context of your MSP operations.

As we explore each method, we'll also share a potential use case, bringing these concepts to life in a real-world context. Let's get started.

Password-based authentication

Password-based authentication is the most common and simplest method of authentication for securing your network monitoring program. Here, the "password" might be a username-password combination, passcode, or PIN. It's intuitive, as many users are already familiar with such login methods. However, it's also the easiest to exploit due to human errors like choosing simple passwords or using the same ones across multiple accounts. With this said, AI is adding some additional wrinkles when it comes to password-based authentication. By analyzing user behavior like typing speed and keystrokes, a password can have a new level of security.

It's simple and cost-effective to use password-based authentication if you're serving a small business. However, it's crucial to enforce strong password policies, like regular changes and complexity requirements, to avoid potential cybersecurity breaches.

Two-factor authentication/multi-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are upgrades to password-based security. Two-factor authentication generally involves a password (first factor) plus an additional layer of security (second factor). MFA involves two or more layers of verification. 

A sample MFA process could include a one-time password sent through email or SMS, in conjunction with something more secure like a fingerprint scan. Through something like AI, behavior can also be analyzed to verify identity, as well as keeping track of any signs of design tampering. Using a combination of security layers can significantly reduce the risk of data and software breaches.

Biometric authentication

Biometric authentication uses unique physical attributes like facial recognition, iris tracking, or fingerprint scanning. Biometric data offers a high security level as it's unique to each individual and difficult to replicate. Compared to some of the other methods that we’ve covered, AI is already deeply entwined with biometric authentication, but this is a cause for celebration and concern. Some are worried that in time, AI may have the ability to spoof biometric signals to gain access to sensitive data.

For high-security enterprises, such as defense contractors, biometric authentication may be appropriate. Fingerprint scanning or facial recognition provides secure access to sensitive information.

Single-sign on authentication

Single sign-on (SSO) allows users to log in to multiple applications, software platforms, or websites with one set of credentials, reducing the cognitive load of remembering multiple passwords. This also makes provisioning access to various applications across a client’s workforce a breeze for your team.

If you have clients managing multiple platforms and apps, as so many organizations do, you'll like this. A healthcare company, for instance, might benefit from SSO if it uses several different databases to manage patient information. Because single-sign on places a great deal of emphasis on one set of credentials, malicious actors using AI to find said credentials is particularly concerning.

Token-based authentication

Token-based authentication relies on an authentication token, like a smart card or smartphone, containing the user's credentials. It's secure unless the physical token falls into the wrong hands.

Working with a client in a highly regulated industry, such as healthcare or banking, might require token-based authentication. Using a smart card in conjunction with a password can add an extra layer of security to protect sensitive patient or customer data. An additional layer of security can be provided here by AI, both through scanning for compromised devices as well as performing risk-based authentication. Risk-based authentication checks if a device is being used in a strange place or time compared to normal use before providing access.

Certificate-based authentication

Certificate-based authentication uses digital certificates from a trusted source to verify identity. It's useful for providing temporary network authentications to contractors or others needing temporary access.

You might implement certificate-based authentication in the case of a client with many temporary contractors. This method allows secure, time-limited access to the necessary systems. Certificate-based authentication is also popular among government agencies and other organizations with elevated security needs. AI can be useful here in terms of helping to manage the lifecycle of these certificates as well as analyzing usage patterns for any potentially risky or offbeat behavior.

As you can see, each method here has its own pros and cons. This is why it’s essential to have a comprehensive cybersecurity approach with your clients, including cybersecurity solutions.

Authentication method protocols

Once you’ve selected the most suitable user authentication methods for network monitoring the next step involves establishing protocols. Clients and servers exchange data using these protocols.

Here are the protocols that make up the core of many authentication methods, each offering unique operational dynamics, security implications, and use cases:

  • CHAP (challenge-handshake authentication protocol): CHAP enhances security by using a challenge-response mechanism to verify identities, preventing passwords from being exposed over the network. It's particularly useful in situations in which data transmission might be intercepted.
  • EAP (extensible authentication protocol): EAP is highly adaptable and typically used for wireless network access on encrypted networks. It offers flexible authentication upon network access, allowing for the use of multiple methods.
  • FIDO2: FIDO2 uses public key cryptography executed locally on a device to provide robust user authentication, sidestepping the need for passwords. Its elevated level of security makes it suitable for applications requiring a high degree of data integrity and confidentiality.
  • Kerberos: Kerberos provides “tickets” to allow nodes to securely prove their identity over networks. It's highly applicable in environments where network security may be compromised, such as unsecured networks or diverse operating systems.
  • LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol): LDAP helps manage and authenticate user data in distributed directory information services, making it invaluable for large organizations that need to manage user data across different locations or departments.
  • OpenID: As the identity layer of OAuth 2.0, OpenID allows users to leverage a single set of login credentials across multiple sites. It is advantageous when providing users with seamless access to multiple resources.
  • PAP (password authentication protocol): This protocol is an option when servers can't support more secure protocols, but it is less secure due to the transmission of credentials in plain text.
  • SSL/TLS (secure sockets layer/transport layer security): These protocols authenticate both the user and server using certificates and public key cryptography. They provide secure, encrypted connections over potentially insecure networks, making them suitable for online transactions or any situation involving the exchange of sensitive data.
  • SAML (security assertion markup language): SAML is associated with single sign-on (SSO) and uses signed XML documents to exchange authentication and authorization data between parties. It's highly effective in creating seamless user experiences across multiple applications as it requires just a single point of authentication. ConnectWise offers SSO via our Identity and Access Management solution.

Finding the best authentication fit for your clients

Your clients depend on you to keep their most critical assets and data secure, and the authentication methods necessary to do so will differ for each client and use case. 

Organizations with sensitive data, highly regulated industries, or dispersed workforces may require advanced authentication processes. On the other hand, smaller organizations with lower budgets may find methods like biometric authentication cost prohibitive or unnecessary given the scale of their operations.

Here is a list of considerations you can use to help evaluate the right authentication method(s) for your client base:

  • Client industry: Some sectors, like healthcare and finance, deal with highly sensitive data and face strict compliance requirements, necessitating more robust authentication.
  • Data sensitivity: The more sensitive the data, the stronger the authentication needed. Consider two-factor or multi-factor authentication for clients handling high-stakes information.
  • User tech literacy: If a client's end user base is not tech-savvy, simpler authentication methods, such as token-based authentication, may be more appropriate.
  • Budget: While security is paramount, some organizations may be unable to afford advanced biometric solutions, but are well-served by password-based protocols or two-factor authentication.
  • Client size: Large organizations may require sophisticated, scalable solutions like LDAP or SSO, while smaller ones might get by with simpler methods.

Supporting your authentication protocol

While a robust authentication protocol is essential, it's only one part of the puzzle. Several supportive mechanisms can work together to help keep your clients’ network, devices, and data secure: 

  • Managed detection and response(MDR):  MDR solutions help MSPs who want to provide 24/7 threat monitoring and response services, and defend their clients’ endpoints from security threats, by reducing reliance on preventative-only tools that are easily bypassed, while delivering enterprise-grade security.
  • Routine software updates: Regular updates keep your systems fortified against the latest identified threats.
  • User training: Educating users on secure practices reduces the chance of breaches resulting from human error.
  • Outsourcing IT services: Leveraging a security operations center (SOC) to handle day-to-day tickets can reduce the burden on your internal IT team and help identify and manage security issues at scale.
  • Swift incident response: The ability to quickly detect and respond to security incidents limits damage and speeds up recovery.

Endpoint detection and response software is at the heart of an authentication plan, both monitoring any relevant endpoints as well as acting quickly in the event of any anomalous behavior. To look closer into how this can fit into your IT strategy, watch an on-demand demo of our cybersecurity suite today.


Authentication takes many forms, each suitable for different scenarios. The primary types include:

  • Password-based authentication
  • Two-factor authentication/multi-factor authentication
  • Biometric authentication
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Token-based authentication
  • Certificate-based authentication

Multi-factor authentication is a security method that requires two or more independent forms of identification. This increases the difficulty for unauthorized entities to gain access.

Two-factor authentication requires two different forms of verification, commonly a password paired with a secondary factor, such as a fingerprint or a one-time password sent to the user's mobile device. This authentication method enhances security by not relying solely on password integrity.

Biometric authentication is a method that verifies identities using distinct biological traits, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scanning. This offers a high degree of security as these traits are unique to each individual and difficult to forge.

Multi-factor authentication, which employs two or more different authentication types, is considered the most secure method. The choice of specific factors depends on the client's requirements, with each offering varying degrees of security, convenience, and cost-effectiveness.