Passwords have long been a source of frustration for IT security personnel. They are easily forgotten, so users often do things they shouldn’t, such as choosing passwords that contain familiar information. However, these types of passwords are easy to choose even for amateur hackers. All they need is a bit of personal information from your life to gain access using your system credentials. For this reason, certificate-based authentication (CBA) has become a popular way to authenticate users.
What is CBA cybersecurity?
A CBA connection involves the use of digital certificates derived from cryptography. Certificates identify the user, machine, or device requesting access to a network, application, or other resource. CBA differs from other authentication methods like one-time passwords (OTPs) and human-centric biometrics. Any end user and even devices can use CBA, including personal computers, servers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
One of the reasons so many organizations are switching end users from pure password-based authentication to CBA is because of the security it provides. Many companies combine the two methods to implement stronger user authentication protocols. The ABC also helps reduce the success of phishing attempts, where bad actors manage to obtain users’ personal information through social engineering. CBA prevents hackers from exploiting stolen passwords to access applications, systems and networks.
How does the ABC work?
Digital certificates work like passwords or electronic files. They are used to identify any entity trying to access a resource using cryptography and public key infrastructure (PKI). PKI tools manage the public keys being encrypted. Modern web browsers all support PKI infrastructure.
The digital certificate contains information that identifies the certificate holder and contains a copy of the public key. Examples of data stored in a certificate include the name of a company, a specific department, or an IP address.
CBA certification begins with an end user digitally signing the data used as the private key. This information travels with the digital certificate through a network to a destination server. This server compares the signed data sent by the user with the public key contained in the certificate. Users only have access to it after the server has authenticated that the public and private keys match.
Where can you use the ABC?
You can use certificate-based authentication in different ways, including:
- Connecting to your desktop (such as Windows and macOS)
- Access company email
- Access cloud-based services or applications
- Identify machines that communicate with backend services
- Determine if a laptop or mobile device belongs to an authorized employee
- Identification of servers located within a company for mutual authentication
CBA’s flexibility is one of the main reasons it is used in network security tools and enterprise networks.
Is ACB the same as authorization?
It’s easy to confuse authentication versus authorization. Some resources on the Internet use the terms interchangeably, which is a mistake. Both exist for different purposes in the field of cybersecurity.
Authentication, including ACB, is identifying that someone is who they say they are. It is used to prevent entities seeking to gain unauthorized access to places such as websites and services. Passwords and security questions are two common forms of authentication that many organizations relied on in the past.
Today, in addition to CBA and multi-factor authentication (MFA), companies have turned to powerful authenticators (such as YubiKeys or SmartCards). User credentials are securely stored on the hack-resistant authenticator. Authorization comes into play once a user has access through authentication. Once the user is authenticated, authorization determines where you can go and what actions you can perform within a resource.
For example, an enterprise IT user may have access to a line-of-business application that allows them to perform maintenance but does not allow them to perform direct updates. A service user would not be able to modify system functions, but could update customer information.
What are the benefits of the ABC?
Now that we have a better understanding of the ABC, how it works, and how it protects organizations, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of adopting the methodology.
1. Better security
Public-key encryption methods require matching private key pairs before granting permission. It is safer because decryption only occurs when there is a direct match between them.
It also makes bad password practices like shared logins and sticky notes with passwords a thing of the past. CBA is also more resistant to phishing, meaning hackers can’t shut down an organization based solely on stealing user credentials.
Certificates also help identify the two parties involved in a transaction. This makes it easier for administrators to detect suspicious activity. For example, they can spot when someone is trying to use a reported account to perform actions on a network.
2. Accessible from the outside
Organizations can use CBA certificates to verify users outside the company. Suppliers, contractors, freelancers, and other partners may need to leverage enterprise system resources for a variety of reasons. CBA represents a secure way for businesses to provide network access without the need for additional training or software expense.
Certificates are easier to manage for enterprise users compared to other authentication methods. The user requires minimal effort once a certificate is installed on the authenticator of their choice.
4. Adopted by Microsoft
Microsoft has adopted certificates for Azure Active Directory (AD) authentication. Certificates not only provide stronger security, but also more effective authentication across Microsoft’s infrastructure.
CBA as an approach works great for end user authentication. It works well with powerful authenticators such as YubiKeys and SmartCards. Additionally, Microsoft has fully embraced CBA. Taken together, these factors make ACB a “hot” approach to authentication.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is the ABC more secure than passwords?
CBA uses encrypted public and private keys to verify the identity of users issuing access requests. There is minimal need for user involvement, making it a better option for cybersecurity than passwords.
- Does the ABC grant permission?
The CBA authentication method identifies users before granting them access to resources. Authorization defines the level of access a user receives after approval.
In collaboration with IAMs, Axiad has a unique approach to ACA. Additionally, this approach provides an essential capability: large-scale credential management to help organizations migrate to Azure AD. To learn more, visit our Certificate-Based Authentication for IAM page.
*** This is a syndicated blog from the Security Bloggers Network of Blog-Axiade Written by The Axia team. Read the original post at: https://www.axiad.com/blog/why-is-cba-hot-right-now/