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Chidi Eze for Hackmamba

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Here's Why Authentication Should Not Be Rocket Science

The phrase "rocket science" is an idiom that describes something very difficult; you can also use it to exaggerate the difficulty level of a task or problem.

Authentication is a process that employs a complex security pattern to verify the identity of a user or device. It isn't easy to understand and normally done through a combination of username and password or biometrics.

Despite its complexity, authentication is an essential layer in every modern technology. Authentication helps secure vital and sensitive information and prevent unwanted access. Without a proper authentication, data stored in a system can leak to an unwanted user. Additionally, authentication helps to prevent identity theft and other forms of cybercrime.

However, there are myths that people need to forget.

  • Passwords are the only form of authentication.
    • Passwords are a common form of authentication, but many other methods are available such as biometrics (e.g., fingerprint, facial, and iris recognition), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and smart cards.
  • Only high-security systems require authentication.
    • Many believe authentication is only required for systems that handle sensitive data, such as financial or government systems. However, authentication is essential for any system that stores personal or confidential information, regardless of how delicate.

This article discusses authentication and how to make implementing authentication flow less complicated and intimidating.

Examining Why Increasingly Complex Methods Are Not Improving Security

Initially, authentication relied on physical means such as keys and locks. As technology advanced, authentication methods moved towards using what the user knows, such as a password or a personal identification number (PIN). The two-factor authentication (2FA), which combines something the user knows with something the user has, such as a code sent to a phone, became known as a way to increase security.

Biometric authentication, which uses a user's physical characteristics such as a fingerprint or facial recognition, has also grown in popularity in recent years to improve convenience while maintaining security.

Many businesses and organizations are now utilizing multi-factor authentication (MFA), which combines two or more of the previous methods for additional security.
As technology advances, new authentication methods will likely become more complex to provide even greater security and convenience.

While increasing the complexity of authentication methods may be a creative way to improve security, it can have the opposite effect. For example, a user may not know how two-factor authentication (2FA) works and how to respond to prompts for codes sent to their phone. Also, if users find the authentication process too complicated, they may be more likely to circumvent or disable it, resulting in security vulnerabilities.

Another reason increasing complexity may not improve security is that it makes the system harder to manage and maintain and expands the system's attack surface, making it vulnerable to exploits.

When designing authentication methods, it is critical to balance security and usability.

The Problem With Complex Authentication Methods

Complex authentication can lead to some issues, including:

  1. User frustration: If the authentication process is too complicated or time-consuming, users may become frustrated and give up accessing the system.
  2. Increased support costs: If users have trouble with the authentication process, they may need assistance from support staff which can increase the cost of maintaining the system.
  3. Reduced security: If users are frustrated with the authentication process, they may be more likely to use weak passwords or reuse passwords, making it easier for attackers to gain unwanted access to the system.
  4. Decreased usability: Complex authentication can make it difficult for legitimate users to access the system, which can reduce the overall usability of the system.
  5. Lost productivity: Users may need help accessing the system while trying to authenticate, which can lead to lost productivity.
  6. Increased complexity: Complex authentication systems can be tough to administer and may require specialised knowledge and expertise to manage effectively.
  7. Difficulty in scaling: With more complex authentication, it can be harder to scale a system to accommodate growing users.
  8. Incompatibility with other systems: Complex authentication systems may not be compatible with other systems, making it hard to integrate the system with other tools or platforms.
  9. Lost or Damaged Device: In case of loss or damaged device, users find it difficult to authenticate if the 2FA app is on the damaged or lost device since there is no forgotten authentication key as there would be with a forgotten password.

The Rise Of New Threats

Advanced technology and sophisticated attackers have led to the need for more robust authentication methods in several ways:

  1. Increased hacking attempts: With the advancement of technology, attackers have access to more sophisticated tools and techniques that allow them to easily bypass traditional authentication methods, such as usernames and passwords.
  2. Data breaches: Advanced technology has enabled attackers to easily access and steal personal information, such as login credentials, which they can use to gain unwanted access to systems.
  3. Phishing and social engineering: Advanced technology has made it easier for attackers to carry out phishing and social engineering attacks, which can trick users into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials.
  4. Advanced malware: Sophisticated attackers can use advanced malware to steal login credentials, keystrokes, and other information that they can use to gain unwanted access to systems.
  5. Advanced persistent threats: Sophisticated attackers can launch advanced persistent threats, which are long-term, targeted attacks that can evade traditional security measures.

These factors have contributed to the need for more robust authentication methods to protect systems from advanced technology and sophisticated attackers. Two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) have been widely adopted to help prevent unsanctioned access to systems by requiring an additional verification method, such as a fingerprint or a one-time code sent to a mobile device, using biometrics, such as facial and voice recognition.

These methods are more difficult to replicate than traditional authentication methods like passwords.

Furthermore, behavioural biometrics identifies a user based on their interaction with a device; for instance, how they type, swipe, and move the cursor is becoming more popular.

In summary, the rise of advanced technology and sophisticated attackers has necessitated the development of more robust authentication methods that are more user-friendly.

Alternative Authentication Solutions

Alternative authentication solutions are authentication flows other than the traditional authentication process. These authentication flows are more user-friendly and simplified. Simplified authentication methods make verifying a user's identity as simple as possible.

Below are a few examples of the Simplified authentication methods:

  1. Single Sign-On (SSO): This allows a user to log in once and then access multiple applications or services without having to log in again for each one. It eliminates the need for users to remember multiple usernames and passwords and makes accessing the resources they need easier.
  2. Social login: This allows users to authenticate using an existing account with a popular social media platform, such as Google, Facebook, or Twitter, instead of creating a new account. It also eliminates the need for users to remember another username and password and makes it easier to get started using a new service.
  3. SMS or EMAIL verification: The user receives a code via SMS or email and must enter the code to complete the authentication process.

Some Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) platforms are dedicated to managing and implementing these simplified authentications for organisations, one of which is Appwrite.

Appwrite is a platform that simplifies the authentication and API integration process for developers. The platform also includes built-in support for popular social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, so that developers can easily integrate those platforms into their apps without dealing with the complexities of their authentication systems.

Some key features of Appwrite include:

  • A unified API for connecting to various services
  • Support for multiple authentication methods, such as OAuth and JSON Web Token
  • A simple and intuitive API that is easy to use and integrate into existing applications

The benefits of using Appwrite include the following:

  • Reduced development time and cost
  • Improved security and compliance
  • Better scalability and performance

Visit the Appwrite Documentation to learn more about Authenticating with Appwrite and how to implement it.


This article discusses a more unified authentication experience for your users and how Appwrite can help you achieve a rich authentication experience in little development time.


The following resources might be helpful:

  1. Modern authentication methods
  2. Appwrite Auth0 authentication

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