What is Authentication? Methods, Importance and Processes

Authentication verifies that you are who you say you are, or that something you own is not a forgery. It might involve verifying documents, asking for input from you, or both. 

When we talk about authentication, we're typically referring to computer systems and cybersecurity. But this same term applies to the art world and the process you use to prove worth before a sale. 

What is authentication?

Can another entity (like a computer, a buyer, or a doorman) trust that you're telling the truth? Authentication answers that question. You offer up some kind of proof of your trustworthiness. 

Authentication is not the same as authorization. When the authentication process is complete, you've just proven that you are who you say you are. Authorization then gives you access based on your identity.

Four types of authentication exist:

  1. Digital: A user presents a form of proof (such as a password) to an information system (such as a server). Every time you enter a password to read an article in The New York Times, you're following this process. 
  2. Strong: Some electronic systems require only one item (such as a password) for authentication. A so-called “strong” system requires two or more. 
  3. Continuous: Your identity is repeatedly challenged as you participate in an electronic space. If your computer monitors your keystroke speed and asks for a password when you're typing too fast, you've used this system. 
  4. Product: You offer up proof that an item you own is real and not faked. Fraud is common in some collecting spaces, including fine art. For example, a person sold nearly $60 million fake Vermeer paintings to museums in the 1930s and 1940s. Those problems remain, and authentication aims to solve them. 

Authentication systems could be used for:

  • Access control. Authentication proves that you are who you say you are. With this step completed, the server can move through authorization steps and grant access. 
  • Cybersecurity. Authentication reduces hacking risks. 
  • Sales. Justify a high price for artwork or a collectible by proving that it isn’t a forgery. 
  • Trust. Companies that use strong authentication practices protect data. That can prevent embarrassing incidents, such as the 2021 T-Mobile data breach that put the data of millions of people at risk.

Authentication and computer systems

How do companies protect data from hackers and thieves? Authentication helps. Companies use these systems to ensure that they know who is touching sensitive assets stored electronically. 

You might complete authentication by offering:

  • Knowledge. The average person has about 100 passwords. You tell a server your name, and you offer up this code to prove your identity. 
  • Ownership. You have something, like a phone or a fob, attached to your username. You click it or tap it to prove you are who you say you are. 
  • Physical attributes. You provide a fingerprint, retinal scan, or voice scan to prove your identity. About 60 percent of companies use something like this for authentication. 
  • Location. Your computer tells the server where you are when you log in. If this is a spot in which you normally work, it can prove your identity. 
  • Time. Your computer tells the server what time it is when you attempt a login. This can also help to prove your identity. 

Several authentication methods exist, including:

  • Two-factor. You offer up two items, such as a password and a retinal scan, to complete authentication. 
  • Multi-factor. You provide three or more authentication factors. 
  • OTP. You can't provide any factors, so the server gives you a random password session authentication. 

Two ways to accomplish authentication include:

  • User. You do something or provide something to complete the process. 
  • Machine. Your device submits something on your behalf. 

Authentication and products

Is the item you're selling worth the purchase price? Answer that question with authentication, and you'll prove the item isn't a forgery. 

Three types of product authentication exist:

  1. Comparison: Your item is placed side by side with something known to be genuine. An expert looks over the two. 
  2. Documentation: You have a proof of sale or an artist's testament that the item is real. 
  3. Firsthand: A credible person offers proof that the item is genuine. That person could be the artist who made it or a colleague who watched you buy it. 

Any of these processes could be hijacked. You could forge a document, for example, and attempt to prove the item is legitimate. But skipping these steps altogether almost guarantees that you're selling a fakery. 

At Okta, we offer authentication you can trust. Contact us to find out how we can protect what is yours.


Nine of the Craziest Recent Art Forgery Scandals. (October 2016). Artnet. 

T-Mobile Says Hack Exposed Personal Data of 40 Million People. (August 2021). The New York Times. 

Average Person Has 100 Passwords: Study. (October 2020). Security Brief. 

More Employers Are Using Biometric Authentication. (April 2018). SHRM.