Gartner Research

Fundamentals of Authentication

Published: 10 January 2013

ID: G00238761

Analyst(s): Trent Henry


Authentication is an essential element of modern IT systems, yet it remains complex. It's difficult to assess the options among passwords, one-time password (OTP) tokens, smart cards, X.509 PKI certificates, biometrics and other choices. This document presents the fundamentals.

Table Of Contents

Summary of Findings

Description of Authentication

Business Context

  • Allow Users to Connect Securely to Systems, Data and Functions Required for Their Work
  • Accommodate the Variety of Constituencies and Computing Platforms Used by Enterprises

Architectural Context


  • Authentication Has a Life Cycle That Must Be Managed
  • Password Authentication Is Subject to Numerous Attacks
    • Password Vulnerabilities
  • To Address Risks, Many Organizations Seek to Strengthen Authentication
  • Authenticator Technologies
    • OTP Devices
    • Local Certificate Store
    • Smart Cards and Smart (USB) Tokens
    • Physical Credentials Benefits
    • Biometrics
  • Stronger Authenticators Also Have Weaknesses
    • Phishing
    • Credential Mismatches: Protecting the Strong With the Weak
  • The Authentication Experience Can Be Evaluated via Multiple Variables
    • Ubiquity
    • Application Coverage
    • Usability
    • Security
    • Secure Storage Capability
    • Management
    • Acquisition Cost
  • Several Industry Standards Relate to Authentication
    • RSA Public-Key Cryptography Standards
    • MS-CAPI
    • NIST 800-63-1
    • HSPD-12 and FIPS 201
    • FIPS 140-2
    • OATH
    • Java Card
    • GlobalPlatform

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