Cloud Authentication Services | Security for Enterprise IT

Mike Engle

With remote workers accessing documents in the cloud, authentication services have never become more important or relevant than they are right now. 

What is the purpose of cloud authentication? The purpose of cloud-based authentication is to protect companies from hackers trying to steal confidential information. Cloud authentication allows authorized users across networks and continents to securely access information stored in the cloud with authentication provided through cloud-based services.

What Is Cloud Authentication and Why Is It Important for My Business?

Global IT and data-driven operations are largely in the cloud. That’s not surprising, considering that infrastructure provides a type of flexibility, resiliency, and scalability that most organizations aren’t going to find in traditional on-premise solutions.

Many of the same security and compliance issues that were challenges for on-premise technology persist in the cloud, and many of those challenges are amplified. That’s because infrastructure—storage, applications, analytics, and tools—must have a connection to users that is secure and compliant without sacrificing usability. Furthermore, these environments are heterogeneous and global. Security is a real issue with different components and tools working together to provide real value to users everywhere.

This is where cloud-based authentication comes into play. Much like traditional authentication, cloud verification serves as an identity verification system for services. Users provide credentials proving their identity and gain access to system resources or services, like apps.

However, cloud-based identification faces a few challenges:

  • Security of Passwords: Password and credential lookups can happen in a number of ways, and one of the most common forms of password confirmation is through database lookups. These lookups make it relatively easy for hackers to steal password information through a security breach. This problem is compounded when considering how most users regularly use the same password over multiple platforms and accounts. Additionally, multiple accounts on multiple services create a larger attack surface for a given user’s data regardless of how well they manage their credentials.
  • Cohesion: Distributed environments are not a singular entity, but a collection of hardware, tools, and configurations working together. It’s most likely the case that credential validation can occur through one of the multiple technologies, such as LDAP, Kerberos, database lookups, etc. This makes it that much more challenging to manage users across systems effectively and securely.
  • Transparency and Privacy: With multiple platforms, it’s nearly impossible for a business user to understand the entirety of their risk profile. A provider could hinder that understanding by making it difficult, if not impossible, for users to understand the methods in place. With the distributed nature of cloud computing, it’s nearly impossible using traditional methods to fully verify that the user accessing a system is who they claim to be.

One of the major innovations in authentication that help providers mitigate these challenges is to switch to a different identity verification approach.

Authentication Services and Authentication-as-a-Service

Authentication modernization includes incorporating identification methods into technology to better serve users and administrators of those same services. This approach is often referred to as “Authentication-as-a-Service” (AaaS).

AaaS addresses two significant challenges to identity verification:

  1. Providing strong, secure, and distributed authentication for services.
  2. Offering users a smooth and streamlined experience.

Much like any other service model (Saas, IaaS, etc.), AaaS provides secure processes as a microservice, so providers (and any services operating on platforms) can leverage secure identification without running into the challenges of fragmentation, lack of cohesion, or lack of scalability. At the same time, it leverages modern technology (Single Sign-On, MFA, etc.) and provides them to all users of platforms equally.

To provide that level of security and usability, AaaS solutions typically implement one or more of the following technologies to make up a larger identity-verification architecture:

  • Identity Management: AaaS provides robust controls for managing user identities and accounts, including the ability to centralize control over account maintenance, e.g., removing access to individuals who no longer may access a system.
  • Authentication Mechanisms: Passwords, MFA, SMS tokens or any form or combination of authentication methods are used to verify identity.
  • Authorization/Access Control: AaaS provides controls that verify users across a system’s resources, and manage what users can access what resources and how.
  • Security Policies: A strength of AaaS is that it can also better centralize and support security policies related to auditing and monitoring, password policies, service-level agreements, and other policies and agreements between end users, companies, and providers.
  • Fraud Detection: Audit logging and reporting on user activity determines, through human or AI-driven analytics, any evidence of fraud or hacking.

Primarily, cloud-based authentication works through Single Sign-On (SSO) strategies in a way that allows users to access resources on the cloud through different devices connected to the cloud. By using cloud-based authentication, your business can leverage more comprehensive features across multiple devices without losing out on user experience. These include the following:

  • Cloud-Based LDAP: Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) provides a client-server model of authentication where the client provides credentials with a request for resources or information. The credentials are compared against a database of user credentials and authenticated before releasing any information. Cloud-based LDAP systems use this model but within a cloud framework.
  • Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML): SAML is a form of federated authentication that allows separation to exist between service providers and services. This empowers the use of identity providers across many different platforms or services.
  • OAuth: OAuth is an open protocol that allows the use of authorization tokens across multiple sites. Somewhat similar to SAML, OAuth provides authentication across multiple platforms. OAuth relies more heavily on API calls between different platforms, while SAML relies more on browsers and cookies containing XML. This makes OAuth more intuitive and robust for use in mobile apps, games, etc.

Modern Authentication and Driving Secure Cloud Infrastructure

Cloud-based authentication as a discipline is always moving towards better control and security for cloud applications. The fact that most of us, and most enterprises, use applications in some fashion has made authentication a necessary focus. Cloud providers have developed solid solutions that include modern tools like SSO and MFA.

Authentication must meet the challenges of the future. While centralized authentication and MFA are important, they aren’t foolproof. These solutions are hackable and spoofable; even with advanced biometrics and MFA, an identity gap still exists between the credentials provided and actually proving a user is who they say they are.

Identity proofing and moving away from passwords are the next step—a step that many systems are still taking. By requiring identity proofing that doesn’t impede user experience or scalability, a platform can serve providers by acting both as a necessary security feature while streamlining user access.

Strong, Passwordless Authentication with 1Kosmos BlockID

It isn’t enough to rely on the same methods. That’s why 1Kosmos brings strong, passwordless authentication to customers who want a simple, easy, and secure solution. BlockID addresses many of the significant drawbacks of today’s authentication, and this approach makes our service suitable for both general business use and for contexts where stringent compliance standards apply.

To accomplish this task, BlockID includes several essential cloud-based features:

  • Liveness Tests: BlockID includes liveness tests to improve verification and minimize potential fraud. With these tests, our application can prove that the user is physically present at the point of authentication.
  • Zero-trust Security: BlockID is a cornerstone for a zero-trust framework, so you can ensure user authentication happens at every potential access point.
  • Incorruptible Blockchain Technology: Store user data in protected blockchains with simple and secure API integration for your apps and IT infrastructure.
  • KYC Compliance: BlockID Verify is KYC compliant to support eKYC verification that meets the demands of the financial industry.
  • Strong Compliance Adherence: BlockID meets NIST 800 63-3 for Identity Assurance Level 2 (IAL2) and Authentication Assurance Level 2 (AAL2).

Best of all, your employees and users can onboard with BlockID and start using it with little or no background knowledge.

Are you looking for a new authentication platform and want to know more about 1Kosmos BlockID? Check out our webinar on The Need for User Verification in a Remote Society. Also, make sure to sign up for our newsletter, where you can stay ahead of 1Kosmos news, events, and product releases.

FIDO2 Authentication with 1Kosmos
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Meet the Author

Mike Engle

Co-Founder and CSO

Mike is a proven information technology executive, company builder, and entrepreneur. He is an expert in information security, business development, authentication, biometric authentication, and product design/development. His career includes the head of information security at Lehman Brothers and co-founder of Bastille Networks.