What Are Login Credentials?

Login credentials are unique pieces of information that verify the identity of a user accessing a digital system.

How Do Login Credentials Work?

The functionality of login credentials changes based on the type of system and its security demands. The type, complexity, and number of required credentials will change in different contexts.

Generally speaking, credentials come in two different forms:

  • Static: Static login credentials are fixed and don’t change over time unless manually updated by the user or the system administrator. These are easier to implement but are more vulnerable to various threats like phishing or brute-force attacks.
  • Transient: Transient login credentials change over time. Transient credentials are often used alongside static credentials to provide an additional layer of security. Transient login credentials include one-time passwords, session tokens, and the codes generated by hardware or software tokens in multi-factor authentication (MFA) systems.

Transient credentials offer enhanced security because even if an attacker manages to intercept or otherwise acquire a temporary credential, it will soon expire and become useless. However, implementing transient credentials can be more complex and require additional resources, such as an OTP generation and delivery system or hardware tokens.

Additionally, there are several different “factors,” or types, of login credentials that play a role in multi-factor authentication:

  • Something You Know (Knowledge): This factor represents knowledge-based information that the user needs to provide to authenticate their identity. It typically includes passwords, PINs, or answers to secret questions.
  • Something You Have (Ownership): This factor involves a physical device that the user possesses, which generates or receives information for authentication. Examples include a mobile phone receiving an SMS-based code, a hardware or software token generating a one-time password, a smart card, or a security key.
  • Something You Are (Inherence): This factor pertains to the biometric characteristics of the user. It can include fingerprint recognition, facial recognition, voice recognition, or retinal or iris scans.

There are several types of login credentials, each providing different levels of security:

  • Username/Password: The most common form of login credentials. The username typically serves as a public identifier for the user, while the password is a secret word or phrase (ideally) only known only to the user.
  • Biometrics: Biometrics are the use of unique physical or behavioral characteristics of the user for authentication. These can include fingerprints, facial scans, or voice recognition.
  • Token-Based Authentication: Here, the user is provided a token, or time- or context-specific string of alphanumeric characters, after successful login with a username and password. This token is then used for authentication in subsequent interactions. This form is often used for federated or Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication approaches.
  • Certificate-Based Authentication: This approach involves using digital certificates issued by trusted authorities that verify an organization is who they say they are. The certificates contain cryptographic keys and the owner’s identity, providing trust and security. This is often used in online encryption, such as with the Secure HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTPS).
  • Each type of login credential comes with its strengths and vulnerabilities that apply to the specific requirements of your business.

    What Are Some of the Threats to Login Credentials?

    While some login credentials are more secure than others, they all face some sort of potential threat. There is no truly fool-proof approach to authentication.

    Here are some of the most common threats:

    • Social Engineering: The most widespread form of login threat is social engineering, or approaching users fraudulently to gain access to their information. For example, phishing attacks involve users revealing their login credentials to attackers posing as trustworthy entities. This is often done through deceptive emails or websites that mimic legitimate services.
    • Data Theft: hackers directly attack an authentication database, including hashed or plaintext login credentials. Following this, the hacker has immediate access to the credentials or, if they are encrypted, access to the database to attempt to crack that encryption at their leisure.
    • Brute-Force Attacks: The attacker systematically tries all possible combinations of passwords until they find the correct one. This type of attack is typically only effective on short or common passwords.
    • Dictionary Attacks: In a dictionary attack, the attacker tries a predetermined list of words and phrases as possible passwords. This can be effective against accounts with weak passwords that use common words or phrases.
    • Keylogging: These malicious programs record keystrokes on a user’s device, often without the user knowing. While insidious, these often require either direct access to the system or a larger-scale hack of that system.
    • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: The attacker can intercept data moving between the user and the service they’re trying to access, capturing it and reading it.

    These threats underscore the importance of solid login credentials, careful handling of sensitive information, and ongoing vigilance about potential threats. It’s essential to keep systems updated, use secure and unique passwords, enable multi-factor authentication, and educate users about potential threats and how to avoid them.

    What Are Some Best Practices for Using Strong Login Credentials?

    Creating and maintaining strong login credentials is essential to personal and organizational cybersecurity. Note that most of these requirements refer to passwords or other changeable authentication methods where the user has direct control over the credentials.

    Here are some best practices to follow:

    • Require Complex Passwords: A strong password should be at least 12 characters long, with a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.
    • Update Passwords: Require that users update passwords on a regular schedule, and disallow them from using repeat passwords.
    • Enable Multi-factor Authentication: MFA requires two or more authentication credentials to verify a user. This will typically be two or more forms of credentials across different categories of factors.
    • Beware of Phishing Attacks: Be vigilant about where you enter your credentials. Phishing attacks often trick people into entering their login credentials into fake websites. Always double-check the website’s URL before entering your information.
    • Implement Strong Security Questions: If your service uses security questions for account recovery, these should also be hard to guess. Treat them like additional passwords.
    • Use Passwordless Authentication: Some security platforms will provide ways to bypass the need to re-enter credentials constantly. These passwordless solutions eliminate some of the most common forms of authentication fraud around passwords.

    Follow these best practices and you can significantly boost your authentication security.

    Strengthen Your Authentication with 1Kosmos BlockID

    Authentication login credentials are only getting stronger and more resilient to attack. As is the case for many things, the weakest link is the user.

    1Kosmos eliminates this attack surface by using the most effective login credentials, including passwordless authentication and advanced biometrics. Other features include:

    • SIM Binding: The BlockID application uses SMS verification, identity proofing, and SIM card authentication to create solid, robust, and secure device authentication from any employee’s phone.
    • Identity-Based Authentication: We push biometrics and authentication into a new “who you are” paradigm. BlockID uses biometrics to identify individuals, not devices, through credential triangulation and identity verification.
    • Cloud-Native Architecture: Flexible and scalable cloud architecture makes it simple to build applications using our standard API and SDK.
    • Identity Proofing: BlockID verifies identity anywhere, anytime and on any device with over 99% accuracy.
    • Privacy by Design: Embedding privacy into the design of our ecosystem is a core principle of 1Kosmos. We protect personally identifiable information in a distributed identity architecture, and the encrypted data is only accessible by the user.
    • Private and Permissioned Blockchain: 1Kosmos protects personally identifiable information in a private and permissioned blockchain and encrypts digital identities and is only accessible by the user. The distributed properties ensure no databases to breach or honeypots for hackers to target.
    • Interoperability: BlockID can readily integrate with existing infrastructure through its 50+ out-of-the-box integrations or via API/SDK.

    1Kosmos can help secure your login credentials by using passwordless authentication coupled with biometrics.

    FIDO2 Authentication with 1Kosmos
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Meet the Author

Javed Shah

Former Senior Vice President Of Product Management

Javed has spent his entire twenty year career designing and building blockchain and identity management solutions. He has led large customer facing pre-sales teams, led product management for identity management platforms like the ForgeRock Identity Platform and the ForgeRock Identity Cloud. Javed has an MBA from UC Berkeley.