2FA (Two-factor authentication)

The combination of two out of the three authentication factor categories. Two-factor authentication is a subset of multi-factor authentication, and significantly increases security, because each authentication factor requires a different style of attack to compromise.

Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication

Adaptive authentication is all about dynamically adjusting login parameters based on unique scenarios. One of the parameters that adaptive authentication can adjust is the requirement for an additional factor of authentication, or step-up authentication. For example, if the system detects an unusual access pattern, it challenges the user for an additional authentication factor (e.g. a code sent via SMS) to establish identity assurance rather than blocking the user altogether.

Adaptive authentication

Adaptive authentication refers to authentication policies that are triggered based on device, user, or location context. Authentication requirements may be determined by static parameters, such as the type of user, their current location, type of device, and so on. It may also be determined using dynamic parameters, in which the system continually analyzes access patterns, and adjusts authentication policies accordingly. For example, a user who only ever logs in from a single location may be blocked if they attempt to log in from a different location.


Authentication is the process of recognizing a user's identity. It is the mechanism of associating an incoming request with a set of identifying credentials.

Authentication Factors

This refers to three mutually reinforcing categories of authentication schemes: 1. Something you are (e.g. your retina, thumbprint, voice characteristics) 2. Something you have (e.g. a specific device, a fob) 3. Something you know (e.g. a password, a secret code)


An authenticator is the means used to confirm the identity of a user, that is, to perform digital authentication. A person authenticates to a computer system or application by demonstrating that he or she has possession and control of an authenticator. In the simplest case, the authenticator is a common password


The process of determining whether a given identity is allowed to access a given resource or function.

Cloud Identity Management

A cloud identity management system is an alternative to traditional directory service systems, which typically manage identity for on-premises monolithic enterprise applications. These often leave cloud services with siloed identity services that must be managed individually, thus complicating lifecycle management.

Consumer authentication

Consumer authentication is the term used for the devices that are designed to verify that a person making a transaction or any business deal is really the person who is certified to do that action.

Continuous authentication

Continuous authentication is a process that continually monitors a user’s session with an eye for authentication, and raises authentication challenges whenever there are signals that a user may have changed. Signals can be based on subtle usage patterns, including unique behavioral biometrics such as typing speed, language fingerprints, and mouse movement patterns.

Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM)

Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM) is a software solution that allows an organization to control customer access to applications; determine customer identity by linking with databases, online profiles, and other available information; and securely capture and manage customer profile information. CIAM supports organizations in conducting targeted marketing, providing seamless authentication for customer support, and gathering business intelligence analytics to better serve customers with new product features and updates.

Digital identity

Digital identity is the electronic equivalent to a real identity, both for people and devices

Digital onboarding

Digital onboarding is an online process whereby an individual signs up with a company or a government/institutional service in order to later access its products and services. The individual provides their personal data, and if required, a piece of biometric information such as a fingerprint or face scan.

Employee Identity Management

The process of cataloguing employees in a software system. Employee identity management often includes representing the organizational structure of functional groups. Employee identity management requires ongoing maintenance, such as when employees are hired or leave the organization. It also often includes an authentication scheme, such as having the employee set their account password.

Federated Identity

In a federated identity system, multiple software systems can share identity data from a larger centralized system. For example, an application for consumers may allow its users to log in using a Google or Facebook account. An enterprise network may use a federated system so that branch offices can manage their own identity system, while connecting systems from each branch through a system at head office. This would allow employees traveling to a different branch office to use the computer systems, but different access policies would likely still apply.

ID verification

ID verification is an authentication process that compares the identity a person claims to possess with data that proves it.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

The process of codifying not only users and groups in a software system, but also what resources they are each able to access and what functions they are each able to perform. IAM addresses authentication, authorization, and access control.

Identity as a Service (IDaaS)

This is a variant on the concept of Software as a Service (SaaS), indicating that identity management can be outsourced and purchased as a cloud-based service instead of either purchasing the software and operating it in-house or building the functionality from scratch in-house.

Identity management

The process of codifying users and groups, as well as the metadata related to each of these entities, such as contact details, location, photo, etc. Includes mechanisms for authentication of these entities.

JSON Web Token

A token representing some number of claims, most typically the claim that the holder is authenticated and authorized to access a resource. These tokens are stored in a JSON format with standardized fields for issuer, subject, and expiry. Web applications often employ a refresh token to automatically generate new access tokens indefinitely.

Least Privileged Access Control

The process of codifying not only users and groups in a software system, but also what resources they are each able to access and what functions they are each able to perform. IAM addresses authentication, authorization, and access control.

Lifecycle Management

This term recognizes that many entities represented in a software system will be at a certain stage in a lifecycle, and their access needs to be managed accordingly. For instance, an employee may start off as a “candidate,” then become a “full employee” with one or more positions over their tenure, and ultimately cease to be an employee and be deprovisioned entirely. Lifecycle management can also apply to other things. For instance, devices may be purchased, provisioned for a particular user, reprovisioned for a different user, and ultimately deprovisioned and sold or discarded.

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol refers to a protocol for interacting with a hierarchical directory service database, particularly for authentication and authorization. However, the term LDAP has also come to represent a wide range of directory system implementations, including OpenLDAP, Apache Directory, and FreeIPA.

Mobile authentication

Mobile authentication is the verification of a user's identity through the use a mobile device and one or more authentication methods for secure access.

Mobility Management

The practice of configuring security policies, monitoring usage and location, and enabling the functionality for provisioning and deprovisioning. This includes remotely wiping data from devices, whether company-owned or employee-owned.

Multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is an authentication method that requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to a resource such as an application, online account, or a VPN.

OAuth 2.0

OAuth is an open standard for allowing delegated access to user information in web applications. OAuth 2.0 is the second major revision to the standard, which completely overhauls the specification. As a result, it is not backwards compatible with OAuth 1.0.

OTP (One-time-password)

A one-time password or passcode (OTP) is a string of characters or numbers that authenticates a user for a single login attempt or transaction.

OpenID Connect (OIDC)

OpenID Connect is a RESTful authentication system that uses OAuth 2.0 for authorization. It uses JSON web tokens (JWTs) and effectively provides single sign-on across multiple applications.

Passwordless authentication

To authenticate users by means other than a password. This could be one of the two other authentication factor categories (something you are, or something you have) or it may refer to a process by which an email or text containing a secret single-use code authenticates you with no other password required.


The process of establishing an identity and associated access configuration in a software system. An example is when a new user signs up for a service, or a new employee begins at an organization. Provisioning requires establishing a method for subsequent authentication (e.g. receiving user login credentials, choosing a password, etc.).

Public-Key Cryptography

An application of asymmetric cryptography, where one key is private and the other is public. Asymmetric cryptography means a message encrypted with one key can only be decrypted by the other. The public one is widely distributed, so that anyone wishing to send the owner of the private key a message can do so knowing that only the intended recipient will be able to decrypt it.

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML)

This is a standardized protocol used to integrate authentication and authorization functions between multiple systems. It is most often used to gain single sign-on functionality between multiple applications from different vendors. SAML implementations act as an “identity provider,” which handle authentication and authorization on behalf of one or more applications.

Single Sign-On (SSO)

SSO enables a user to authenticate to multiple software systems with a single authentication session. A common business application of this is an employee enters their credentials once into a company SSO product and gains access to all their business apps without logging into each app separately. This is particularly helpful if the software systems are within the same organization and managed by the same authority.

System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM)

SCIM is a standard for modeling identity data through resources such as users and groups. It defines standard operations through a REST-based system for manipulating the resources as JSON objects.

Time-Based One-Time Password (TOTP)

An algorithmically-generated code that is deterministic based on the current date and time and a secret “seed” value. The server knows the seed, and can easily verify that a given code is valid for the current time period. TOTP can significantly increase security because even if a code is intercepted, it is worthless after the time window has passed (usually less than a minute). This makes the logistics of an attack much more difficult. TOTP can be implemented on a simple and inexpensive hardware device or on a smartphone. The seed is installed and is made difficult or impossible to recover or duplicate.

Token Authentication

A method of authenticating to an application using a signed cookie containing session state information. A more traditional authentication method is usually used to initially establish user identity, and then a token is generated for re-authentication when the user returns.

Universal 2nd Factor (U2F)

U2F is an open standard, whereby a hardware token device can attest the holder’s identity through a challenge and response protocol. The token device is connected via USB or NFC (near-field communication). It is the standard maintained by the FIDO Alliance and is supported by Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

Universal Authentication Frameworks (UAF)

UAF is an open standard developed by the FIDO Alliance with the goal of enabling a secure passwordless experience for primary authentication, as opposed to a second factor as described in U2F. Under the spec, the user presents a local biometric or PIN and is authenticated into the service. This protocol is not yet embedded in the major browsers, which has limited its adoption.


An evolution of the FIDO U2F and UAF protocols. WebAuthn continues in the FIDO tradition of allowing for using credentials for step up authentication. However, it's biggest innovation is in enabling users to authenticate to services without necessarily needing the user to identify themselves first (through the use of a username and password combination).

Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a security framework developed by Forrester Research in 2009 that throws away the idea that we should have a trusted internal network vs an untrusted external network. Rather we should consider all network traffic untrusted. This research has evolved to discuss an Zero Trust Extended Ecosystem that includes the need to secure the workforce through strong identity and access management, along with multi-factor authentication. Forrester has coined the term “next-generation access” to describe this critical component.