Authentication and authorization are key concepts in the process of identity verification. They are the basis for all safety mechanisms and ensure that only authorized users have access to certain information or resources. Although people often mistakenly use them as synonyms, they actually refer to different parts of one process. In this article, PXL Vision explains the difference between authentication vs. authorization, as well as how the two procedures are connected.


Definition Authentication

Identity or age verification - whether to open a bank account or access online services - typically requires a recognized document such as an ID card. Authentication is the process of checking whether the ID is valid or authentic in order to detect and reject forged documents and unauthorized attempts at access.

In addition to identity checks with physical documents such as ID cards, the term authentication also includes the process of logging on to online platforms. Entering a user name and the corresponding password is a form of authentication as well.

Particularly when using digital identities, authentication simply means that the user has to verify his or her own identity. A user can only access an account or specific information after successful authentication.

Authentication Methods

To ensure that only authenticated users with verified identities are granted access, there are quite a few, often multi-factor authentication procedures. These can involve a combination of various forms of identity verification:

  • Something you know: These are traditional credentials such as passwords or PINs; only the actual user should know these to prevent unauthorized access. However, it is possible to hack passwords, which is why it is important to create secure passwords and save them accordingly - with a password manager, for example.
  • Something you have: You can reach another level of security by using a physical object for authentication in addition to your credentials. This can be something like a smartcard with an integrated chip or a token. A hardware token generates PINs that are only valid for a limited period of time, thus providing two-factor authentication.
  • Something you are: The most advanced method of authentication is based on biometric features such as fingerprints or facial structures. These are unique to each person and extremely difficult to forge, which makes biometric identity verification particularly secure.

Definition Authorization

Once a user's identity has been confirmed through authentication, the authorization process begins. The goal here is to determine which data or resources the identified user is allowed to access.

For example, a company might want to restrict access to specific data and projects for certain employees. That way, confidential information is only available to authorized persons.


Authorization Methods

There are multiple established authorization methods to effectively manage access to resources:

The Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) is based on the premise that users should only be granted as few access rights as they need to perform their tasks. Consequently, authorizations are assigned restrictively in order to minimize the risk of unauthorized access; it guarantees carefully regulated access control.

Role-based access control (RBAC) is an approach that organizes users into groups or roles. These roles are linked to specific authorizations. Instead of assigning authorizations to each user individually, everyone has an assigned role according to their tasks and responsibilities. This simplifies the management of authorizations and makes it more consistent.

Attribute-based access control (ABAC) goes beyond assignments; it relies on additional user and resource attributes as well as contextual information. This method facilitates precisely differentiated access control with decisions based on a comprehensive assessment. Thus, ABAC is the most flexible and adaptable.

Authentication vs. Authorization: Difference

Authentication is the first step to confirm a person's or user's identity. User names and passwords to log in to online services are a practical example of this. If the login information matches the credentials on file, authentication is successful and the user is recognized as legitimate.

Authorization, however, confirms the access rights of an authenticated person. It determines which actions or resources a person may access or view after their identity has been confirmed. An example of this is data management within a company. Employees who have been successfully authenticated may only access data and functions that are necessary for their role.

Authentication vs. Authorization: Commonality

Though different, the terms authentication and authorization are inextricably linked and together, they are an essential element of IT security. Both ensure that information and resources are adequately protected and only authorized users are granted access.

Authentication alone is not enough to adequately protect a system. Only in combination with authorization is it possible to ensure that users are not only recognized as legitimate, but can also access all but only those resources and functions they are entitled to. This comprehensive approach is essential to protect the integrity and confidentiality of information and to minimize potential security risks.


Authentication and authorization need to work together for an integrated approach to IT security. Authentication alone is not enough to guarantee security. A company's resources can only be adequately protected if authentication is combined with authorization. There are different procedures to choose from when selecting a suitable authentication method; their complexity can vary depending on the desired level of security. Identity verification is a particularly reliable and efficient form of authentication.

This is exactly where PXL Vision can help: Identity verification with PXL Vision takes less than 30 seconds, reduces dropout rates and increases efficiency. Contact us today for a consultation with our experts.


What is the most common method of authentication?

Passwords are still the most common method of authentication. They can be a series of letters, numbers or symbols. However, other authentication methods are more secure as they are harder to hack.

What happens first, authentication or authorization?

Generally, authentication comes first. The identity of a person or user must be verified before the authorization process starts to determine which privileges the authenticated person has and which actions or resources he or she is allowed to access.

What is two-factor-authentication?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) uses two different authentication methods to confirm a user's identity. This significantly increases security, as an attacker must know something (e.g., a password) as well as possess something (e.g., email access) to successfully log in. 2FA is increasingly popular among online services and banks.