Authentication & Access Control: All You Need To Know

Access control is integral to any business or facility’s security, ensuring that only those with proper authority and credentials can gain access. Various methods are used to verify users’ identities and credentials, from proxy cards to PIN codes to fingerprint scanners.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) and Access Control Authorization are two fundamental components of cybersecurity strategies aimed at safeguarding data and confidential information from unauthorized access.

Keep reading to discover their implementation strategies and how they work together to enhance security measures in various digital environments.

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What is Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication is a form of Multi-Factor Authentication that requires two levels of security measures to authenticate a user’s credentials.

Most systems or devices—whether control access systems, smartphones, or debit cards—rely on only one form of authentication, usually a password, PIN code, or keycard.

This is enough for many systems, but others require beefed-up security to prevent hackers or burglars from getting in. That’s where 2FA comes in.

Two-Factor and Two-Step Authentication

Multi-Factor Authentications

Knowledge Factor

A Knowledge Factor is something that the user knows or commits to memory, such as a unique password authentication or PIN code. This is the most common and basic authentication factor to protect sensitive data.

Possession Factor

Possession Factors are an item or token given to the user or that the user possesses, such as a key card (in swipe card systems) or even a physical key.

It could also be a biometric factor, such as fingerprint scanning, or in software systems, a digital signature or cryptographic key that will protect customer data.

Disconnected Tokens

Disconnected Tokens have no connection to the access control system and often use a built-in physical screen to display a generated authentication key, which the user manually enters into the particular resource.

Connected Tokens

These devices are physically connected to the system and automatically transmit the appropriate credentials for access to the computer. Common tokens, such as smart cards and USB drives, are cheap and easy to use.

Inherent Factor

Inherent Factors are inherent in the user—usually biometric methods such as fingerprints, face scans, or even retina scanners on more secure systems.

Learn more: Paxton Access Control

What’s the Difference Between Two-Factor & Two-Step Authentication?

Despite sounding similar, these two terms are different. While Two-Factor Authentication requires at least two different types of factors, two steps do not necessarily require two steps, but they can be two of the same form.

This can make Two-Step Authentication systems somewhat less secure than Two-Factor systems.

However, these two forms are usually used for different purposes and systems; plain two-step authentication, without different factors, is more likely to be used for consumer-grade applications, while two-factor authentication is often used in systems requiring much more security.

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Benefits of Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) 

  • Enhanced security: 2FA adds an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access, reducing the likelihood of data breaches.
  • Compliance: Many regulatory standards and industry best practices recommend or require 2FA to safeguard data against cyber threats. 
  • User confidence: Implementing 2FA demonstrates a commitment to security, enhancing user trust and confidence in the organization’s systems and services.
  • Increased resilience: It strengthens the overall resilience of a system or network by making it significantly more difficult for attackers to compromise user accounts and gain unauthorized access.
  • Streamlined access: It provides a seamless authentication process, offering an additional layer of security without significantly disrupting the user experience.

Types of Access Control

Discretionary Access Control (DAC)

DAC systems allow users to control access to their data centers. In this security model, users have discretion over who can access their files, folders, or other resources, typically through permission settings.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC assigns access permissions to users based on their roles within an organization. Access control is linked to predefined roles, and users are granted access based on their assigned roles rather than individual identities.

Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC)

ABAC evaluates various attributes or characteristics associated with users, access resources, and environmental factors that manage access rights.

Access decisions are based on system administrator policies, which consider user roles, access data, time, physical locations, and other contextual information.

Mandatory Access Control (MAC)

Mandatory access control is a strict model where access permissions are centrally administered and enforced by the system rather than individual users or administrators. Access decisions are based on a predefined security policy set by the system administrator, and users have limited access control over permissions.

How Does 2FA Access Control Work in Action?

When an employee or user tries to access an entry point in your facility, 2FA will require two steps: a Knowledge Factor, followed by a Possession Factor or Inherent Factor. This will help ensure they are who they say they are, reducing the risk of stolen passwords or keycards being used to gain access.

Hackers would have to steal not only two different factors but also two different forms of authentication, an even more difficult task in brute-force attacks.


Is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) suitable for all access control scenarios?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) can be applied to various access control scenarios, including logging into computer systems, accessing online accounts, and entering physical premises. However, the suitability of 2FA depends on user preferences and the organization’s security policies. 

Can Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) be integrated with other security measures?

Yes, Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) can be integrated with other security measures, such as Single Sign-On (SSO) solutions, Identity Management platforms, and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems. 

What is the difference between logical and physical access control?

Physical access control regulates entry to physical spaces or assets, like buildings, using locks and security personnel. Logical access control manages digital access to data and systems, employing authentication and permissions settings before you can grant access.

While physical access control secures tangible assets, logical access safeguards digital resources. Both are crucial for comprehensive security strategies, protecting against unauthorized access to physical and digital assets.

Key Takeaways

Traditional authentication methods, such as passwords and keycards, can no longer protect sensitive information and resources. Two-factor authentication (2FA) provides an added layer of security by requiring users to provide two forms of verification before gaining access.

By combining different types of factors, such as knowledge factors (passwords), possession factors (security tokens or biometrics), and inherent factors (biometrics), businesses can significantly enhance their security posture.

Take the first step towards strengthening your business’s security today. 

Contact us now to learn more about how access control and Two-Factor Authentication can benefit your business and to discuss implementation options tailored to your security needs.

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