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Secure Programming Cookbook for C and C++ by Matt Messier, John Viega

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8.1. Choosing an Authentication Method

Problem

You need to perform authentication, and you need to choose an appropriate method.

Solution

The correct method depends on your needs. When a server needs to be authenticated, and the client does not, SSL/TLS is a popular solution. When mutual authentication is desirable, there are a whole bevy of options, such as tunneling a traditional protocol over SSL/TLS or using a dedicated protocol. The best dedicated protocols not only perform mutual authentication but also exchange keys that can then be used for encryption.

Discussion

An authentication factor is some thing that contributes to establishing an identity. For example, a password is an authentication factor, as is a driver’s license. There are three major categories of authentication factors:

Things you know

This category generally refers to passwords, PIN numbers, or passphrases. However, there are systems that are at least partially based on the answers to personal questions (though such systems are low on the usability scale; they are primarily used to reset forgotten passwords without intervention from customer service people, in order to thwart social engineering attacks).

Things you have

ATM cards are common physical tokens that are often implicitly used for authentication. That is, when you go to an ATM, having the card is one factor in having the ATM accept who you are. Your PIN by itself is not going to allow someone to get money out in your name.

Things you are

This category generally ...

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