What IsAuthentication Token?

An authentication token or auth token is a ticket that securely carries information about a user's identity between websites and applications.

It allows organizations to reinforce their authentication processes for the services they provide. Authentication tokens enable internet users to enter apps, websites, APIs, and other services without the need to type in their usernames and password every time. Once the user logs in the first time, the system generates a token and shares it with other platforms that are connected to the account. 

Authentication tokens consist of three components: 

  1. Header

  2. Payload

  3. Signature

The header outlines the type of token and the signing algorithm. The payload defines the issuer of the token and its expiration details on top of providing information about the user. As for the signature, it is responsible for verifying the authenticity of the token in delivery. 

What Is Token-Based Authentication?

Token-based authentication refers to a protocol that creates encrypted security tokens. It allows users to validate their identity on apps or websites before generating a unique authentication token. With that token, the users will have access to the protected web pages for a specific period without having to provide their login credentials. 

This passwordless process is a significant improvement from traditional ones, which tend to be insecure as they are user-generated and prone to hacking. Password-based systems involve entering login credentials for every visit and can be frustrating as well as a waste of time. On the other hand, the token-based approach requires the user to remember only one strong password. 

Token-Based Authentication Steps

  1. Access request: The user signs in to a website with their username and password, prompting the system to send an access request to a server. 

  2. Verification of credentials: The server validates the login credentials to confirm whether to grant access to the user.

  3. Token submission: The server creates a signed and secure authentication token valid for a limited period.

  4. Token storage: The user’s browser retrieves the token and stores it for future visits to the website.

  5. Token expiration: The token stays active until the user signs out or leaves the server.

How Do Authentication Tokens Work?

Authentication tokens give users access to a service. But the way they verify a user’s identity depends on the type of token, which either comes in the form of hardware or software.

Hardware Tokens

A hardware token will validate a user’s identity via a physical object. This can be anything from a hard drive to a card. When the user’s device recognizes the object, the authentication token goes through and the user gets access to the website.

Software Tokens

Software tokens have the same purpose as hardware tokens. The main difference is that they operate via on-device software instead of physical objects. Many utilize a two-factor authentication service, which issue tokens after verifying the user’s identity with a second device. Common 2FA methods include sending a code to an email, phone number, or authentication app.