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Authentication, in the context of computer systems, is the process of verifying the identity of an individual, system, or entity. Essentially, it’s how a system validates a user’s claimed identity and confirms that they are who they claim to be.

There are numerous methods of authentication, but most fall into one of three categories:

  1. Something you know: This is the most common type of authentication and includes methods such as passwords, PINs, or answers to secret questions. The idea is that you have knowledge of a secret piece of information that others don’t.
  2. Something you have: This type of authentication includes methods such as smart cards, key fobs, or mobile devices. In this case, you possess a physical object that can be used to prove your identity.
  3. Something you are: Also known as biometrics, this type of authentication uses unique characteristics such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or retinal scans to verify identity.

Often, these categories are combined in a multi-factor authentication system to provide a higher level of security. For instance, an ATM uses both a bank card (something you have) and a PIN (something you know).

Authentication is a crucial aspect of information security as it is the first step in access control, providing a way of enforcing who can and can’t access a system or data. It’s important to note that while authentication confirms an identity, it doesn’t determine what tasks the individual can perform or what files they can access – that’s handled by authorization, which is a separate but related concept.

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