Just about everything we do in this modern, hyper-digital age relies on computerised technology, from communication and online shopping to entertainment and even transportation. So cybersecurity – keeping data, devices and networks protected from unauthorised or criminal use – is essential.

For businesses, having a strong cybersecurity strategy involves developing and implementing increasingly advanced security systems to avoid data breaches, identity theft, and similar digital threats. It also means carrying out robust checks to prevent fraud and protect customers. Personal identity verification and authentication – to ensure service users are genuine – is a crucial part of this process.

There are different levels of security checks, depending on the purpose – there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Some actions require basic verification, while others need multiple checkpoints of authentication. This article explains the difference between authentication vs verification and provides an example of each.

What is verification?

The word 'verification' generally refers to the act of checking that something is true or correct. In cybersecurity, verification means to identify that a person or business is who they propose to be. Verification of a user's identity typically happens at the start of a new relationship between a company and a customer.

The most common method of identity verification includes checking a person's ID documents, like their driving license or passport, or matching the individual's personal data against records in a third-party database. That can be as simple as asking the person to confirm their phone number or email address. Digital identities can also be verified using one single password – like when you log into a social media account.

Example: Identity verification when applying for a credit card

Imagine you're signing up for a new credit card and need to go through identity checking to have your application processed.

The credit card provider needs to check that you are the person you're claiming to be. So they'll likely check your ID against the national database, ask for recent household bills (stating your name and address) and check your credit history to see whether you've had credit before and if you've defaulted on payments in the past.

Concept: ID or other documents required for the verification process

What is authentication?

Authentication is a term used to describe the process of proving that something is real or correct. Identity verification vs authentication can be very similar, except the latter goes one step further to validate an already verified identity. In other words, authentication is an extra layer of verification.

Authentication systems ensure a returning person or business (whose identity has already been previously established by the same system) is still who they claim to be.

You've probably seen CAPTCHA forms before when logging into an account online. This is one method of authentication used to verify that the login isn't a bot attempting a brute-force attack. Another familiar option is a verification SMS sent to a service user's mobile phone number, which contains a one-time password or code (OTP). Entry is only granted if both the password and the OTP are correctly entered into their respective fields. This mechanism is known as two-factor authentication (2FA).

Authentication can also be a security question based on a response a customer has submitted for verification purposes in the past. For example, a support agent may ask a customer, "What's the name of the street where you grew up?" and match their response to pre-submitted information within the customer's record.

Or it can be a match to biometric data (fingerprints, facial recognition, or even retina scans) provided previously by a customer. Biometric authentication and verification methods are a much more sophisticated type of security check than most other methods and are one of the best ways to foil identity theft attempts because biometric information is generally harder to fake or reproduce.

Example: Identity authentication when digitally accessing your bank account

Think about accessing your bank account online and the identity authentication methods in place. You may have to enter a personal identification number and a unique PIN code you created when you first signed up.

Or, you may receive a 2FA text message with an OTP to the contact number assigned to your account. You'd then type in the OTP where prompted online, and if it matches the one issued, you'll proceed to log in.

Alternatively, your bank may require you to use your ATM PIN to gain online access. This is another preset code you'll set up when you first activate your bank card. Typically, your ATM PIN allows you to withdraw money from a cash machine, but it may double up as your online PIN too.

Any of these options do the job of authenticating that your digital identity is genuine and that you're the account's rightful owner.

Woman undertaking 2FA (two-factor authentication) process on laptop

Protect customers with verification and authentication

While the difference between authentication vs verification may be tricky to tell for the average Joe, both terms are frequently used in the context of cybersecurity to describe the process of checking and proving a person or business is who they claim to be.

Customer account security is crucial for any business, but especially for those that deal with sensitive information like financial data. Suppose a hacker was to obtain a customer's credit card details, for example. In that case, they could commit fraud and cause significant devastation – not just for the customer, but for the provider's reputation too.

This is why you'll notice those extra layers of verification and authentication – like the 2FA text message – when you log into your credit card or bank account online. Or when you make larger-than-normal online transactions or set up a direct debit to someone new.

Authentication vs verification: Messente addresses both!

Considering the minor difference between verification and authentication, our customers and users like to use the terms interchangeably, which we wholeheartedly acknowledge and address without getting into the nitty gritty.

Messente offers a reliable authentication service for businesses, whereby we send business-critical 2FA PIN codes worldwide, and our delivery rate is as high as 98%. Your customers will instantly receive their PIN code, meaning minimal friction and an improved customer experience when accessing your online services.

Learn more about Messente's 2FA SMS verification service.