Using Token-Based Authentication to Improve Your Website
Whether you know what it is or not, token-based authentication is an essential part of your daily life. Without it, navigating the internet (including most of the major websites we use constantly) would be both more dangerous and more of a hassle.
Token-based authentication dramatically improves how we experience the internet. It does this by 1, reducing the need for users to constantly log back in, and 2, reducing human-made security weaknesses.
At Swoop, we think traditional login tools are huge liabilities for websites because they’re insecure and provide a terrible user experience. That’s why we’ve developed a secure token-based authentication tool that can be easily integrated into your own two-factor login process and reduce your reliance on weak password systems. Take control of your login experience!
If you’re a web developer, you need to implement some token-based authentication into your site. Users have come to expect the more streamlined experience that tokens provide. Plus, they offer a level of security that simpler systems just can’t beat.
We’re going to cover a few common questions about token-based authentication and how it can improve your site:
- What is it?
- Why are tokens better than passwords?
- How can tokens replace passwords?
- How do I start using tokens on my site?
We’ll walk through the basics of this website authentication concept and then cover different ways you can begin using it to improve your own site. Use the list above to jump straight to what you need, or just start from the top.
What is token-based authentication?
The basic definition is:
A web authentication technique that lets users enter their username and password once and receive a uniquely-generated encrypted token in exchange. This token is then used to access protected pages or resources instead of the login credentials for a designated period of time.
Basically, the digital token proves you’ve already been allowed in. It also allows the website to add more layers of security without forcing you to continually prove you are who you say you are.
Here’s how the process works:
- The user enters their username and password.
- The server verifies that the login information is correct and generates a secure, signed token for that user at that particular time.
- The token is sent back to the user’s browser and stored there.
- When the user needs to access something new on the server, the system decodes and verifies the attached token. A match allows the user to proceed.
- Once the user logs out of the server, the token is destroyed.
Why are tokens better than passwords?
Traditional passwords have one huge weakness: they’re human-generated. Human-made passwords tend to be pretty weak and easy to crack. We’ve all reused old passwords again and again because they’re easy to remember.
Tokens essentially act as an extra layer of security and serve as a stand-in for the user’s password. Most importantly, tokens are machine-generated.
An encrypted, machine-generated code is insanely more secure than any password you might create for yourself. For example, our tools here at Swoop create digital tokens with 2,048-bit encryption that take billions of years to crack. For comparison, the traditional password-based login process looks something like this:
- The user arrives at the target domain.
- They enter their login credentials.
- The server verifies the match and lets them in.
- The user is authenticated to access that domain.
For steps 5-8, users will need to repeat the whole process in order to access anything that’s hosted on a different server, domain, or subdomain. Common examples include viewing or editing account details and beginning an eCommerce checkout.
So what’s wrong with this process? A few things. For one, it’s unintuitive and wastes the user’s time. Who wants to spend all that time entering their credentials over and over again in order to complete multiple tasks? Every user has better things to do than their waste their time in front of a screen.
The login system above is also already vulnerable because the password is probably weak to begin with! In a simple authentication setup like this, each log-in step is a weak link that’s open to attack.
Token based authentication, on the other hand, uses ultra-secure machine-generated codes to prove that you’ve already been authenticated. They’re specific to the user, the particular log-in session, and the security algorithm that the system uses. In other words, the server can identify when a token’s been tampered with at any step and blocks access.
How can I use token-based authentication to replace passwords on my website?
At its core, the main idea of token-based authentication is adding an extra, more secure stand-in for traditional passwords. This might take a few different forms depending on your exact needs.
Swoop’s secure token-based login system can help you kill passwords on your site once and for all.
Our two-tap process works by generating an ultra-secure, 2,048-bit encrypted token whenever a user requests access to your site. All they have to do is send it back via an automatically generated email, and our tools decode the key and authenticate the session.
It’s the easiest way to improve security on your site and dump passwords in one step.
Basically, this means you can replace passwords entirely or use Swoop as an easy and secure two-factor authentication option. Just like how a randomly generated one-time text code can grant you access to a site, an encrypted Swoop key can do the same (but even more secure). Swoop token-based authentication is an ideal solution for websites, web apps, or other resources hosted online that need to be protected.
Biometric authentication techniques use a concrete, unchangeable biological characteristic in place of a machine-generated token. One common example: using your fingerprint to unlock your smartphone.
This variation of token-based authentication has become more popular in recent years, but it still has a long way to go. Biometric authentication processes can be fooled, so they’re not currently as secure as an encrypted digital key. However, they’re still a great security option for hardware, like phones and computers, since the device doesn’t necessarily need internet access in order to verify a match.
Social Sign-in Authentication
This is a common authentication technique that relies on tokens. You’ve seen this before when a website gives you the option to log in via your Facebook account or when an application wants to post something on your Facebook profile on your behalf. This process is also called open authorization.
Basically, the process works by creating a uniquely-generated token that only the website and the social media platform can decode. The token serves as an intermediary. Since the token acts as a secure stand-in for a password, this authentication option is useful for when you don’t necessarily want to share your login credentials with multiple apps or sites.
How do I implement token-based authentication on my site?
Previously, implementing a token-based security system required a lot of work from a developer or team of developers. You can still use an in-house team or tech consultant to custom-develop a token system, but this route can be costly and time-consuming.
Easier options now exist that let any site or web app use ultra-secure tokens to authenticate users. For instance, Swoop can be set up on just about any site in an hour or two. Here’s how the basic implementation process works:
- Specify the login link that users will click to initiate the token-generation process.
- Specify the endpoint link that the authentication tool will redirect users to once their token is verified.
- Set up a trigger for users to begin the process, like placing a ‘Log in with Swoop’ button.
Explore our docs for more specifics on each step.
It’s easy to take token-based authentication for granted, but as online users, we definitely notice when it’s not being used. Without digital tokens, our experience browsing the internet is less secure and less intuitive. Digital tokens are the perfect way to reduce your website’s reliance on passwords. Explore your options and get to know some of the top token-based password alternatives available.
Keep exploring and educating yourself, too! Here are a few related resources:
- Password Security Guide: One of the many benefits of using tokens is that it keeps your users’ passwords protected. Learn more about how you can improve your website’s password security with our ultimate guide.
- How Strong is My Password? | “Not Very,” Security Experts Say: If security is your main objective, you might want to consider using password alternatives. Learn why passwords aren’t the best at keeping information secure.
- Website Authentication Guide: Check out our comprehensive guide to how websites authenticate their users. We cover the general process, vulnerabilities of traditional methods, and new alternatives.
This post was written by John Killoran