Difference Between Identification & Authentication

By Gissimee Doe

A login system uses both identification and authentication.
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Identification and authentication are two terms that describe the initial phases of the process of allowing access to a system. The terms are often used synonymously, but authentication is typically a more involved process than identification. Identification is what happens when you profess to have a certain identity in the system, while authentication is what happens when the system determines that you are who you claim to be. Both processes are usually used in tandem, with identification taking place before authorization, but they can stand alone, depending on the nuances of the system.


Identification is the process of presenting an identity to a system. It is done in the initial stages of gaining access to the system and is what happens when you claim to be a particular system user. The claim can take the form of providing your username during the login process; placing your finger on a scanner; giving your name on a guest list or any other format in which you claim an identity with the aim of gaining access. Identification is not necessary for some systems, such as ATM cards, where anyone with the correct code can gain access to your account without identifying themselves.


Authentication is the process of validating an identity provided to a system. This entails checking the validity of the identity prior to the authorization phase. The process of checking the validity of the evidence provided to support the claimed identity must be sufficiently robust to detect impostors. Authentication usually occurs after identification is complete, such as when you supply a password to support a username during the login process. It can happen, however, at the same time as the identification process.


Identification and authentication are not easily distinguished, especially when both occur in one transaction. They may appear synonymous, but they are two different processes. The primary difference between them is that identification relates to the provision of an identity, while authentication relates to the checks made to ensure the validity of a claimed identity. Simply put, the identification process involves making a claim to an identity, whereas the authentication process involves proving that identity.


Identification occurs when you type your username into a login screen, because you have claimed to be that person, while authentication occurs after you have typed in a password and hit the “login” button, at which time the validity your claim to the username is determined. Some common authentication methods include smartcards, biometrics, RSA tokens and passwords, while common identification methods are usernames and smartcards.