Identity and Access Management (IAM) is indispensable in our digital society. Whether you’re placing an online order, logging into a government service or trying to access your emails: in each of those cases, you need an online identity to gain access. Identification is a vital component of identity and access management. But what exactly do we mean by identification in this context? And how does it differ from a related concept like authentication?

What is identification?

Identification is something we regularly encounter in the ‘real world’. Think, for example, of showing your passport when passing through immigration at an airport.

Within an IAM context, identification is essentially the first part of the IAM access process. Identification is the action and step ensuring that a system, service provider or organisation knows who you are. It is no more or less than revealing the digital identity of an entity (be it a person, application or device).

The system or service provider asks for a login. The entity identifies itself with a unique username, identification number, smartcard, etc. Based on this, the system recognises the data, for example, as a person representing an existing digital identity.

The relationship between identification, authentication and authorisation

Within IAM processes, identification forms a logical triad with the related and complementary concepts of authentication and authorisation.

  • Identification refers to the process of identifying a digital identity of a user, application or device. In the case of a user, this usually means providing a username or email address.
  • Authentication follows identification and verifies whether the entity is who he, she or it claims to be. Credentials such as passwords, one-time pin or numerical codes, authentication apps or biometric data (fingerprint, iris scan) are needed, for example, to confirm your digital identity.
  • Authorisation is the step that grants the entity permissions to use a particular function or service or to enter a specific digital environment. A person, for instance, may be given specific rights based on their role and digital profile.

Together, these three processes form the core of an IAM system. They work collaboratively to ensure that only authorised users have access to systems and resources.

Why is identification important?

Authentication without prior identification makes little sense. It is illogical to conduct a check without a system or admin knowing whose identity they need to confirm. If you have given the right to view or edit a file only to specific users, that person must be identified (by providing a login), then authenticated (by a password and a one-time verification code) and authorised to have permission to read or modify the document. Identification is a crucial pillar within IAM because it offers the ability to limit access to vital and sensitive information to specific individuals.