Authentication Mechanisms

PACS Training - IT Basics 101
Let’s Discuss the Different Authentication Mechanisms and Protocols that organizations Use to Manage their System

The 21st century is the era of technological innovations. Just in the span of a few years, the world has advanced greatly in terms of technology and digital advancements. But the digital technological enhancements have also raised concerns about data thefts and cyberattacks. Owing to that, organizations, especially those who deal with sensitive user data (such as the healthcare sector), need proper measures to monitor and protect sensitive data. Out of different ways to protect data, organizations use different authentication mechanisms that help manage access control diligently. Therefore, this course module will dive into popular authentication mechanisms.  Imaging informatics professionals and PACS administrators alike should be trained on these mechanisms to enhance the security capability of their patient image data. So, let’s jump in!

Active Directory

To manage access control of critical network resources, organizations across the world use Active Directory (AD). Active Directory is a directory service offered by Microsoft.  Its main role is to empower administrators to manage access control and permissions to critical network resources. But first, let’s clarify what a directory service is.

A directory service maps the names of network resources to their relevant network addresses. In simple words, it is an infrastructure of shared information meant for locating, organizing, and administering different daily items and network resources, such as folders, printers, volumes, users, devices, groups, etc. 

Active Directory runs on Microsoft Windows Server and stores data about objects (such as users, devices, applications, and groups) that are on the network. It also makes the data easy for other authorized users and administrators to find and use. The main service under AD is Domain Services (AD DS), which provides a way to store directory data and also make the data available to others. For example, AD DS might store data about user accounts, including names, phone numbers, passwords, and similar others, and also make this data accessible to other authorized users present on the same network. 

In simple words, Active Directory contains information about every user account linked to a network. It considers every user account as an object, which further has different attributes, such as name, email, etc. To sum up, AD provides and monitors access to critical network resources and everyday items, making it easy for organizations to set a thorough authentication mechanism.


LDAP stands for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. It is a vendor-neutral application protocol that makes it possible for apps to query user data frequently. To better understand it, let’s consider a simple example. Organizations tend to store usernames, passwords, emails, printer connections, and similar other data within directories. LDAP provides a way to access and maintain all such data. With LDAP, employees can verify passwords or connect to printers. 

The main use of LDAP is to provide a central location for authenticating all the small data, such as user name, email, password, etc. It is mainly used in Microsoft’s Active Directory, where it uses a string-based simple query to retrieve data from Active Directory. Other than AD, LDAP can also be used in other tools, such as Red Hat Directory Servers, Open LDAP, IBM Tivoli Directory Servers, etc.

LDAPS is a Secure LDAP that encrypts the whole authentication process. It is the same protocol as LDAP, just it is packaged a bit differently. Basically, LDAPS encrypts the LDAP data while in transit, i.e., during communication with the LDAP server. So, considering the growing risk of cyberattacks, LDAPS encryption-based authentication is gradually replacing LDAP and becoming a standard directory protocol.


Kerberos is a network authentication security protocol that authenticates requests among trusted hosts over an untrusted network, such as the internet. It uses secret-key cryptography to make the communication secure over a non-secure network. You can consider it as a gateway between users and the internet (untrusted network), where it authenticates users but also disallows passwords to be seen by the rest of the internet. 

It deploys strong cryptography and third-party ticket authorization in order to make it challenging for cybercriminals to access the private corporate network. Today, Kerberos is integrated into many operating systems and applications and is even considered a core part of IT infrastructure. In fact, you will find it in Microsoft Windows as default authorization technology. In short, Kerberos is a trustworthy network security protocol for accessing untrusted networks without worrying about data thefts.

Two Factor Authentication

Over years, cyberattacks have become a lot more sophisticated and advanced, but they still use some simple tricks to penetrate systems. One such gateway for them is weak passwords. One report that examined 1.4 billion stolen passwords found passwords like “123456”, “111111”, “12345678”, “qwerty”, and similar others as the most used passwords. These weak passwords make it easy for cybercriminals to guess in no time.

To tackle this challenge, organizations are implementing a strong password policy that does not let users set a weak password. Moreover, they are also focusing on two factor authentications. Through this authentication tactic, a user has to complete two authentications before accessing the data. The first one is the password and the second one is an OTP sent to his/her email, phone number, or dedicated app. This way, it is ensured that only the authorized person is accessing the data. 

Wrapping Up

Unauthorized data access and cyber threats are a concern of every organization today. Every year, thousands of organizations face data thefts and lose the sensitive records of their users. In fact, statistics warn that cybercrimes will cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. Healthcare organizations in particular have been a target of ransomware in recent years.  Patient image data is no exception.  Therefore, it is more important now than ever to ensure strict cybersecurity measures. Above we have discussed one such measure that can improve the security posture of an organization greatly. When you have set up the right authentication mechanism in place, you can monitor access control diligently. 

With proper access control, there will be no room for unauthorized users to access any sensitive record. To sum up, look for the authentication mechanism that best suits your organization’s security needs and start enhancing your security posture right away.

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