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Electronic authentication, or e-authentication, is a process used to verify someone's identity by electronic means for the purpose of allowing access to electronic accounts and other information. When people sign up for electronic services and create profiles, these include a username and password that will be used for e-authentication. Many governments have invested in creating authentication infrastructures so citizens can access a range of government services electronically.
In e-authentication, someone provides a username as a form of identity, and a password to verify or authenticate that identity. There may be layers of security designed to keep that identity as safe as possible, such as a challenge question that the user must answer correctly in order to proceed. Once verified, they can continue with their activities in the electronic system. The system may also have security measures such as an automatic logout for inactive users in order to reduce the risk that someone's identity will be used by another person.
In the case of governments, a key aspect of e-authentication is the ability to create a user name, password, and corresponding profile that can be used across multiple government sites. This one-use identity is efficient for citizens and reduces a great deal of duplicate work. The initial username and password are verified with care, ensuring that when they are used on other government sites, they are valid.
Electronic participation in government is more efficient, easier, and more flexible for citizens. Governments that use e-authentication systems offer many services electronically so people do not have to travel to a government office. People can do anything from applying for visas to renewing their drivers' licenses using electronic systems. If additional information or documentation is needed, the citizens may be referred to a physical office and their electronic data may be transmitted so they do not have to fill out paperwork at the office.
There are some industry standards for e-authentication that can be used when developing electronic systems that will comply with the latest developments in the security community while also interfacing successfully with other systems. Encryption of confidential information is an important security measure, as is the development of challenge questions that can be used to verify identity if there are concerns or questions. Developers of systems that use e-authentication are also concerned about the longevity of such systems and are careful to design updating tools into their systems so that when security measures become outdated, the system can easily be updated without the need for a complete redesign.