What is user authentication? Why do we use it?

User authentication is a means of identifying the user and verifying that the user is allowed to access some restricted service; for example, a user must be identified as a particular student in order to get his or her grades; a user must be identified as a memeber of the Columbia community in order to access the Oxford English Dictionary on-line; a user must be identified as a system administrator in order to access documents about web administration at Columbia.

When you log in to your network computer account, you verify that you are authorized to use Columbia computing resources, and, additionally, that you are the user who owns a particular set of those resources (files, e-mail, and so on), by giving the correct user id and password.

On ColumbiaWeb, you will encounter several different authentication methods. The two most common are .htaccess files (used for restricting access on the Columbia secure server) and WIND (used for authenticating Columbia users to remote applications).

For information on using either of these methods with your web documents, see