Machine-to-machine authentication refers to the process of allowing different remote systems to communicate with each other. Your favorite vending machine, for example, can be set up to automatically send an order to the supplier’s system for items that are running out of stock.

Since machine-to-machine communication can occur over wired, wireless, and any form of channel, it is prone to abuse and glitches. Machine-to-machine authentication helps ensure that only authorized services can access information on another system. It wouldn’t be ideal for a threat actor’s or competitor’s application to access the vending machine supplier’s inventory and order filing system.

Most machine-to-machine authentication solution providers use Open Authorization 2.0 (OAuth) as a way for applications to access systems. OAuth 2.0 is the current standard protocol for online authorization. It replaced the first version, OAuth.

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The telephone caller ID feature is a classic example of machine-to-machine communication. The caller’s device transmits its number to the receiver’s telephone, so the person sees who is calling. 
With the advent of the Internet and the Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine communication is no longer as straightforward as the caller ID system. For security reasons, machine-to-machine authentication is required in telecommunications, industrial, business, or household settings.

How Does Machine-to-Machine Authentication Work?

The concept behind machine-to-machine authentication is similar to requiring users to log into a system with their usernames and passwords. But instead of these user credentials, machine-to-machine authentication requires applications to obtain an access token from an authorization system so they can access server data.

The typical process involves three steps.

  • The client (i.e., application, process, or any system) sends a request to the authorization server. The request contains the client ID, client secret, and audience.
  • After validating the request, the authorization server responds with an access token, a random combination of characters representing the authorization of the client to access data.
  • The client uses the access token to request access to specific data stored on the server. 

The image below shows a simplified representation of machine-to-machine communication between fitness applications and smartwatches.

machine-to-machine authentication

What Are Examples of Machine-to-Machine Authentication?

Machine-to-machine authentication is implemented across various processes, industries, and applications. You can see it in action in almost every machine-related process. Below are some examples.

  • Package tracking: Logistics companies use radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to monitor products in transit. These tags are authenticated to automatically send information to the company’s tracking system about the package’s whereabouts. Aside from preventing packages from getting lost, machine-to-machine authentication also makes it possible for customers to receive automatic updates about the shipment.
  • Smart utility meters: Providers of energy, water, and other utility services have automated meter monitoring with the help of machine-to-machine communication. The utility company’s metering system is authenticated to access consumers’ meters. It is also authorized to cut down services in case of nonpayment.
  • Car manufacturing: Machines and equipment used to build cars communicate with each other for efficiency. The conveyor belt, overhead conveyor, engine machining station, welding and painting robots, and all other machinery must work together. Machine-to-machine authentication provides these machines access to one another’s information.
  • Wearable IoT devices: The smartwatches that track your steps, burned calories, heart rate, and blood pressure are also applications of machine-to-machine communication. They are authenticated to send these details to your smartphone. Without proper machine-to-machine authentication, your information might get sent to another user’s phone.

All these examples of machine-to-machine authentication have a common theme. They do away with human intervention as much as possible, and the process ensures that only authorized systems get access to the information from the relevant machine or device.