How the Pandemic has changed Authentication and Access

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Librarians
By: Diana Petrowicz, Thu Mar 25 2021
Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was overwhelmingly common for researchers to authenticate via IP address to access institutional subscriptions on Springer Nature websites. That behaviour changed dramatically with the onset of the pandemic, as researchers in many countries quickly transitioned to working from home. Researchers now use a constellation of different methods in greater numbers to authenticate, including persisted access, Google Scholar CASA, and federated access.

SN webinar page © Springer Nature


Springer Nature’s Digital Product Manager Laird Barrett is giving an update on the way in which researchers institutionally authenticating to our websites has changed during the pandemic, over time and in different locations. Laird is a former member of the Seamless Access Governance Committee, and is currently a member of the GetFTR Board of Directors. He has also helped to shape Springer Nature’s ongoing partnership with ResearchGate.


Back in March 2020 we started to see some new developments on our websites. A year-on-year comparison of authenticated page views to SpringerLink and nature.com, two of our biggest content delivery websites, showed there was a slow and steady pattern of growth in researchers, authenticating as a member of an institution, viewing content on those two websites. Around mid-March we noticed people's behaviors changing significantly due to the pandemic starting to bite and lockdowns happening around the world. There was a significant and notable week on week drop in authenticated page views, in this year-on-year comparison in 2020. And there were a lot of reasons for that.

Researchers were doing less research at that time. They were thinking about stockpiling toilet paper and figuring out how they are going to homeschool their children, or had other things on their mind. This meant they were not coming to our websites to read and do research in the regular way. We also saw a drop in authenticated page views, traffic to our sites still remained quite high, but a lot of that traffic was specifically people reading COVID-19 content which we had made freely available without authentication. One of the reasons for that was researchers were struggling to authenticate and prove that they were a member of the institution to access as institutional subscriptions on our website. The traditional way in which researchers had done this was via IP access. That means their device was connected to their institutional network, and when they came to SpringerLink or nature.com, we would see the IP that they were coming from, we knew they were a member of an institution and for that reason we granted them access. Prior to the pandemic, that accounted for about 95% of our institutional authentication.

In the first six months of 2020, users with a previously authenticated cookie came in, returned to the website anonymously and therefore hit a denial page. So what that meant in the real world is that a researcher who was on their laptop, on campus or in their office, they were connected to their institutional network, and we saw that they authenticated the IP and gained access and then maybe they went home and they were on their home network. They came to our website again and because they were not on their institutional IP they hit a denial and so we would record a count here.

But what we could see interestingly was that we suddenly had a jump in the numbers of users who had previously been authenticated and then came and hit a denial and that was a signal to us that there were some researchers out there who were working from home now, and they were used to IP authentication, maybe they were not familiar with all the remote access methods that are available to them whether that's VPN, proxy, federated access, what you might know as Shibboleth and Athens. And so we had an increase in people coming, who we knew were institutional members, because of their previous authentication, but were coming back to us anonymously and hitting a paywall. And so we saw there was a problem there in March of 2020 with remote authentication and we wanted to find a way to help those users.

Find out how we helped researchers get access through SeamlessAccess, Google Scholar CASA and persisted access in this webinar recording below and download the presentation here.


Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Diana Petrowicz is a Marketing Manager in the Institutional Marketing team, based in the London office. She manages 'The Link' blog, creates web content for the librarian webpage and produces the Library Link newsletter to keep the librarian community updated on trends and news.

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