What is Multi Factor Authentication and why is it important?

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Hackers get into email accounts and wreak havoc, or they break into company's networks and steal customer data. Email, social media, banking and SAAS accounts are especially prime targets for hackers. But when you add a layer of security, like multi factor authentication, it makes it much harder for them to get into accounts.

We’ll explain what MFA is, why it’s important, and how you can set it up for your business or individual accounts.

What Is Multi Factor Authentication?

So, what is MFA? Multi factor authentication, or MFA,  is a security measure that requires more than one form of identification to access an account or system. It is essentially an extra layer of security that requires more than one piece of evidence to prove that a user is who they say they are before being granted access. Adding multi factor authentication helps keep accounts safe from hackers. And in a world where cybercrime is on the rise, it’s more important than ever to use Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) to protect your systems both online and offline. This is in contrast to single factor authentication, which only requires one piece of evidence, such as a password.

MFA can be used for both online and offline verification. For online accounts, it might be a username and password plus a security question and answer, or a code that is sent to a user's mobile device. In the physical world (offline MFA), it might include things like a driver's license and a Social Security card, or fingerprint reading.

The goal of MFA is to make it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to accounts or systems. By requiring multiple pieces of evidence, it becomes much harder for attackers to successfully impersonate another user. This is why MFA is important.

Types of Checks You Can Use to Implement Multi Factor Authentication

First, it’s important to understand that by default, the username and password requirement is the foundational or most basic authentication method used everywhere that requires access to an account. So whenever you add another verification requirement in addition to username and password, then you are implementing multi factor authentication. Two factor authentication is often used to refer to cases where two verification methods are used (username and password plus one more method). But, even two factor authentication still falls under multi factor authentication because multi means more than one. 

Now, there are several combinations of checks you can use to achieve multi factor authentication. While these checks can be so diverse, they can be grouped into three main categories namely: something that a user knows (knowledge), something that a user has (what you have), and something that uses unique human features to ascertain the identity of the user (who you are). For example, passwords and usernames fall under the knowledge category, OTP codes sent to phones or emails fall under something that a user has (device), while verification like fingerprints fall under the “who you are” category.  

Let’s now look at some of the checks that are commonly used to achieve MFA. For each check, we’ll indicate the category it belongs to. 

SMS Token Authentication

SMS token authentication is a method that uses a text message containing a PIN number as the second factor. The PIN number is then used as a one-time password in addition to the traditional username and password. This type of authentication is suitable for consumers who access services from mobile devices, such as online banking, as it provides an additional layer of security. 

In order to use SMS token authentication, the user must first register their mobile phone number with the service provider. Once registered, the user will receive a text message containing a unique PIN number whenever they attempt to log in to their account. The PIN number can then be entered into the login screen, along with the username and password, to complete the authentication process. 

While SMS token authentication is an effective way to protect online accounts, it is important to note that it is not foolproof. If a hacker were to gain access to a user's mobile phone, they would be able to intercept any text messages containing PIN numbers and use them to login to the user's account. For this reason, it is important that users take steps to protect their mobile phones, such as using a secure lock screen, and only sharing their PIN number with trusted individuals, if at all they must share.

Category:  “What you have”

Email Token Authentication

Email token authentication uses a code sent to a user’s email. It’s very similar to SMS token authentication, only that the message goes to email instead of phone. The process is essentially the same: you receive a code via email, which you then enter into the login prompt to gain access to your account. 

The advantage of email token authentication is that you can receive the code anywhere as long as you have access to your email account. This can be especially useful if you're traveling and don't have access to your phone.

Category: “What you have”

Software Token Authentication

Software Token Authentication uses software tokens to generate one-time passwords. The passwords are generated on devices such as smartphones, laptops, or tablets, and they can be used to log in to websites or other online services.

Software tokens are a more secure authentication method than traditional passwords, because they are harder for hackers to steal or guess. They also provide an extra layer of security by requiring something that only the user knows (the password) and something that only the user has (the token). This makes it more difficult for attackers to gain access to your account even if they manage to steal your username and password.

Category: “What you have”

Hardware Token Authentication

Hardware tokens are small devices that generate unique authentication codes which are used in conjunction with a username and password to log in to a system. They are generally more expensive than other authentication methods, but they are very effective in preventing online fraud and ensuring the security of customer data.

This is one of the most secure authentication methods available and is used by high value companies at high risk, such as banks, insurance, and investment entities. The use of hardware tokens is rising as businesses become more aware of the importance of Multi Factor Authentication and the security risks associated with online fraud. 

Category: “What you have”

Phone Call Authentication

In this type of authentication, the user receives an automated call that reads an authentication code to them. It can also involve a business calling a user before approving a transaction.  

This type of authentication is great for businesses that want to verify that the person trying to access their account is really the owner of that account. 

Category: “What you have”

Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication uses physical human characteristics to verify the user's identity. This could be something like a fingerprint, retinal scan, or voice recognition. 

It's one of the more popular types of authentication because it's seen as being one of the most secure methods. Plus, it's very convenient for the user because they don't need to remember any passwords or carry any extra tokens around with them. 

Category: “Who you are”

Social Login

Social Login is a type of authentication that uses your social media credentials to log in. It's a convenient way to login without having to remember multiple usernames and passwords. 

Social Login is available on a number of websites and platforms, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter. All a user needs to do is be logged into one account like say Gmail or Facebook, and with that they can sign into several applications without entering usernames and passwords. 

This authentication is based on the concept that a user who is already logged into a recognized platform is sufficient verification. Of course the danger of this is that in the event your device is stolen and the criminals manage to get into your email, then they can end up causing lots of damage within a short time. 

Category: “What you have” 

Security Questions

One common type of Multi Factor Authentication is security questions. These questions are used to verify a person's identity by asking for information that only they would know and had provided it earlier at the time of signing up. 

Common examples of questions that many platforms use include pet names, the name of the user's high school, favorite restaurant, etc. 

Category: Knowledge

Risk-Based Authentication

Risk-based authentication is based on evaluating the risk level of a user and assigning them a score. This score is then used to determine the strength of the authentication process. 

There are a few factors that are taken into consideration when assessing risk, including: the user's location, the device they normally use, the time of day they normally access a certain service, and past behavior.  

Category: “What you have” 

Importance of Multi Factor Authentication

MFA is important because it adds an extra layer of security on top of your usual login credentials. Even if someone were to obtain your username and password, they would still need access to your other requisite authentication factors in order to log into your account. This therefore means that without these other credentials, they will never have access.  MFA also helps protect against phishing attacks, which are attempts to steal your login information by pretending to be a legitimate website.

Here are the key benefits of multi factor authentication;

1. Consumer Protection Against Cybercrime

In this age of the internet, cybercrime is a constant threat. Hackers can gain access to sensitive information, like credit card numbers and social security numbers, with alarming ease. But with multi factor authentication requiring more than one piece of information in order to access accounts, cybercriminals will not have it easy breaking in. For example, a user might need to enter a password and then confirm it with a code that is sent to their cell phone. As you can imagine, the phone is with you (unless lost or forgotten back) and there is no way the criminal will have access to that code. By requiring multiple pieces of information, multi factor authentication makes it much more difficult for hackers to gain access to accounts. As a result, it's an essential tool for protecting consumer identity.

2. Defense Against Theft of Business Data

In today's digital environment, data is one of a company's most valuable assets. Sensitive business information, such as customer records and financial data, must be carefully protected from unauthorized access. One way to safeguard this data is through the use of multi factor authentication. 

By requiring each user to provide two or more pieces of identifying information before they can gain access to a system or data, multi factor authentication makes it much more difficult for unauthorized individuals to gain access to the sensitive data of an organization. In addition, multi factor authentication can also help to detect fraudulent activity, such as attempts to use stolen credentials. As a result, it is an essential tool for protecting business information.

Businesses of all sizes can rely on MFA to prevent data breaches, deter fraud, and keep your business safe from cybercrime. 

3. MFA Enables Businesses to Comply With Regulations

Multi factor authentication is an important step for businesses to take in order to comply with various regulations. This is particularly important for businesses that operate in highly regulated industries, such as finance and healthcare. By using multi factor authentication, businesses can ensure that their data is protected and that their employees are compliant with the latest security regulations.

4. MFA Enables Secure Financial Transactions on Mobile

Mobile banking and shopping is becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. Mobile transactions are quick and easy, and you can do them from anywhere. But with this increased convenience comes a greater risk of information being stolen. MFA helps to verify that the person requesting a transaction is the authentic user of that account.  

5. MFA Protects Easy Passwords

One of the best things about multi factor authentication is that it protects your easy passwords. Many users get tired of creating new passwords and resort to using the same password across many accounts. This makes them vulnerable to hackers if one of their accounts is compromised. 

With multi factor authentication, you don't have to worry about using weak passwords anymore. You can simply use the easiest password you want without having to worry about it being compromised, because that is not the only login credentials.

The Risk of Not Using Multi Factor Authentication

The risks of not using multi factor authentication are clear. If your account is hacked, the thief would have access to all business or personal data and could potentially damage your reputation or finances. Multi factor authentication can help safeguard against this by making it harder for thieves to gain access.

If you're not already using multi factor authentication, we recommend enabling it as soon as possible. It's an easy way to keep your systems safe. 

How Does Multi Factor Authentication Work?

Wondering how MFA works? Well, multi factor authentication works in a step by step manner, where the user is given a series of procedural challenges. When logging in for example, users are typically required to first enter their username and password. With MFA enabled, they would be required to provide the next authentication for instance a code that is generated by an app or sent via text message. This code changes every few minutes, so even if someone manages to steal the username and password, they would not be able to log in without also having access to the phone. 

How to Set Up Multi Factor Authentication

Setting up Multi Factor Authentication is an important step in protecting your online identity and data. Use these steps for set up; 

First, you'll need to create an account with a Multi Factor Authentication provider. There are many providers to choose from. You just need to do your research based on your preferences and find one that best suits those needs. 

Next, download the provider's app and create a profile. Be sure to provide as much information as is necessary to enjoy a good service, especially if you want something customized. 

The final step is to set up the app as per the guidelines given by the provider.

Best Use Practices for MFA

While MFA is proven to offer optimal protection, there are certain valuable practices you need to employ in order to get maximum value out of multi factor authentication;

  • Always use a strong password
  • Have a backup method of accessing your account in case you lose your primary device
  • Activate screen locks on your devices
  • Report theft of devices as soon as it happens
  • Never share your MFA credentials, unless you must by all means.

Troubleshooting Multi Factor Authentication

No matter what type of multi factor authentication you use, it's important to keep your devices updated and know how to troubleshoot any issues that come up before you raise an alarm. Here are a few best use practices for MFA troubleshooting: 

  • Make sure you're using the correct login credentials for each account.
  • Ensure that your devices are updated and compatible with the multi factor authentication system that you are using.
  • Double check that your devices are charged and connected to the internet.
  • If all above is in order and you're still having trouble logging in, contact your provider. 

How to Choose the Best Multi Factor Authentication Solutions

When it comes to choosing the best multi factor authentication solution for a business, there are a few factors to consider. First and foremost, it's important to choose a solution that is compatible with the systems and devices that will be accessing it. For example, if your business uses Microsoft Active Directory, then you'll need to choose an MFA solution that integrates with that system. 

You should also consider the cost of implementing and maintaining an MFA solution. Of course while the initial investment may be higher than other security measures, the long-term benefits of increased security and peace of mind are often worth the cost.

You might also consider free authenticators such as the Google Authenticator, which is a free app that generates security codes for two-factor authentication. It's available on both Android and iOS devices. 

Conclusion

Multi factor authentication is a powerful tool to protect accounts. It provides an extra layer of security that can deter hackers and protect data. 

The greatest importance of MFA is that it’s easy to use and can be configured to fit the needs of a business. It is certainly a valuable tool for safety that each organization ought to consider. 

Multi-Factor Authentication FAQ

Do I need multi factor authentication for my business?

Yes. Multi factor authentication is essential for businesses because it adds an extra layer of security that can protect your company from hackers and cyber attacks. 

In the current digital age, it's more important than ever to make sure your data is safe. With multi factor authentication, you can rest assured that your confidential information is protected. 

If you're not already using multi factor authentication, we highly recommend implementing it into your business security plan. 

What will happen if I don't enable multi factor authentication?

If you don't enable multi factor authentication for your account or in business, you're opening yourself up to a number of risks. One of the biggest dangers is that a hacker could gain access and steal valuable data or even money.

With multi factor authentication, you're adding an extra layer of security that makes it much more difficult for a hacker to get into your account. This means that they would need not only your username and password, but also something else that only you have access to, such as your mobile phone or special security key.

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