What is Multifactor Authentication, and Why Do You Need it?

The internet has made our lives easier in many ways. We no longer need to go to the bank to make deposits and handle most purchases online. Unfortunately, the same tools used to improve your existence have been exploited by bad actors at some point. 

Most people use passwords daily to access online accounts, but the evolution of hacker attacks has stripped these codes of their protective power. These days a single password is just barebones security.

Here’s where multifactor authentication comes into play. This system has been designed to add one more layer of security to all your online activities. Most social networks use MFA as an option to keep profiles safe. Banking services implement the mandatory use of these security measures to protect their client’s accounts and funds. In this article, we discuss what multifactor authentication is and how it works.

 

Multifactor Authentication (MFA): Definition and How it Works

Multifactor authentication is a validation method used to verify your identity. It relies on different means to confirm that you’re requesting access MFA is designed to add an extra layer of protection to any login access for any online platform, such as social networks, internet forums, websites, banking platforms, and more. MFA is also used to protect devices, such as smartphones, laptops, and more.

The most common way to apply multifactor authentication is by pairing your usual login feature with a secondary authentication requirement. This is also known as two-factor authentication (2FA). However, adding a third (or even fourth) requirement is even safer, hence why MFA is fast becoming a global standard.

It typically works like this: A user enters their username and password, followed by at least a second action. Some apps and platforms use biometrics by having the device scan a user’s fingerprint or face. Others opt for something more standard, like an SMS message containing an OTP (one-time password) or an email with a confirmation code.

 

Why is Multifactor Authentication Important?

Two single words define the importance of multi-factor authentication: Enhanced security. Once you implement MFA, your company increases security while diminishing data leak risks. You’re fostering a safer environment by requiring users to identify themselves with something more than a single username and password. 

You can rest assured that no one will get inside your organization’s infrastructure if a team member’s login credentials are compromised.

There are other benefits of implementing MFA security measures. Here are a few top advantages:

MFA is Customizable

If you run a platform where users and employees interact, you can have different options for each group. The secondary authentication factor can be configured in the most suitable fashion to serve your company better. Choosing a customer confirmation code and biometrics for employees can help you keep a safer online environment.    

MFA Works With Single Sign-On Systems

Despite the risks, human nature drives many employees to use the same password for multiple websites and apps. According to Finances Online, 81% of company data breaches were caused by poor passwords, one-third of malware was caused by password dumper malware, and MFA blocked 99.9% of attacks. By integrating MFA into your systems, you’ll ensure these unsafe practices can’t touch your infrastructure. Weak passwords alone won’t be enough for bad actors to compromise your system.

MFA Helps Your Company Stay Compliant

Many industries still have to catch up security-wise with MFA implementation, but nearly every organization handling sensitive data is required by law to have effective security measures in place. It won’t be long until MFA becomes mandatory to increase security and confirm proper identity use. The automotive industry has been leaning towards adoption for a while, especially the electric car industry. 

MFA is Adaptable

If you’re running a data-driven business, there are some situations where your company could be exposed to more significant security risks. That’s where adaptive MFA measures come in. This technology uses contextual, geographical, and behavioral data to assess risks and mark red flags.

 

MFA Authentication Methods with Examples

Multifactor authentication verifies a user’s identity using a specific set of features. The most comprehensive way to explain them is as follows: 

  • Knowledge: Security measures only known to the user, such as a PIN code.
  • Possession: Security based on something the user owns, such as USB encrypted keys or an authentication app.
  • Inherence: Security related to biometrics such as fingerprints, face scans, or retinal scans.
  • Location: Authentication based on geographic areas derived from Internet Protocol addresses.
  • Time: Security measures setting specific time frames to access a system. 

Here are some examples of the most popular MFA authentication methods used based on each feature: 

Knowledge

PIN Authentications

This feature allows users to create a PIN code to access any account or device with a username and password. It’s one of the most popular methods to protect smart devices worldwide, although it’s prone to  brute-force attacks.

Security Questions

With this option in place, any system can ask a few security questions before granting access to any user. The questions are usually personal and something that only the user can remember, mostly answered with single words or sentences.

Possession

SMS or Text Messages

You can set up a system where users get a one-time password (OTP) via SMS when logging in with a username and a password. It’s a safe and cheap security measure that relies on the user having their device to get access.

Phone Call

A phone call works very similarly to an SMS in this context. The only difference is the user receives the verification code via a phone call, where an automated voice dictates the security code. It requires a functioning phone to get access.

Email Authentication

Here, users get a verification code sent to their email address to be entered upon logging in. 

Push Notification

In this instance, users receive a notification on their smart device asking for confirmation that they’re trying to access a specific account. It’s a method commonly used by Google and Amazon to verify users on their smart devices.

Inherence

Biometrics

Nothing’s more secure than your genetic imprint used to access your data. This is where biometrics comes into play. You can use various systems such as voice recognition, facial recognition, eye scans, or even fingerprint scanning. The only downside is that these measures are mostly relegated to using smart devices. 

Location

GPS authentication

Some MFA solutions allow you to link access to particular accounts or platforms based on the GPS location of the user. Security measures can kick in if access is attempted from anywhere other than the usual location. The system can ask for one more verification method to confirm a user’s identity or deny access until the device returns to the programmed area.

 

Which is the Strongest Form of Multi-Factor Authentication?

The final word about the most robust multifactor authentication method is still out there. All the measures we’ve discussed so far have pros and cons. Anyone can break PIN codes and security questions with forceful attacks. Hackers can intercept all the steps discussed in possession features.

Biometric and location-based MFA security measures seem viable and rebust at first until you’re faced with the limitations of each feature. Biometrics can’t be replicated, but they’re limited to portable devices, and the tech still needs some tuning to be 100% perfect. GPS-based security is very limiting and requires additional programming if you wish to grant passage using an extra authentication step. 

You can help strengthen the overall cybersecurity of your website by implementing DMARC security protocols. With DMARC in place, you don’t have to worry about online lurkers trying to spoof your domain, defraud your customers and employees, or attempt phishing attacks using your brand’s name. EasyDMARC can help you get up to speed with this process right now. Make sure to contact us at  [email protected].

 

How to Setup Multifactor Authentication?

Most devices and apps have MFA or 2FA functionality. Android and iOS have these features programmed into their security options. All you have to do is follow their guidelines to set them up properly. If you wish to add MFA protocols to your website or platform, you need to ask your IT department to set them up. Make sure to choose a solution that suits your company’s needs.

 

Two-Factor Authentication vs. Multifactor Authentication

Many people tend to confuse multifactor authentication with two-factor authentication. The fact is that 2FA is a subset system of MFA. With 2FA, you only need two factors to authenticate a user on any platform. Here’s a quick example: You can configure Facebook to ask for your username and password and then validate your login information with biometrics. 

With MFA, you can have a system requiring more than one authentication protocol to get access, as many banks do. For instance, a bank can require your email address and password, along with an OTP sent via SMS and confirmation via a push notification.

 

Final Thoughts

MFA security places a second layer of protection over your accounts and data to make everything safer. Login information and a password are still required, but users must take extra steps to access to a website, app, or platform. Multifactor authentication is one of the best ways to keep malicious actors at bay. While these security protocols aren’t 100% bulletproof, they can divert the attention of hackers to other less secure sites.

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