What is Multifactor Authentication?

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What is Multifactor Authentication? 

Multifactor authentication is a system that requires multiple credentials to verify a user’s identity. These credentials can include passwords, codes sent via text, or even biometrics. Requiring at least two forms of authentication secures accounts, even if one credential is stolen or compromised. Because of the added security, multifactor authentication has become a crucial system for protecting devices, networks, and databases from cyber-attacks.  

What’s the Difference between Two Factor and Multifactor Authentication?  

Two factor authentication (2FA) was the standard used in the past by vendors who wanted to secure their systems further. As the name suggests, however, two factor authentication only used two credentials to verify a user’s identity. However, as hackers learned how to break through two forms of security keys, like a user ID and password, vendors realized a more rigorous standard was needed.  

Multifactor authentication has replaced two factor authentication as it requires two or more forms of identification to grant access. Either 2-factor or multifactor authentication can require two forms of credentials, but only multifactor authentication will require three or more credentials to prove a user’s identity. Multifactor authentication, then, is the most secure option between the two.  

How does Multifactor Authentication Work? 

If you’re a user logging into an account with multifactor authentication enabled, you’ll find a slightly different process than normal. After entering your username and password, two typical factors of authentication, you’ll also be prompted to verify your identity in a third way. Some accounts will send a 6-digit code to your phone. Others will host the code in an app you have access to.  

You have easy access to your phone, and it takes a few extra seconds to follow the instructions, then you’re in. However, a hacker who stole, or brute forced, your password would be stuck. Without access to your phone, even hackers with the ability to compromise your login credentials cannot gain access to your account.  

Which Methods can be used to Implement Multifactor Authentication? 

Multifactor authentication methods are divided into three different categories: things a user should know, things a user should have, and things a user inherently is. Most multifactor authentication methods integrate two or more factors from two different categories to authenticate user identity.  

Here are a few examples of multifactor authentication methods in each category: 

Knowledge (Something the user should know)  

  • Passwords 
  • PINs 
  • Security Questions 

Possession (Something the user should have) 

  • Smartphone to receive OTP (one time password) messages 
  • OTP Application 
  • Badge 
  • Key 
  • Security token 

Inherence (Something the user is) 

  • Fingerprint Scan 
  • Voice Recognition 
  • Retina/Iris Scan 
  • Facial Recognition Software 
  • Digital Signature 
  • Hand Geometry 
  • Earlobe Geometry 

Different authentication methods are utilized in different scenarios. For example, retina scans may not be a viable option for most online accounts, but text messages with OTPs are available to everyone with a phone. On the other hand, physical locations may find inherence authentication factors best for a high-level security authentication process instead of relying on simple PINs. Each system will have different limitations based on their users and goals. 

A new form of identification is also emerging based on user location and behavioral analysis. Using the GPS tools most smart devices have on them, users can identify themselves by logging in at a typical location. Behavioral analysis will then require extra authentication when a user is logging in at a time or location outside of the routine. 

Benefits of MFA 

MFA increases security by adding an extra layer of authentication to ensure that only verified users can enter organizational systems. Multifactor authentication reinforces the weaknesses of the traditional username and password model. Passwords can be easily compromised; your organization’s security should not solely rely on one employee’s password.  

Many employees will reuse passwords, use easily guessed passwords, or use unsafe password storage methods.  Usernames and passwords are also vulnerable to brute force attacks from hackers, which means third parties can easily gain unauthorized access.  

Multifactor authentication solves the password weakness issue by requiring an additional layer of authentication. Additionally, MFA methods are even more secure than passwords. Methods like OTPs are randomly generated and can expire quickly, which makes them incredibly difficult for hackers to break through.  

Multifactor authentication is an essential tool for strengthening your company’s security systems. If you’re interested in multifactor authentication methods, learn more about the TokenEx 3DS tool, designed to reduce fraud and help your company comply with PSD2.