What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and How Does It Work?

4 min read

Passwords may be the most common way to verify your online identity, but they are rapidly proving to be an inadequate protection method. If a password has been compromised, hackers can use it to log into applications and business systems, disable other security measures, and cause mayhem. In fact, according to the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Survey, hackers’ most common approach for accessing data breaches is stealing login credentials.

Hackers may use a wide range of attack mechanisms to capture passwords or gain access, including phishing attacks, brute force attacks, web app attacks, point-of-sale intrusions, and even stolen hardware to steal passwords or gain access.

Unfortunately, by using weak passwords, using the same password for different apps, saving passwords in vulnerable sites, and retaining the same password for lengthy periods of time, users make it easy for hackers. Users may follow these patterns to make it easier for them to recognize their passwords, but they also let hackers in through the front door.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security for staff and clients, addressing both of these flaws. It eliminates the detrimental effects of compromised credentials.

In this blog, we will discuss what exactly MFA is and how companies can benefit from using this security tool.

What Is MFA?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security system that allows a person to authenticate their identity using two or more passwords. Passwords, hardware tokens, numerical codes, biometrics, time, and place are all examples of passwords used in this process.

MFA can be implemented using any combination of the examples above, but most implementations use two factors, which is why MFA is often known as two-factor authentication (2FA). The authentication mechanism would remain stable even though one of the authentication factors is broken by using several passwords instead of only one.

The Authentication Factors

The numerous mechanisms by which a person may authenticate their identity are referred to as authentication factors. In IT, authentication variables are categorized into the following categories:

  • Knowledge: Something that the user knows, such as their core username and password.
  • Possession: Something that the user has, such as a smartphone or hardware token.
  • Inherence: Something that is inherent to the physical user, such as a fingerprint or retina.
  • Location: Denoted by the physical location of the user.
  • Time: A time-based window of opportunity for the user to authenticate.

Why is MFA Important?

Increased Security 

According to a new Ping Identity survey, IT and security professionals believe multi-factor authentication is the most efficient security control for protecting both on-premises and public cloud records. Not only that, but many MFA implementations on the market are quick and simple to adopt, allowing your company to implement this highly efficient security mechanism with little time or effort.

Enterprise Mobility 

Multi-factor authentication is also a great way to allow enterprise mobility, and is still a top priority for businesses going through a digital transition. Employee morale grows as they can use their preferred devices to access any of the services they need without needing to leave the workplace. They get the convenience and on-demand connectivity that they value, and companies can ensure that their network and data are secure, by using MFA to log into business apps or to the network remotely via VPN.

What Is Modern Multi-factor Authentication

Some companies may want to incorporate multi-factor authentication on all users, including staff and clients. It’s much more successful when used in conjunction with a single sign-on (SSO) solution, which eliminates multiple passwords from the equation, enhancing security and optimizing user experience.

However, certain businesses do not see the need to include MFA in all circumstances. In order to improve employee and customer convenience, they can opt to skip MFA in low-risk cases, while needing stricter protections in high-risk circumstances, such as while dealing with especially confidential data or high-value transactions. Some examples of this are:

  • A bank may authorize a customer to log into his online account with only a username and password, but transactions must be accepted with a second authentication factor.
  • When an employee tries to access an HR document from a coffee shop or another off-domain site, an organisation may want a higher degree of certainty that they are who they claim to be.
  • When a vendor logs into their site from a new computer, a retailer can set up MFA to ensure it’s not a hacker attempting to break in with a stolen password.

This form of multi-factor authentication is known as contextual, adaptive, or risk-based MFA. The benefit of using contextual MFA is that it strengthens protection only as required, and these criteria or use cases can easily alter and expand over time.

The Future Of Multi-factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication is increasingly developing to provide organisations with connectivity that is both more reliable and less cumbersome for consumers. Biometrics is an excellent example of this concept. It is more reliable because it is impossible to steal a fingerprint or a face, and it is more comfortable because the user does not have to recall something (like a password) or make any other substantial effort. The following are some of the recent developments in multi-factor authentication.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML)

AI and machine learning can be used to identify patterns that signify whether or not a given access request is “normal” and therefore does not require additional authentication, or, conversely, to recognize anomalous behavior that does warrant it.

Fast Identity Online (FIDO)

The FIDO Alliance has established a series of free and open principles for FIDO authentication. It helps websites and applications to replace password logins with stable and quick login experiences.

Passwordless Authentication

Rather than using a password as the predominant means of identity verification and supplementing it with other non-password approaches, passwordless authentication does away with passwords altogether.

There’s no doubt that multi-factor authentication will continue to evolve and advance in the quest for ways for people to show they are who they think they are in a reliable and non-disruptive manner. So, if you’re looking to leverage the benefits of the latest MFA advancements, consider partnering with experts like AccOps. For more information and details, book an appointment today.

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