What Is Multi-Factor Authentication & Why Your Business Needs It
Americans have been handed many harsh blows in the past year. The pandemic has changed how and where we work, the economic upheaval has many small and medium-sized businesses grappling with how to remain afloat, and security breaches the likes that we have never experienced are threatening our data and livelihoods. It may feel like the unknowns are just too great to deal with, but at least one of those issues can be solved with an extra layer of security, such as multi-factor authentication. In years past, many businesses felt secure in only using the traditional methods to keep accounts and logins secure through the use of a username and generic password to restrict access to data, accounts, and other areas. Unfortunately, this is no longer considered secure. Take for example the unnerving information about passwords that was discovered in a recent study. TeleSign, a digital security company, commissioned a study that quantified consumers’ concerns about online security and their exposure to breaches. They discovered that 54% of consumers use five or fewer passwords for all of their accounts. This lack of uniqueness of passwords on multiple accounts could create a “domino effect” that would allow hackers to take down multiple accounts just by cracking one password. The good news? There’s an easy way to better protect your accounts with multi-factor authentication (MFA).Today’s blog will examine:
What Multi-factor Authorization Is
How it Works
The Difference Between Two-Factor Authorization (2FA) and Multi-Factor Authorization (MFA)
The Reasons Why Multi-Factor is Needed in Today’s Business World
The Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication
The Future of Authentication
What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?
Multi-factor authentication is simply defined as a security mechanism that requires an individual to provide two or more credentials in order to authenticate their identity. These credentials could take the form of a password, 4-8 digit numerical codes, hardware token, or biometric scans including fingerprints, facial recognition, voice, retina or iris scanning. These authentication methods require the user to provide two or more verification factors (thus the multi-factor) to gain access to a resource such as an application, online account, or a VPN. This extra step can, simply put, decrease the likelihood of a successful cyber attack.Most of us are already using MFA in some way or another and aren’t even aware of it. For example, if you have ever swiped your bank card at the ATM and then entered your PIN (personal ID number) you have used MFA. Or, if you have logged into a website that sent a numeric code to your phone, which you then entered to gain access to your account, then you have used MFA.
How Does MFA Work?
Multi-factor authentication works in two different ways: Application MFA and Device MFA.
Application MFA: The authentication process that activates when a user attempts to gain access to one or more applications.
Device MFA: The authentication process that immediately activates MFA at the point of login to a system.
Both types work in very similar manners. When a user attempts to gain access to a resource, whether it is an account, a phone, a laptop, or server, they are met with a requirement to enter multiple authentication factors, rather than just one. An authentication factor is a category of credentials that can fall into several different categories such as:
Knowledge: Something only the user knows such as their password, digital code, or pin number.
Possession: Something only the user has such as a smartphone or a hardware token such as a USB. One of the most common MFA factors that users encounter are one-time passwords (OTP). OTPs are those 4-8 digit codes that you often receive via email, SMS or some sort of mobile app.
Inherence: Something that is only of that user such as their fingerprint, face, iris, retina, or their voice.
Location: Denoted by the physical location of the user.
Time: A time-based window of opportunity for the user to authenticate.
Multi-Factor and Two-Factor Authentication: What’s the Difference?
The terms multi-factor and two-factor authentication are often used interchangeably. While similar in goal and method they differ just slightly. According to IBM Products, “The difference between MFA and 2FA is simple. Two-factor authentication (2FA) always utilizes two of these factors to verify the user’s identity. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) could involve two of the factors or it could involve all three. “Multi-factor” just means any number of factors greater than one.”
Why Multi-Factor is Needed in Today’s Business World
Passwords, even well crafted ones, are no longer enough to protect against the millions of large and small hacks that occur every year across the globe. In recent years, billions of people have become the victims of cybercriminals who stole their credentials from the databases of corporations such as: Microsoft, Wattpad, KeepNet Labs, and of course, the sophisticated global intrusion campaign impacting SolarWinds’ Orion software product had occurred using a malware called Sunburst.This is believed to have been conducted by a Russian group that could impact the security of American companies and our governmental agencies. Here are a few basic reasons why your company may want to ensure that they are using MFA to protect its server, accounts, data, and devices.
Password theft is always evolving and Americans are notoriously lax when it comes to creating strong passwords that have no connection to their personal or business life.
Cyber criminals are doing much more than merely stealing data. They often destroy data, change programs or services, or use servers to transmit propaganda, spam, or malicious code.
Weak or stolen user credentials are hackers' weapon of choice, used in 95 percent of all Web application attacks.
Identity theft is sadly a low risk and high reward crime that can take years to undo if a user’s credentials are left vulnerable.
Small and medium-sized companies are the major target of hackers and cyber criminals since they tend to have less security and just as much data that can be of value.
Your employees are already used to using MFA in their personal lives so adapting to the protocols at work should be relatively simple.
The Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication
More and more businesses are initiating MFA given the realities of today’s security landscape and regulations. With many healthcare organizations required to follow HIPAA compliance laws, MFA provides for not only a further level of security but a peace of mind that data and sensitive client information is protected.
MFA allows for major risk reduction especially since over 80 percent of hacking-related breaches are caused by stolen or weak passwords.
MFA offers security without compromising user experience. Passwords can be cumbersome and difficult to keep track of without the right password management tools. With simple deployment of an authentication factor, businesses can rest assured that access has been granted to only those who are permitted.
MFA lowers help desk and security management costs. MFA can help reduce time-consuming password-resets which help desks are burdened with. IT teams are freed up and can focus this time on more strategic tasks.
MFA can increase productivity and flexibility. Now that many businesses have shifted to remote work environments, employees can safely access corporate systems from any device or location-without putting sensitive data at risk.
MFA can reduce fraud and client fears of data breaches, hackers, and identify theft. Given that a data breach can be extremely damaging to businesses as it can result in a loss of trust and credibility, initiating MFA can provide a secure brand experience and put your customers at ease about their sensitive data.
The Future of Authentication
Industry requirements and cyber security threats and regulations are constantly evolving. As threats change, the business world needs to keep up and evolve right alongside the threats. Hopefully, staying at least one step ahead of cyber criminals from gaining access to data that is there for the taking. Just a few short years ago passwords were all the rage. Now many organizations have added in two-factor and multiple factor authentication. Suddenly accessing data becomes just that more difficult for the common hacker. In the future, administrators will be able to completely control what areas will need many factors to access while other areas need less security. This level of flexibility will be one area to look for in the future.
A Final Word About MFA
Multi-factor authentication is a smart move for organizations and businesses that have not yet made the move. The added layer of security is easy to adapt to. In fact, your employees are already using it in other areas of their life. The efficiency, saved time for your IT department, and security benefits are enough to make most decide to make the jump to MFA. Contact us if you have more questions about MFA and how it could work for your organization.