For the past few decades, passwords have played an integral role in securing online communication, but unfortunately, they are not perfect. And the steady increase in cyberattacks reveals the real vulnerabilities of standard password authentication.
Does this mean that we should abandon the old method of logging into our online accounts with a password? Can a password option like Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) help? But what exactly is MFA, and why should we use it?
What is MFA?
Imagine one has to go through double doors to enter a house. MFA is a double gate for online security that lets you log into your accounts or access apps and resources only after going through two sets of verification processes.
It adds an extra layer of security by requesting another method of authentication along with your regular way of signing in with your username and password. This can be an SMS code that you may have received on your phone or a confirmation number sent to your device through apps and services such as Google Authenticator.
In short, when accessing any resource, you receive an MFA notification that has to answer the question, “Did I request this access, or is someone trying to access my account?” ” This ensures that every transaction is secure as access will not be granted without your consent. And it keeps users actively engaged in the authentication process.
Thus, by demanding an additional verification factor, MFA reduces the chances of cyber attack and enhances the security status of any organization.
What factors can be used for MFA verification
MFAs require at least two factors of authentication before providing an online account or access to apps and services, such as a VPN.
The first verification factor is something you know, such as your unique username and password or PIN. And the second piece of the puzzle—without which the MFA wouldn’t work—could be any of the following factors:
Hardware: This can be a cellphone, USB or keycard to verify your identity.
Biometrics: Biometric data, including fingerprint and iris scans. Voice recognition can also be used for these purposes.
Importance of using MFA
MFAs are an important part of the ever-changing security landscape. This prevents threatening actors from gaining an initial foothold in your accounts by first asking them to provide additional evidence.
While usernames and passwords are beneficial, they are vulnerable to brute-force attacks and can also be stolen through credential theft. In addition, corporations often overlook certain authentication aspects such as email and business applications.
MFA protects these neglected entities, ensuring that no email accounts or apps are exploited by criminals to gain access or elevate privileges in your environment.
Also, to highlight the importance of MFA, Google recently announced a new initiative for automatic enrollment of MFA for millions of its users. While Google has always used MFA, it was optional until now.
Now, any Google Account that does not have MFA enabled will be prompted to provide two proofs. For example, if you’re trying to sign in through your laptop, you’ll be asked to confirm log-in attempts from your phone.
Benefits of using an MFA
Multi-factor authentication significantly reduces the chances of data breaches and thus can be of paramount importance to the security of the business. Below, we’ll look at the main benefits of using an MFA.
Less risk from compromised and weak passwords
Compromised passwords are responsible for most of today’s data breaches. With MFA, even if a threat actor hacks, steals or phishes a weak password, they will still face obstacles during the second phase of the authentication process.
Let’s say you have an MFA with biometric factors, and a hacker steals your password. That stolen password will be of no use to them alone, as they will not be able to steal your retina or fingerprints!
Not only is MFA great at reducing the risk of tampered passwords, but it also helps prevent evolving password threats such as keyloggers, phishing and pharming attacks.
No one likes to remember complicated passwords, not to mention the toll it takes on IT groups to manage password resets and enforce stringent password policies.
MFA solves this problem by providing each user with the ability to implement additional factors for authentication and the option to choose from a variety of factors such as PIN, biometric data, cellphone, etc.
Thus, setting up an MFA fosters a secure environment for employees while allowing IT teams to worry less about password management.
Single sign-on (SSO) compatibility
You can apply MFA along with other log-in methods like single sign-on. SSO gives you a single global password for all your accounts and systems.