The Business Guide to Multi-Factor Authentication
We all lock our houses when we are not home, and these days we add an extra layer of security like a card or thumbprint reader that must be used in combination with the key for unlocking. It’s the same for your personal data stored on your device or online. With cybercrime events on an increasing trend, it’s essential to take extra measures to protect your data from criminals.
Multi-Factor authentication has many benefits for businesses. Cybercriminals don’t just target big businesses; they are increasingly targeting medium and small businesses and individual accounts. This makes it a necessity to strengthen your defences – multi-factor authentication (MFA) goes a long way in protecting your sensitive data and network access.
What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?
Before we get to the benefits of multi-factor authentication for businesses, lets understand what MFA is. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security process that requires multiple authentications from independent sources to verify your identity. It provides multiple security layers outside of the basic username and password so that even if those credentials are exposed, there are still barriers to get to your data.MFA provides a higher level of security than authentication methods that depend on single-factor authentication (SFA). The additional layer of security to the authentication makes it harder for intruders to gain access to your devices or online accounts because knowing your password alone won’t be enough to pass the authentication check.
Why Should Businesses Use MFA?
Usage of traditional usernames and passwords are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. Multi-factor authentication, on the other hand, has evolved as one of the most effective means to insulate a business against remote attacks. When implemented correctly, MFA can prevent most threats from easily gaining access to your data, even if credentials become compromised. The multiple layers of authentication ensure that users demanding access are who they claim to be. Even if the attackers get access to one credential, they will be forced to verify identities in another way. It gives businesses an effective way to protect their organisation’s infrastructure and adds multiple additional layers of cybersecurity. While it’s never possible to stop all data breaches and attacks, MFA can prevent numerous chances of your business being a cyberattack victim.
2FA vs. MFA
You would have already guessed the difference. Yes! 2FA or two-factor authentication utilise only two authentication factors for verifying a user’s identity. But for MFA, it can be two or more authentication factors for verifying a user’s identity.
Which is More Secure, 2FA or MFA?
Having three or more authentication means the attacker must break through all three authentication factors to access your sensitive data. If you are familiar with cybersecurity and cyber threats, you may already know how vulnerable passwords are.
Enabling MFA means a double or triple layer of protection for your data. Even if hackers manage to compromise your passwords, they still need to go through 2 or more authentication steps to access your data, which is very difficult and time-consuming. Using biometric authentications make it even harder for cybercriminals because they are tough to attain.
When Should You Use MFA in Your Business?
MFA should be applied whenever possible, especially when it comes to your most sensitive data, identity and data management. The benefits of multi-factor authentication for business are numerous. MFA makes it harder for hackers to obtain your business’s sensitive data, company credit card numbers, email addresses, files, sign-in information and even personal information.
Some organisations make MFA a mandatory requirement, but for many others, it is still optional. If you have the option, you should take the initiative and enable MFA to protect your data and your identity. While attacks on businesses have become more complicated over the years, basic attacks such as email phishing that can be done are still rather effective ways of gaining access to an organisation’s most sensitive and critical information.
Types of Authentication Factors
Generally, authentication factors can be divided into five types which are:
Knowledge factor: Something you know, like username, password, passphrase or a PIN.
Possession factor: Something you have like a safety token, app or smart card.
Inherence factor or biometric factor: Something you are, which can be described with fingerprint, retina verification, or voice recognition.
Location factor: Based on your physical location. Limits authentication attempts to specific devices in particular locations.
Time factor: Restricts authentication to a specific time window in which logging on is permitted.
The majority of multi-factor authentication methods rely on the first three authentication factors. You should consider the level of security you need and the MFA types that your customers most often use to find a suitable method for your organisation.
Multi-Factor Authentication Methods and Products
There are several methods you can utilise to implement MFA. We list here the most commonly used multi-factor authentication:
SMS Token Authentication
SMS token is one of the common forms of MFA. It usually consists of a text message containing a PIN. This PIN can be used as a one-time password (OTP), and usually, this is used as an addition to traditional username-and-password verification.
If you mostly access your services from mobile devices, this method will be most convenient, and it will be hard for hackers to gain access to since these codes have a short expiration period.
Email Token Authentication
Email token is similar to SMS authentication, but here the code is sent via email. This method can act as a backup, if you have no mobile device with you, or it’s lost or stolen. This way, you can access an OTP from any platform that can receive an email. Since it can be accessed from any platform, this method can be said to be less secure than SMS token authentication.
Phone authentication uses randomly generated OTP sent by SMS or automated phone calls to verify who’s accessing the locked content.
Hardware Token Authentication
Hardware token uses a separate hardware device for authentication purpose, making it one of the most secure methods as long as the key is in the owner’s possession. This method is expensive but also cost-effective when it comes to providing your high-value consumers with dongles for free. Adoption of hardware tokens is increasing, and it is preferred for banking, insurance, and investment clients.
Software Token Authentication
Software authentication uses an application which either provides a prompted switch or code for verification. Essentially, the smart device becomes the token. The most common examples of this form of MFA are Google Authenticator, Okta, and PingOne. This method also makes a great alternative to carrying an additional dongle to attach a hardware token to a smart device.
Biometric authentication is the most advanced verification method. It uses unique personal features like fingerprint ID or facial recognition for verification. A smartphone or computer with biometric authentication is easier for verification than typing in an OTP, making it less aggravating for frequent use. Also, hackers find it harder to access fingerprint or face recognition.
How Does Multi-Factor Authentication Work?
Multi-factor authentication can be classified into MFA for devices and MFA for applications. The former verifies a user at the point of login and latter verifies a user to allow access to one or more applications. However, the MFA functions are the same for both.
The MFA is first applied to the user account for a device or application. Subsequently, whenever the user tries to access the account, they are asked for a token associated with the account. This token can be a random number created by an MFA app like the Google Authenticator or an authentication switch.
For a hacker to access this account, access to the token is needed. That’s the very reason why MFA is such an asset in enhancing your IT security.
Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication for Businesses
Some of the benefits of adopting multi-factor authentication technology for your business security strategy are as follows:
An additional layer of security: It gives additional security for consumers and employees in multiple security layers.
Easy security measure to implement: MFA is one of the easiest and least interfering security measures you can implement to protect your assets.
Enhance trust: Due to extra security controls, consumers and employees feel assured that their data and identity is safe.
Reduce operating costs: The more the security layers, the more you are protected from data breaches. This results in lesser costs spent on resolving cybersecurity incidents.
Reduce the burden on cybersecurity team: Multi-factor authentication is an effective solution that reduces the burden on your cybersecurity team, especially where countless employees and customers access tons of critical data. At Computing Australia, we highly recommend our clients to use MFA. It is an integral part of our security services, and we have helped countless clients secure their data and identities with this easy to implement security measure.
Make the login process more secure and less complex: MFA allows you to choose the authentication methods that will suit your system and make it more secure with extra security and less complex with its flexibility.
Dongle – A small device, typically about the size of a flash drive which is used as a security key for authentication.
PIN – Personal Identification Number is a numeric or alpha-numeric password used in the process of authentication.
OTP – One-time Password – One-time PIN or dynamic password is a password that is valid only for one login session on a digital device.
SMS – Short Message Service – a text messaging service element of most telephone, Internet, and mobile device systems.
Article originally published on 25/11/2020
Revised by Blake Parry on 26/04/2021
Added new sections: 2FA vs. MFA
Which is more secure, 2FA or MFA?
Added new point to Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication
Added new terms to Jargon Buster