Multi-Factor Authentication: What It Is & Why You Need It| February 4, 2020
It’s hard to create a unique password, let alone remember what password matches up with which account or website. Sometimes, it’s just easier to type in “123456” or “password”…two of the top five most commonly used and hacked passwords of 2019. With 63% of all breaches resulting from weak, default, or stolen passwords, even complex passwords aren’t enough to stop today’s sophisticated attackers. That’s why it is critical to protect against password-based breaches with advanced, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).
What is Multi-Factor Authentication?
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a security system that verifies a user’s identity by requiring multiple credentials. It is a critical component of Identity and Access Management (IAM). Rather than asking for just a username and password combination, MFA requires additional credentials to verify and grant the user access to a system, network, account, or website based on information they know or have, or inherently are. These credentials vary depending on security issues, clearances, or concerns. They might include a code that is sent to the user’s smartphone or require answers to a set of security questions, or they may be more intricate security measures, such as fingerprint or behavioral analysis, retina scans, or facial recognition.
MFA is the most effective way to provide enhanced security across your network. Traditional usernames and passwords can be stolen, and they’ve become increasingly more vulnerable to brute force attacks, which is the act of submitting various password possibilities through a login process. MFA creates multiple layers of security to help increase the surety and confidence that the user requesting access is who they claim to be. With MFA in place, a cybercriminal or hacker may steal one piece of a user’s credentials but can be thwarted by having to verify their identity with additional security measures that only the user will know.
Modern-day MFA solutions incorporate additional factors by considering the context and behavior of a user when authenticating. For example:
- Where a user is trying to obtain access, such as in a cafe, at the office, or home
- When or what time of day a user is trying to access, such as late at night or during typical workday hours
- What device is being used, such as a smartphone, tablet, or a laptop
- What kind of network is being accessed, like private or public
This type of MFA is known as adaptive authentication, which takes context into account to flag logins that appear out of the ordinary. When a person tries to authenticate in an unusual way or setting, adaptive authentication may engage security measures by requesting additional credentials, such as requiring the user to enter a code texted to their phone.
Why do I need Multi-Factor Authentication?
Using MFA is one of the top three things that security experts do to protect their security online, according to a recent Google survey. MFA helps protect you by adding additional layers of security, making it harder for cybercriminals to impersonate and log in as you or another user. Your information is safer because, for example, a hacker or cybercriminal would need to steal both your password and your phone. You might not notice if your password was compromised, but you would almost immediately take notice and take action if your phone went missing. Plus, your phone likely requires a PIN, password, or fingerprint to unlock, making it even more difficult if someone wants to use your MFA credentials.
Stopping all online crime is not realistic. However, using MFA whenever possible, especially when it comes to your most sensitive data, such as your primary email, financial accounts, and health records, can significantly reduce the likelihood you’ll be the next cyber victim.