Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is more than an extra security step, it’s a vital component of overall protection to safeguard online accounts for your organization.
What Is Multi-Factor Authentication?
To access your accounts across any website or application, you must provide evidence the account belongs to you; this is usually done through username and password credentials.
To further enhance the security of your account, you can require multiple types or factors of evidence to authenticate that it really is you, the account owner, attempting to gain access. Multi-factor authentication is using multiple forms of evidence to prove your identity in accessing an account.
Picture multi-factor authentication through this scenario: an experienced thief is trying to steal private belongings from your safe (namely, your online account). Your username and password are like the main lock that the thief could fairly easily break through, maybe he has the code or maybe he found a backdoor. But once the thief breaks through this main lock, there’s a second lock requiring your personal thumbprint to open, and lucky for you, the thief doesn’t have your thumbprint and can’t break through without it.
That hidden lock needing the thumbprint only you can provide is one of the additional steps you can take when using multi-factor authentication.
How Does Multi-Factor Authentication Work?
There are many factors, or evidence pieces, that can be used for multi-factor authentication, but almost all of them work by asking the user to confirm their identity after entering their username and password through one of three options:
- Something you know: Providing information only the user would know (passcodes, security questions, etc.).
- Something you have: Performing an action through something only the user possesses (mobile devices, tokens, computers, etc.).
- Something you are: Using biometrics that are part of the user (thumbprints, facial recognition, etc.).
These three ways to implement multi-factor authentication create a stronger force of security around a private account.
Some examples of multi-factor authentication have been around for a while — and you’ve probably used them — such as getting sent a code over text message to enter into a website, entering a pin number to access your debit card or bank account, or even answering security questions about your personal life before resetting a password. But what happens when you are a victim of SIM swapping or your security questions are uncovered through research or social engineering? Cyber security is constantly growing to find new ways to protect you and your organization against evolving threats.
Now there are additional types of programs and products that offer this extra security for your private information with varying degrees of efficacy. They include the following:
- QR Codes
- Hard tokens
- Biometrics (thumbprints, facial recognition)
- Generated codes
An app-based multi-factor authentication solution is a popular choice for adding protection in a convenient way. MFA apps can keep employee information more secure than a phone number because the authentication is tied to the physical device that serves as an extension of a user’s identity, not the phone number or account. This phone-as-a-token authentication can provide a unique, time-bound security token, verifying that the login attempt is coming from the originally registered user. Of all the MFA options, phone-as-a-token provides the most identity security.
QR Codes represent another faction of phone-as-a-token authentication, but can be used in two ways. The first is that the user has a badge or device with a permanent QR code that represents them. The user then carries this same QR code and has it scanned every time they need to receive access or entry.
The second way is the exact opposite, instead of the user providing a QR code, the user receives a QR code. In this scenario, the user will have an app on a personal device that verifies their identity using biometrics or passwords before the QR code ever comes into play. This app will then scan a QR code provided during the login process to prove that the already-verified user of the device is the user attempting to access the account. Biometric verification can come from a scanned thumbprint, face ID, or voice recognition.
A multi-factor authentication hard token works by providing the user with a physical token or verification that they must have with them to gain access. The user can simply plug the token into their computer when they need to log in. And the easy-to-use generated codes are preferred by people who like to have their passwords written down in case of connectivity issues. All of these options for multi-factor authentication have become the new standard for any person or any organization wanting more security for their accounts.
With so many options to validate a user’s identity, and so many ways to dishonestly gain credentials, it seems alarming that some organizations are sticking to the traditional username and password login. Thanks to forgetfulness, oft-repeated passwords, and increasingly complex cyber attacks, passwords alone are the least secure protection available in the current market.
Is Multi-Factor Authentication Worth the Extra Time?
Some people may say that the extra steps it takes to enable multi-factor authentication on top of traditional credentials are an unnecessary nuisance. But taking this extra step can keep your important information and belongings safe and protected from malicious activity, preventing costly data breaches, reputation loss, and PR nightmares.
It is especially vital for companies, schools, and any other organization that stores the private information of their users. If their databases were compromised, these organizations might stand responsible for the issues that arise from the breach. And although it can take longer to log in with multi-factor authentication, there is often an option to remember a device for a period of time, decreasing the time spent taking that extra step.
Next-Gen Multi-Factor Authentication: Passwordless MFA
Still not sold on adding MFA on top of your username and password? What if instead of remembering various usernames, passwords and one-time passwords (OTPs), you could just rely on the multi-factor authentication to verify your identity, no typing required?
Using phone-as-a-token authentication, Trusona offers passwordless MFA to provide top security without the hassle.
Beyond improving security, passwordless MFA creates a smoother experience for your users or employees. Instead of needing to remember various passwords with different pattern requirements, they simply need to carry their validation with them (and in most cases, they already are). Passwordless MFA has been shown to be the most convenient, easy-to-integrate security solution for your organization.
Multi-factor authentication is so effective because it requires the user to take action to truly identify themselves when logging in, an option that wouldn’t be viable for someone without the knowledge or device of the real user. If the multi-factor authentication sends a code to a registered phone that only the real user would own or requires another kind of verification, hackers can be blocked from further theft attempts.
Any person or organization that wants to keep their important accounts safe and secure should be using multi-factor authentication. In this technology-driven world, the normal username and password just isn’t good enough anymore. And unhappy users lead to security workarounds, productivity losses and high support costs.
The extra security multi-factor authentication provides will continue to prevent and protect what’s meant to stay private. And by opting for passwordless MFA, you get enhanced security without added friction.
Learn more about Trusona’s passwordless MFA solution and take biometric authentication to the next level.