What Is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Cybercrime is raging and business owners need every advantage to protect themselves from harmful cyber attacks. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is one (fairly) simple way to arm yourself against would-be criminals. By enabling or setting up MFA on all your accounts, you’re protecting your employees, your customers, your vendors, and yourself from expensive cybersecurity attacks like data breaches. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about multi-factor authentication, including what it is, how it works, and how to set it up.

What Does Multi-Factor Authentication Mean?

An authentication method requires some sort of verification to authenticate a user’s credentials. For example, when you log in to a website, you’re required to input your user ID and password to prove you’re authorized to use your account.

Multi-factor authentication simply means that the verification process requires multiple verification factors, such as a password and a code. Multi-factor may include any number of factors, though two-factor is most common. Generally speaking, the more verification factors included during the authentication process, the more secure the site.

What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Why Is Multi-Factor Authentication Important?

Many large companies and government websites rely on MFA. The goal is to protect the website and its users from unauthorized access, such as cyberattacks.

While a username and password provide some security for your user accounts, cybercriminals are getting smarter. There are many ways for these attackers to hack your account, even with a strong username and password combination. Sometimes the information is leaked during a data breach. Sometimes the hacker guesses the correct combination based on personal information that’s available with a simple internet search. Sometimes, they rely on brute force attacks, using software to randomly guess your password until it guesses the correct information. Cyber attacks are quite common, so extra layers of security are necessary. MFA gives companies this extra layer of protection.

Multi-Factor Authentication Examples

What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

So, what are some good examples of MFA? There are many popular methods, but they can all be grouped into three specific categories:

  1. Something the user knows: This can be any piece of knowledge, from the user’s birthdate (not very secure) to the user’s PIN or password.
  2. Something the user owns: This is usually something given to the user specifically for authentication, such as a badge or token.
  3. Something the user is: This usually relies on biometrics, like facial recognition or a fingerprint scan.

As you may notice, knowledge is typically the most user-friendly method, while biometrics are much trickier. Of course, if it’s user-friendly, it’s also easier for criminals. There’s always that trade-off to consider.

What Is the Strongest Form of Multi-Factor Authentication?

In general, biometrics are considered the strongest form of multi-factor authentication. However, “strongest” doesn’t always mean “best.” 

There are pros and cons to every MFA method. Passwords are incredibly user-friendly, and they help users feel more in control of their security. In other words, companies that rely solely on PINs or passwords typically have fewer help desk calls and less administrative overload. As mentioned earlier, though, these factors are also the easiest to crack.

Conversely, biometrics such as facial recognition are much more difficult for cybercriminals to breakthrough. The downside here, of course, is the privacy concern—most people aren’t comfortable with companies storing this level of personal data. Data leaks are also a problem and the cost can be prohibitive for small-to-medium businesses.

How To Set Up or Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

The MFA setup process depends on the software or application you’re using. If, for example, you’re asking employees to enable MFA for all work-related tasks, it’s best to ask your IT department for assistance. While the process is similar for each application, it can vary considerably.

In general, though, you should look for a “settings” tab. There should be a sub-section labeled “privacy,” “security,” “login,” or something similar. Within that subsection, you’ll find settings related to MFA. Of course, most companies don’t strictly have an “MFA” or “multi-factor authentication” setting you can toggle “on” or “off.” They may say something clear like, “Turn two-factor authentication on?” Or, they may have their own name for the setting, like “Require OTP on all devices,” which is Amazon’s setting for their “one-time password” setting. 

How Effective Is Multi-Factor Authentication?

If you’re wondering whether MFA is worth all the effort, the answer is “yes.” MFA is one of the absolute best ways to protect your personal information as well as your company data. Cyber attacks are on the rise—up 600 percent since the pandemic started. In addition, 43 percent of those attacks target small businesses. The effects of a successful cyber attack can be devastating for SMBs, so business owners need to add multiple layers of security for their employees, vendors, and customers. While each authentication method has its downsides, MFA is still one of our best defenses against cybercrime. By combining multiple verification methods, you’re protecting yourself from cyber attacks with the most effective tools.

If you need help setting up multi-factor authentication, please contact BrevAll Technologies. You can also follow our blog for the latest cybersecurity news and insights. 

 

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