What is Multifactor Authentication and Does My Business Need it?

what is multifactor authentication

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Authentication refers to the process in which you prove you are exactly who you say you are. This is common with online accounts – the software wants to ensure it’s actually you, and so in most cases, will ask for a username and password. As we all know, passwords can be easily hacked, and accounts can be lost instantly, resulting in major stress and upheaval. Security is paramount for businesses, so we believe it should be implemented correctly. This is where a type of cyber security called multi-factor authentication comes in. In this blog, we’ll explain what multi-factor authentication is, the different types of multi-factor authentication, and, most importantly, why you need multi-factor authentication to protect yourself.


What Is Multi-Factor Authentication?

You may be thinking about improving your security measures but still wonder, ‘what is multi-factor authentication?’. Multi-factor authentication refers to a sign-in process that requires more than just a username and password. You will be required to provide additional information to prove your identity, especially if signing into an account for the first time. There are many different types of multi-factor authentication (MFA), and we all need multi-factor authentication to keep our information extra secure. This multi-layered security system helps verify your identity thoroughly, reducing the likelihood of security breaches or hackers.


Why Do We Need Multi-Factor Authentication?

So, why do we need multi-factor authentication? Most importantly, we need multi-factor authentication to keep our accounts secure. By utilising multiple authentication layers, even if one element is breached, the account will remain more secure than if you didn’t have multiple layers in place. Traditional usernames and passwords are easily compromised nowadays, allowing cybercriminals to attack easily. These attacks can be easily avoided by asking the user to provide a one-time code or fingerprint. MFA is becoming increasingly common and is being implemented by more software and businesses every single day. The main benefit of using MFA is the enhanced security it provides. Especially in business, keeping company assets and confidential files away from prying eyes is of the utmost importance. Utilising a MFA is an excellent way to keep you, your employees and your business safe.

The Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication:

  • Offers enhanced security. MFA protects and assures businesses and consumers.
  • Improves customer trust. After going through multiple security checks, customers will be more likely to feel protected and safe.
  • Improves compliance. Boosted security can help with compliance regulations, helping to avoid fines and assist in audits.
  • Offers a variety of options. Different businesses have different needs and specifications. While biometrics might work for one large company, SMS tokens might work better as a cyber measure for small businesses.


Common Authentication Factors

There are a few different types of multi-factor authentication, all of which have different purposes which may be suited more to specific industries and individuals than others. Generally, MFA uses any one of these five indicators:

  1. Place: The user’s geographical position or location.
  2. Knowledge: The user must provide information such as a username, password, pin or memorable phrase.
  3. Heritage: The user can prove their identity through fingerprint, face ID, retina scan or voice verification.
  4. Possession: A physical object the user might have, such as a fob or a token.
  5. Time: A time-based authentication is required, such as a one-time password.

Some checks are more secure than others. For example, providing a retina scan will be more difficult to provide than a memorable phrase. When deciding which checks to employ in your MFA practices, decide what level of security you are after.


Different Types of Multi-Factor Authentication

This list of different types of multi-factor authentications is ever-growing due to the constant improvements in technology and the growing plethora of authentication methods. To keep it simple, we’ve listed the most common types of multi-factor authentication.

  1. SMS Token Authentication

Chances are you’re very familiar with this type of multi-factor authentication. You receive a text giving you a sequence of characters which you’re then asked to input into the login software. SMS token authentication is frequently used when accessing services from your mobile device, but it’s also common for desktop use.

  1. Email Token Authentication

Similar to SMS tokens, email tokens are one-time pins you receive via email. Many companies will offer this type of multi-factor authentication as an alternative to an SMS token, as you may not have your phone handy. Additionally, this is useful for those who have had their phone hacked, stolen or damaged. Emails can be accessed via any device with the internet, so this option is more accessible. Ensure your email is secure to avoid further hacking. Here’s how to embed MFA into your Microsoft 365 account:

  1. Hardware Token Authentication

Hardware tokens are extremely reliable and secure, but they are extremely expensive. Hardware tokens can be made cost-effective if used every day, for example, at work. However, we wouldn’t recommend them for casual use. This is a great, durable authenticator as long as the token remains in the correct person’s hands. Simply insert the token into the device for access.

  1. Software Token Authentication

Software tokens offer almost the same level of security as hardware tokens without the physical aspect. In this type of multi-factor authentication, the actual device becomes the token. Software tokens are a very popular choice, as many people enjoy using Google Authenticator or other third parties. Using a third-party solution can help increase the overall security of your possessions. Additionally, it cannot be lost as it’s not a physical object.

  1. Phone Authentication

SMS tokens aren’t the only type of phone authentication you can employ. For example, many people utilise automated phone calls as their multi-factor authentication type. This is especially helpful for those who cannot easily type or are blind.

  1. Biometric Authentication

Many of us already use biometric authentication in the form of iPhone Face ID or Thumb Print. Biometric authentication works by checking your physical identity as verification. Many prefer this type of multi-factor authentication as it’s less cumbersome than physical objects and less hassle than one-time passcodes. In addition, the hassle-free nature of biometric authentication means people are more likely to use it frequently, thereby improving the security of their belongings.

  1. Knowledge Authentication

Knowledge authentication can be useful when asking niche questions. For example, you may be asked, ‘What was your first car?’ or ‘What was the name of your first pet?’. As long as the question and answer are niche, personal, and not easy to find the answer to, you’re safe.

  1. Inherence Authentication

Linked to biometric authentication, inherence authentication can also refer to behavioural analysis. This can include gait analysis, providing a signature or keystroke dynamics.


Additional Types of Multi-Factor Authentication

  1. Dynamic Security Questions

Security questions refer to static question-and-answer knowledge-based questions, however, dynamic security questions take it one step further. Often referred to as KBA (knowledge-based authentication), the business or customer is asked real-time questions, instead of standardised, personalised questions. For example, regular security questions could involve standard questions such as ‘What was the name of your first pet?’, whereas dynamically generated questions ask you questions about real-time data, such as ‘What was the last shop you spent money at?’.

  1. Social Login

Although we wouldn’t endorse social login as the most secure form of authentication, it’s still an option. Social login refers to proving your identity through a connected social media account, such as Facebook or Twitter. This social identity verification method is convenient as it allows users to stay logged into relevant accounts. However, as you might imagine, this can be very easy for hackers to target, so we recommend that social login is used in conjunction with another form of verification.

  1. Risk-Based Authentication

RBA (risk-based authentication) is a type of multi-factor authentication that is often used in conjunction with multi-factor authentication due to its nuanced and dynamic nature. RBA monitors your location, device history and even keystrokes to assess how secure the situation is. For example, when used in practice, a device may realise that you are signing into a laptop from your home address when working from home and avoid asking for further verification. However, if you sign into a device from an unknown location, the device may ask for more verification. This sign-in method is popular amongst office workers who consistently work from the same location.


Difference Between MFA and Two-Factor Authentication

Many people refer to two-factor authentication as MFA, but this isn’t accurate. Multi-factor authentication aims to provide multiple layers of security during the sign-in process, whereas two-factor authentication only requires two factors. Adding an additional layer of authentication could be the difference between a cyber-attack or not.


Hopefully, you feel more confident knowing the different types of multi-factor authentication and why we need multi-factor authentication to protect ourselves. Multi-factor authentication offers flexible solutions to serious security problems, with a method to suit every business. So not only does it help protect your business, but it also shows your clients and customers that you care about their protection. For advice updating your security measures or for any additional IT support, get in touch with the team today.

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