Securing online accounts and safeguarding sensitive information is a fundamental protection required to protect your personal details and privacy. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the primary security component used in modern business and our day-to-day lives.

MFA is a proven technology that offers a robust method to verify the identity of authorized users. Through the MFA process, users are required to provide multiple authentication factors to prove their identity. Enhanced security layers like MFA minimize the risk of unauthorized access to digital assets.

This article will explore a few examples of multi-factor authentication, illustrating how it remains a secure and reliable authentication method in various online services.

How Does MFA Work?

Understanding how multi-factor authentication works is essential in grasping its effectiveness in securing online accounts. The process involves verifying the user’s identity in multiple different ways. It usually requires something the user knows (like a password), something the user possesses (like a mobile device or security token), and sometimes, unique biological characteristics such as biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition.

When users log on, they are first prompted to enter a valid username, followed by a primary authentication factor, usually a password. Following this, additional authentication factors are requested, such as a one-time password sent to the user’s mobile device or a push notification through mobile apps like Google Authenticator.

A layered approach ensures that even if one factor is compromised, unauthorized users still have to bypass additional layers to gain access, thus creating much higher security controls.

Identification Through Something the User Possesses

MFA evolves around users possessing a validated item that the IT system already knows. These are elements that the user physically includes, such as mobile devices, smart cards, or hardware tokens that have been pre-configured for the system.

For example, when you start a new job, one of the first things you must do is set up IT system access. You will often be asked to scan a QR code and then authenticate a sequence of numbers displayed on your MFA devices. Most likely, this will be your cell phone. Upon entering a password, the user will receive a push notification on their mobile device, requiring them to approve the login attempt.

Security tokens and physical tokens are other common possession factors. These devices generate one-time passwords or personal identification numbers that the user must enter during authentication. By leveraging something the user possesses, it becomes exceedingly difficult for unauthorized users to gain access, as they would need physical possession of the device or token.

Three Main Types of Authentication Factors

Multi-factor authentication revolves around three primary types of authentication factors: knowledge factors, possession factors, and inherence factors. Understanding these concepts will give you a good grasp of the available MFA authentication methods.

Knowledge Factors (something you know):

Knowledge factors are pivotal as they encompass information exclusively known to the user, instantly creating a security layer to safeguard sensitive data and online assets. These factors are typically something the user knows intimately, such as passwords, personal identification numbers (PINs), or answers to security questions.

Possession Factors (something you have):

As discussed earlier, these are items that the user possesses, ranging from mobile devices to security keys and hardware tokens. These factors add an extra layer of security by requiring physical possession of a device or token. The cell phone is arguably the most commonly used device, with security tokens being reserved for specialist security needs such as getting root access to a cloud account/organization.

Inherence Factors (something you are):

These involve unique biological characteristics of the user, such as fingerprints, voice recognition, or facial recognition. Biometric authentication is becoming increasingly popular because it provides secure and quick authentication based on the user’s unique biological traits.

How Does Multi-Factor Authentication Work?

This section delves deeper into the intricacies of how multi-factor authentication works. The process begins with the user initiating a login attempt, where they must provide multiple verification forms. This could involve entering a password (knowledge factor), followed by a one-time code sent to their mobile phone (possession factor), and possibly a biometric scan (inherence factor).

Adaptive multi-factor authentication takes this a step further by incorporating risk-based authentication. This method assesses the risk level of a login attempt based on various parameters such as the location of the attempt, the device used, and the user’s behavior patterns. Depending on the assessed risk, the system might require additional factors to ensure the legitimacy of the attempt.

By integrating multiple layers of verification, MFA creates a robust security framework that effectively restricts access to only authorized users, safeguarding sensitive information and digital assets from unauthorized access.

Other Types of Multi-Factor Authentication

Apart from the commonly known types, other forms of multi-factor authentication are gaining traction in the security landscape. These include methods such as:

SMS-Based Authentication:

This type of MFA is used extensively with Online retailers and websites that need you to prove who you are. The users receive a one-time password (OTP) via SMS on their mobile phones; you insert this time-sensitive value when prompted, typically straight after inputting the correct username and password.

Smart Cards:

A physical token that stores user identities and grants access when inserted into a reader. You may have seen this in the workplace: employees are given a security pass with a chip embedded in many large organizations. This chip is programmed with authentication that can open doors, unlock laptops, etc.

Security Keys:

Hardware devices authorize access through USB, NFC, or Bluetooth connections. These are typically heavily encrypted devices that give superusers access to core systems. System engineers require such keys when working on sensitive systems such as military, financial, and healthcare-related platforms.

Proprietary Software:

Software solutions that integrate with business rules to create a customized MFA solution. Larger organizations may need to control their MFA authentication methods at source; as a result, custom servers are built in-house, typically with a token authentication factor. A popular example is RSA authentication.

As you can tell, various multi-factor authentication examples offer diverse ways to secure user accounts, each adding a unique layer of security to the authentication process.

How MFA Protects User’s Identity

It’s obvious to see the importance of MFA. If you have yet to secure your business with MFA, here are some compelling reasons to start this process today.

Enhanced Security:

The primary purpose of MFA is to bolster security. By requiring multiple forms of verification, MFA makes it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to an account, as they would need to bypass several layers of security.

Mitigation of Phishing Attacks:

Even if a user’s password is compromised through phishing, the attacker still needs to bypass additional authentication steps, significantly reducing the chance of successful phishing attacks.

Protection Against Credential Stuffing:

In cases where usernames and passwords are stolen, MFA is an additional barrier, preventing attackers from gaining access using just the stolen credentials. Dictionary attacks are much more successful if a form of MFA is enabled. Hackers can spam your endpoint with bogus login requests.

Dynamic Codes:

Tools like Google Authenticator, Authy, and Okta can generate active codes that are valid for a short period, making it difficult for attackers to use stolen codes at a later time because they expire rapidly.

Real-Time Alerts:

Through push notifications, users receive real-time alerts for login attempts, allowing them to approve or deny access instantly and be alerted to unauthorized access attempts.

Reduced Reliance on Passwords:

MFA minimizes the reliance on passwords alone for security, which historically has been a weak point in cybersecurity due to issues with weak passwords.

Customizable Security Protocols:

Organizations can tailor MFA systems to meet their specific security needs, allowing for a flexible and robust approach to securing user identities.

Compliance with Regulatory Requirements:

Many industries, such as healthcare, have regulations that require the use of MFA, helping to ensure that organizations adhere to best practices in protecting user data.

Voice Recognition:

This innovative method capitalizes on the unique patterns in a user’s voice to verify their identity. Analyzing vocal characteristics ensures that access is granted only when a verbal match is detected, adding a personalized touch to security protocols.

These approaches can be utilized singularly or in various combinations to construct a robust multi-factor authentication system. By tailoring the system to meet specific security needs, organizations can ensure a fortified and resilient security infrastructure, safeguarding sensitive user information from potential breaches.

Protect Remote Access to Company Resources

Remote working has remained a common practice in the post-COVID era. This has resulted in countless businesses investing in their network and VPN systems to create secure access to company resources. Today, remote access to company resources has become a necessity. Implementing a multi-factor authentication system ensures that only authorized users can access sensitive company data, even from remote locations. This approach uses multiple authentication factors, including mobile apps and biometric data, to verify the user’s identity, thus maintaining the integrity and security of company resources.

Adaptive Authentication or Risk-Based Authentication

To bolster security, many businesses have introduced adaptive authentication to protect remote access to sensitive assets. This, also known as risk-based authentication, takes a dynamic approach to security.

The MFA system assesses the risk level of each login attempt based on various parameters, such as the user’s location, time of access, and behavior patterns. Depending on the assessed risk, the system might require additional authentication factors, thus creating a flexible and responsive security framework that adapts to potential threats in real time.

Always-On Approach

The always-on approach to multi-factor authentication means that the system continually assesses and verifies the user’s identity, even after the initial login. This could involve periodic requests for additional factors, such as biometric verification or one-time passwords, to ensure the account remains secure.

Identification Through Location and Time

This authentication approach considers the login attempt’s geographical location and time as significant factors in the authentication process. Suppose a login attempt is made from an unusual place or at an odd hour. In that case, the system might trigger additional authentication requirements to verify the user’s identity, adding an extra layer of security sensitive to the login attempt’s context.

What’s the Difference between MFA and Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?

While MFA involves using two or more authentication factors, 2FA is a subset of MFA that uses precisely two factors to verify the user’s identity. These factors can be any combination of knowledge, possession, or inherence factors. In contrast, MFA can involve two or more of these factors, potentially offering a higher level of security by incorporating a broader range of verification methods.

How do MFA and Single Sign-On (SSO) Differ?

While both MFA and Single Sign-On (SSO) aim to enhance security and streamline the login process, they differ significantly in their approaches. MFA focuses on verifying the user’s identity through multiple layers of authentication, whereas SSO allows users to access multiple accounts or services with a single set of credentials. SSO simplifies the login process but should ideally be used with MFA to bolster security, as it can be a potential vulnerability if a single set of credentials is compromised.

Elevate Your Business Security with Atlantic.Net’s Managed Multi-Factor Authentication Service

Atlantic.Net’s Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) service ensures that users prove who they are in multiple ways before they can access your server environment. Our highly secure MFA service is great at stopping different kinds of online attacks, including phishing and account hijacking, providing an extra layer of security even if someone knows your password.

But it’s not just about confirming the identity of each user. The service also checks the safety of each device trying to connect, blocking high-risk or outdated software. It works smoothly with many in-house and cloud apps, offering features like easy sign-up, secure logins, and tools to help you set and enforce your own access rules. The service will help you quickly spot and manage unsafe devices and software and even help prevent attacks by identifying risky users through a phishing simulator.

With this service, you can set up stronger access rules, reduce weak spots, and protect your confidential data more effectively. You can choose from various verification methods to match your company’s needs, including SMS passcodes, phone callbacks, or one-time passcodes.

Ready to boost your security? To find out more or to get started with Atlantic.Net’s Managed Multi-Factor Authentication Service, call an advisor at 888-618-DATA (3282), email [email protected], or fill out the form on our contact page. Let Atlantic.Net help you build a safer and more resilient business environment.