Introduction to Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi factor authentication is a security technology that is used for authenticating users’ identities before they are granted access to networks, systems, applications, devices, or online accounts. Multi factor authentication technology requires users to verify their identities by providing independent authentication factors to the MFA mechanism.
MFA can combine two or more authentication factors, and these can be based on something that the user knows (knowledge factor), something that the user has (possession factor), and something that the user is (inheritance factor). By using multiple authentication factors, mfa tools strengthen security for end users and create a layered defense against bad actors who try to gain access to a corporate network, database, system, or computing device.
Simply, the main purpose of MFA tools is to verify authorized users’ identities, make sure they are who or what they claim to be, and prevent unauthorized users from gaining illegitimate access to corporate resources. Also, MFA tools are the core component of Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems, and they play a critical role in strengthening workforce security.
In today’s world, managing access of workforce and enhancing access controls have never been this important. Traditional authentication methods that are based on usernames and passwords are insufficient and unreliable as passwords can be compromised easily. Cyber criminals can possess login credentials by using various methods like credentials stuffing, brute force, social engineering, or phishing attacks. When companies lack a multi factor authentication system, cyber criminals can use compromised user credentials to access corporate resources, from there they can damage systems and databases and steal stored confidential data.
These kinds of incidents can bring heavy monetary costs and damage a company’s reputation and reliability, and recovering from them can take years. To avoid these incidents and decrease the security risks associated with compromised user credentials, companies must implement MFA tools as these enable extra security for the access process.
As mentioned above, MFA works by requiring users to provide multiple factors to the mechanism. The main authentication factors are based on knowledge, possession, and inheritance. Additional authentication factors can be location or risk based authentication (adaptive MFA).
Knowledge factor concentrates on requiring pieces of information that only the user knows. This authentication factor commonly involves one time passwords (OTPs), PIN codes, and personal security questions such as the last name of your best friend, the maiden name of your mother, etc.
Possession factor authentication concentrates on requiring something that users own. Possession factor includes security keys, mobile devices, software tokens, physical tokens, or SIM cards.
Inheritance factor authentication includes the biological traits that the user has. These can be fingerprints, facial recognition, iris or retina scans, voice authentication, earlobe geometry, etc.
User location is commonly referred to as the fourth factor and the MFA mechanism grants or blocks access based on the physical location of the user.
Risk-based authentication aka adaptive authentication is another identity verification method that is based on factors like location, device, and end user behavior. Adaptive multi factor authentication evaluates the context and behavior, assigns a risk level, and requires the necessary MFA authentication method for granting access.
Depending on the multifactor authentication software, it can combine two or more factors for system access. For example, one factor can be entering one time password, the second factor can be providing a security token, and the third factor can require an iris scan.
Implementation of MFA solutions increases security across every corporate resource by enabling better access control and additional security for end-point users. Also, It secures the user’s identity and enables safe access to corporate assets.
Multi factor authentication works by requiring different authentication factors from users before they are permitted to access. This way, it prevents bad actors from using compromised credentials for access because they will be required to provide remaining factors like physical token, and authentication code to the mechanism for access. Shortly, by having MFA tools in place, compromised credentials won’t be a problem for organizations.
MFA integration helps businesses meet regulatory compliance. Today, most compliance regulations require MFA implementation to prevent unauthorized access to certain systems and confidential data. In this regard, it boosts compliance efforts.
Bank of America is a big financial services company, and they have been facing high amounts of phishing attacks. After the implementation of the MFA solution, they were able to decrease the number of phishing attacks by 90%. Also, they secured user identities and enabled secure access to company resources.
Dignity Health is a small healthcare company that was having trouble with complying with strict HIPAA regulation requirements. After the implementation of the MFA solution, they were able to boost their compliance efforts and meet related HIPAA requirements. This helped them avoid fines and penalties coming from HIPAA authorities. Also, they secured users’ identities and guaranteed that only authorized users could access company assets.
Multi factor authentication can have some challenges and these can be user resistance, integration issues, and security gaps. Firstly, user resistance can bring many problems to companies because when users don’t understand the importance of the tool, they can find ways to avoid it or misuse it. Secondly, integration issues can leave a company vulnerable to cyber attacks. Thirdly, after the deployment of the tool, security gaps can occur at any time and if they aren’t fixed these systems can be exploited by cyber criminals. Now that we pinpoint the common challenges of MFA. Let’s look at the best practices.
Before implementing an MFA solution, the first thing your company should do is assess your company’s needs and determine MFA goals. This will give you a clear picture of what needs to be done and how to do it.
To avoid any integration issues, your company needs to test MFA systems before deployment to see if everything is functioning properly or not.
After deployment, your company needs to monitor, audit, and update MFA systems regularly. Doing so will help you find and fix any weaknesses.
Employee training is one of the most important best practices of MFA deployment. Your employees must understand the importance of MFA, why it is in place, and how to use these tools. This way, your company can overcome user resistance and employees can avoid actions that will harm the company.
Traditional authentication methods are no longer suitable for modern businesses and using these can put companies at great risk. That’s why implementing an MFA solution is critical. By integrating MFA systems your company can elevate workforce security.