Over the last ten years, many aspects of our working world have moved online. Individuals and businesses now conduct sales, banking, communications, and resource management almost exclusively through the internet.
However, as technology has improved, so has the rate of cybercrimes committed. With this rise in cyberattacks, systems that were once secure must find new ways to combat potential risks.
One of the recommended ways to prevent cybercriminals from accessing sensitive data is through the use of multifactor authentication (MFA). It is becoming more and more common across secure platforms and devices.
It’s popular, but does it really work? The short answer is yes but not without some caveats.
What is MFA?
MFA is a critical component of identity and access management. An MFA security system will authenticate a user through two or more different factors, rather than simply asking for a username and password.
This is extremely effective, as passwords (even complex ones) have become more and more vulnerable to brute force cyberattacks. MFA provides multiple layers of protection, preventing cybercriminals from accessing your data. The authentication factors used typically fall into at least two of the following three categories:
This refers to something you know. It could include a password, PIN, or security questions (such as the name of your childhood pet, the street you grew up on, etc.).
This refers to something you have. Examples include using a card, a USB device, or even using a separate app linked to your device.
This refers to something you are. Inherent features about you as a person can help authenticate you, including fingerprints, retina scans, and facial recognition software.
New solutions are also programmed to take into consideration the location of your login. For example, if a login attempt is made in a cafe at 10 pm, and this is not normal behavior for you, the system may require extra authentication steps before allowing you into the system.
Types of MFA
There are many types of MFA; the wide range of options available to security systems are one of the reasons it is so effective, as cyber criminals cannot necessarily focus on getting past a single means of protection. Common methods of multifactor authentication include:
- Tokens or certificates
- Biometric identification: fingerprints, retina/iris scanning, facial recognition, etc.
- Codes generated by smartphone apps
- Badges, USB devices, and other physical devices
- Codes sent to an email address or in a text message
- Behavioral analysis, including time, location, device, and network access
- Risk score
- Answers to personal security questions
Does MFA Work?
Although it is a highly effective option, it’s important to recognize that MFA is not infallible, like any security system. If you are being authenticated remotely by a stranger, they aren’t typically told what they are approving when a request comes through. This means that people can authenticate hackers without realizing it if they’re not careful. The same is true of algorithms.
Furthermore, any multifactor authentication system is only as secure as its issuer. If the app, program, or company running the system is hacked, the MFA will also be compromised. For example, phone hacks are becoming more and more common and can compromise any MFA delivered through something like an SMS.
However, even with these small risks, Google has found MFA to be highly effective, blocking 100% of automated bot attacks and consistently stopping over 75% of targeted attacks, if not more. Device-based authentication is a particularly effective factor (possession—something you have), with a security key blocking 100% of all attacks.
There isn’t a security system in the world that is completely impenetrable. Cybercriminals are constantly working to exploit weaknesses, and all systems must evolve and develop to keep up with threat levels.
MFA is certainly one of the best options out there. Using multifactor authentication can protect your system on multiple levels, meaning that if a hacker manages to find a way through one security feature, there are still others there to block the attack.
This is a tried and tested way to prevent any unwanted access to your sensitive data. If you want to install and use a multifactor authentication system, the best step you can take is to work closely with an IT services provider to ensure you are using the best system for your business. This will improve your security, keeping the data of both you, your employees, and your customers safe from any attacks that might try to compromise your system.