What is multi-factor authentication? Do you know how it can help?

For decades the traditional, and not entirely secure, way to log into accounts has been to enter in your username and your password. The same password that you likely use for many if not all of your online accounts. The problem is that many of us are using the same password, or a variation of the same password, for all of our accounts. 

This can create what is known as a password domino effect. All it takes is for a hacker to crack one password and they’ll be able to potentially take down several of your accounts all at the same time.  

The global increase in password thefts has raised many a concern for organizations. Each of these concerns can be addressed with the implementation of multi-factor authentication (MFA).  

MFA is a security solution that more organizations are choosing to focus on to help protect their users for a more streamlined user experience. 

Helping to secure your bank accounts, payment accounts, social media accounts, and access to other types of systems and accounts can be taken a step further than by using that single password for each of them.  

Just what is MFA? 

Multi-factor authentication is an automated electronic authentication method that asks the user to provide more than one type of identity verification before they can gain access to a network, an app, or a website. If a password is stolen, data can be protected because would-be hackers will not be able to easily gain access to the system. 

Even if you aren’t familiar with what MFA is in terms of online security, there are good odds you’ve used it in one form or another. As an example, consider when you’ve used your ATM card to withdraw cash. You’ve entered a PIN as a secondary way to access your account. 

MFA is often referred to as two-factor authentication or 2FA. It is a way to enhance security by giving you the ability to prove that you are who you say you are, with additional credentials beyond the password. 

The credentials that you use could fall into three categories or factors. 

  • Something you are. A fingerprint, retina scan, or GPS location. 
  • Something that you have. A digital token or device, or your smartphone. 
  • Something you know. A PIN or a password. 

 Your credentials will need to come from two of these factors to get the enhanced security benefits. Entering two passwords or using two digital tokens will not be thought of as multi-factor. Your password will need to be combined with a secure code that is delivered to your smartphone, or even with a fingerprint. 

Some systems are designed to remember your device as the second factor. Whether it’s your smartphone or your laptop, it’s generally an efficient process.  

What are the benefits of using MFA? 

There are several key benefits to using MFA. The benefits extend to the user and the business both. 

  • MFA adds an extra layer of security over simply using a password. Multiple security layers can help to verify that the user seeking system or app access is who they claim to be. If a hacker steals a password, they will not be able to log into the account without verifying identity using another method. For a business, MFA can help to build and maintain user trust. 
  • MFA is a valuable tool that can help to protect consumer information from the risks of identity theft. With the implementation of MFA, the traditional security methods are supplemented by that extra layer of protection. A cybercriminal will face more of a challenge to crack the MFA if they try to reset a password, as the time-based one-time password (TOTP) used to reset the account will typically be sent via an automated call or text message. 
  • MFA can also be a mechanism to meet compliance protocols in certain industries. Consider the requirements of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) that require MFA to be implemented in some cases to help to prevent unauthorized access to systems. 
  • MFA is a non-invasive experience for both the user and the organization that has implemented it. Users tend to prefer efficient and frictionless experiences. If it is difficult for them to integrate a new security method, they may simply not take part.  

MFA adds that next-level security that users demand, and businesses need. 

Should you use MFA? 

Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their methods, to stay ahead of many of the security tools that are established today. Between pharming, phishing, and keylogging, cybercriminals can gain access to sensitive information and those passwords. 

Any one of us can find ourselves falling victim to these cyberattacks on our online security. It’s not just the individual. Large enterprises, particularly web-based services, have seen an increase in data breaches. 

The use of MFA will help to protect and add an extra security layer for the organization, while also providing the user with the validation that their data is being protected with an extra layer of security.  

MFA can help to provide that extra layer of security, making it difficult for cybercriminals to log in using your credentials. Your private information is safer because the cybercriminal will need to have both your password and your smartphone. You may not notice immediately if your password has been stolen, but you will certainly notice if your phone has been stolen. 

Putting a stop to all online crime is a nice goal to have but it’s not realistic. Simple steps can be taken to implement boosted security measures that can greatly help reduce the potential for you becoming the next target of a cybercriminal. 

The truth is that the traditional password is no longer as secure as we need it to be. Hackers have found countless methods of gaining access to credentials and private accounts. It is also sadly true that many of us are still using weak passwords. According to research from NordPass, in 2020 some of the most commonly used passwords around the world were still password or 12345. While you may think that these are so commonly used that no one will guess them, it will take a hacker less than a second to access your account. 

Check how secure your password is! Is it time for you to update it? 

The good news for all of us is that MFA can effectively put a lid on the risk to your account. Because your identity needs to be verified using multiple methods, cybercriminals can’t easily gain access to your system or account even if they do manage to get your password. 

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