What really is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Consider the amount of your life on your computer or mobile device. 

After several online purchases, check your email, log into your social media accounts, and enter your credit card number. When we share sensitive data such as passwords and banking information online, it is increasingly important to find ways to empower ourselves online via putting the electronic security efforts in place. 

Each of our digital accounts is at risk of being hacked, so it is imperative to add another level of protection with MFA. 


What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)? 

Multifactor authentication is an authentication method that requires the user to provide two or more clues to access and log into an account. User will only have access after entering this information. Examples of evidence include the phone number, email address, or answer to a security question. 

While the MFA combines any number of authentication factors to verify a person’s identity, the two most common are the Two factors verification(2FA). In addition, the MFA might be triggered by a failed two-step verification process or some kind of suspicious user behaviour. 

This is common for MFA-capable 2FA systems. It may also be necessary only for added security when accessing more important files or sensitive data, such as medical or financial records. 

Additional layers of security in the sign-in process can ensure that your personal information remains protected and does not fall into the wrong hands. 


How does Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) work? 

It is important to realize that there are two main types of Multi-factor authentication. 

  • MFA applications: An authentication process that is activated when a user tries to access one or more applications. 
  • MFA devices: An authentication process that instantly activates the MFA when logging into the system. 

Although they are two separate processes, the MFA method is essentially the same for both types. When a user tries to access something (phone, laptop, server, etc.), they must face multi-factor authentication and be forced to enter two or more authentication factors. If the primary identity provider considers the agents valid, then they are granted access. 

One of the most requested verification factors is your phone number. Usually, you will enter your username and use MFA password. When you log in then a unique code is sent via SMS. 

This proves that you remember both your username and password, but also that you have your “registered” smartphone as a device to receive these types of codes. 


What are validation factors? 

Authentication factor is a class of credentials used to define authentication. When these factors are used in the MFA, each additional factor increases certainty that the person trying to access the account is who or what they claim to be. 

Your login information is divided into three different categories:  

  • Knowledge: Something that only the user knows, such as a password or a PIN. 
  • Property: Something that the user only owns, such as a smartphone or a hardware token. 
  • Heritage: Something that belongs to this user only, such as his fingerprint or voice. 

For example, if you log into a banking app on your smartphone, the app will send the user a code to enter it before they can access their account. This MFA method falls into the category of “something you know” because it is a PIN that a user must enter before fully connecting to their online bank account. 


Adaptive authentication 

The current authentication factors take into account the context of the login behaviour. 

For example, the system might discover a hacker logging in from a strange site thousands of miles away, or discover a new device trying to access your account. The system also takes into account the time you log in and the type of network you can access. If any of these factors seem unusual, adaptive validation begins. 

Adaptive authentication uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to record strange logins into your account. Any atypical behaviour (logging in from a new site or in odd hours) will cause the system to send additional authentication, such as face IDs or email codes. 

Over time, adaptive authentication learns about user patterns and eventually no longer requires them to verify their identity when visiting a new site or increasingly using a new device. 

Don’t let your cybersecurity conditions unite. One form is multi-factor verification and the other is risk-based verification but they are not the same. 


Types of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) 

You can only use two or three types of multi-factor authentication to access accounts online, but did you know that there are a number of different types? 

Email codes 

These codes are sent via email to the user requesting access. Receiving a code via email is one of the most popular types of MFA and can be a great option in the event of a get lost, stolen, or simply in another room. 


Text slides 

The SMS code is identical to the email code, only by different means of communication. Receiving text codes is an easy option to implement and almost anyone can use it. 

After entering your username and password, a One Time Password (OTP) in the form of a PIN will be sent to your phone. The number acts as a second authentication factor and is entered on the next page / screen. 


Biometric verification 

Biometric authentication can be anything from fingerprint recognition to face recognition. Users with smart devices or computers can use this technology to further enhance online protection. 


Biometric authentication is usually less difficult than a one-time password, and MFA can be a game rather than a burden. 


Hardware tokens 

Although the previous three types of MFA were hypothetical, the device code is physical. This code is considered one of the safest methods of MFA, but it can be more expensive. 

Many companies offer device codes to their most valuable users to retain as customers. Typically, a hardware token is the best option for protecting things like your banking, insurance, and investment information. 

Users enter a token on a device or computer to access information. If they want to access the information on a mobile device, they may need a USB or USB-C dongle. 

The only downside? You need to track where the token is, and if you lose it or forget it at home, you will not be able to access your accounts. 


Security issues 

You may have encountered security issues while setting up a bank account or school portal. Security issues are static and considered a form of knowledge-based verification (KBA). You might be asked to set a security question when creating an account. 

Some examples of security issues are: 

  • What was the name of your first pet? 
  • Where did you grow up? 
  • What is your mother’s middle name? 
  • What is your child’s nickname? 

When accessing your account, enter your username and password, and you will be prompted to answer your security question. Stronger versions of KBA (called Dynamic KBA) are generated in real time from data such as recent transactions and credit history. 

Although security issues are a common form of multi-factor authentication, they can be easily compromised. If someone has done enough internet research through your social media accounts, they may be able to collect some answers to your questions. 

Other examples of multi-factor authentication could be: 

  • Scanning of the retina or iris of the eye 
  • One-time application codes for smartphones 
  • Behavioural analysis 
  • USB devices, badges, and other physical devices 

The more types of multi-factor authentication you implement, the more secure your sensitive data will be. Even if the hacker had access to two of the three types, they still could not proceed and your MFA process worked. 


Why use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)? 

While some may find this process less inconvenient or time consuming to set up, it is worth taking a higher level of security in the long term. Around 2016 one billion accounts records were under attack around the world, the equivalent of about three for every US citizen.  

MFA can prevent this. 

The ultimate goal of MFA is to create a line of defence between your information and the hackers. MFA makes it difficult for unauthorized persons to access. Although they may know your password, they cannot recreate the second authentication factor (your fingerprint, text code, and security question answer). 

In the past, MFA systems only implemented two-factor authentication, but as the number of cyber-attacks increases, people are turning to two or more factors for additional layers of protection. While we cannot prevent all crimes online, simple steps like using 2FA or MFA can significantly reduce the likelihood of hacking. 

If MFA is available, you should use it, particularly in relation to your most sensitive information, such as your financial accounts, medical records, and primary email address. 

How secure is multi-factor authentication really? Ultimately security depends on commitment. If you are willing to take the time to enter more verification factors to access your account, you might lose a minute of your day, but you’ll be better protected in the long run. 

Additionally, passwords (especially some passwords) are the best for account security. If you want to improve your MFA process, you can do one of the following:  

  • Ask your bank to implement multi-factor authentication. 
  • Try to avoid verifying your identity with social verification, as they are more vulnerable to hacking. 
  • Find the MFA methods that work best for you. 

Security will never be 100%, but if you are proactive in your online security, even the smartest hackers will not be able to steal your personal information. 


Advantages of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) 

Today, people expect multi-factor authentication to be separate from any account configuration. It has been incorporated into modern customer service and is now the primary online security standard. 

People like the MFA for the following reasons: 

  • It provides a higher level of protection than just a username and password. 
  • Users may feel more appreciated by companies that use the MFA. 
  • MFA can connect using single sign-on software and provide users with an easier and more secure login process. 

At the end of the day, keeping confidential information online or in the cloud will be even more risky. The advent of multi-factor authentication has calmed the minds of customers and companies and greatly improved overall protection against unauthorized users. 


Two is better than one 

And three is better … at least in terms of your security efforts. More and more websites, services, and apps are using two or even three-factor authentication as an extra layer of protection. 

The next time you sign up for an account, be sure to spend the extra minutes setting up your MFA and protecting all of your sensitive data. 

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