Within business, the security of your online accounts is not something to be taken lightly. With data breaches becoming all too common, account credentials being constantly leaked on the dark web and new phishing methods designed to capture your login information, security practices like "Two-Factor Authentication" (2FA) and "Multi-Factor Authentication" (MFA) are essential to enhance your online cyber security. But what are the differences between Two- Factor and Multi-Factor Authentication? What are the different forms of authentication? And are all authentication methods considered secure? Let us have a look at these in more detail.
What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?
Two-Factor Authentication, commonly abbreviated as 2FA, is a security protocol that requires users to present two separate forms of identification for account access. This usually comprises something you know (such as a username and password) and something you have (like a mobile device which has an app or can display/receive an authentication code or request), making it considerably more challenging for malevolent actors to gain unauthorised entry to your accounts.
What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?
Taking it a step further is Multi-Factor Authentication, or MFA. Unlike 2FA, which demands only two verification elements, MFA may require two or more. These elements come from various categories:
Something you know: Knowledge-based forms like username & passwords or PINs.
Something you have: Possession-based elements like a mobile device, hardware tokens or smart cards.
Something you are: Inherence-based elements, often biometrics like fingerprints, facial scans or vocal recognition.
Types of Two-Factor and Multi-Factor Authentication
Passwords: Combined with an email address or username, Passwords are a long-time staple in online account security; however, passwords are vulnerable to brute-force attacks, social engineering tactics and can be the subject of data breaches and leaks on the dark web which could grant malicious threat actors easy access to your online accounts.
PINs: Personal Identification Numbers are often simpler but should be used either as a backup or in conjunction with other methods for optimal security.
Hardware Tokens: These are physical devices that generate one-time-use authentication codes or contain unique cryptographic keys that must be plugged into your Computer or Mobile Device. They are considered highly secure but can be awkward to carry around or remember to keep in your possession.
Smart Cards: These cards have an embedded chip that contains cryptographic keys and are usually used in corporate settings in conjunction with a hardware reader. The disadvantage to tools such as these is that you require both your card and reader to access your accounts and can fall to the same faults as hardware tokens if you do not have one or both of these in your possession.
Biometrics: Many Devices, Apps or Accounts may require uniquely personal verification of your identity through biometric data such as; fingerprints, facial scans, and retina scans. These offer a unique and highly secure form of verification however require the right technology to be available on the user device, such as Ultrasonic or Depth Sensing Sensors to identify a real face or fingerprint from an image of one.
Voice Recognition: This Technology has evolved a lot, from previously requiring almost exact vocal matches, to now identifying the unique vocal patterns and inclinations for secure authentication and being able to identify a real voice from a recording, although this method is less common.
Software Tokens: These are the most common form of 2FA/MFA verification where temporary codes are generated by dedicated mobile apps like Microsoft/Google Authenticator, Authy, or Password Managers such as MyGlue, 1Password and more, offering convenience and a higher level of security than SMS. The challenge of singular Authenticator apps is that they require access to a single device, Password Managers overcome this by encrypting and synchronising these tokens across all points of secure access. Similarly, these Password Managers often require a heightened level of security such as Encryption Keys, Passwords and Biometric Authentication to gain access to them.
SMS Verification: A temporary code sent via text message to a mobile number/device.
Other Authentication Methods
Secondary Device/App Approval: Some account providers, such as Apple or Google, may require authentication from another device or app that you use within their ecosystem.
App Approval: Within a business environment you may be required to authorise access to your accounts (or devices) through App Approval. Services such as Watchguard or Cisco Duo will send prompts to an app on authorised devices that must be manually accepted. These often provide details of the sign in attempt and the ability to decline access and add Biometric Approval.
The Importance of 2FA/MFA in Business Security
Implementing Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication in a business environment offers several advantages:
The Weakest Link: Why is SMS Verification Considered the Weakest Form of MFA?
SMS verification, while convenient, falls short on the security scale for several critical reasons:
SIM Swapping: An attacker can deceive a mobile service provider into transferring your phone number to a new SIM card in their possession, often using publicly available tools and social engineering, thereby receiving all SMS verification codes sent to you.
Network Interception: Whilst not as common, weaknesses in mobile networks can be exploited to intercept SMS messages.
Phishing Attacks: Unsuspecting users can be tricked into revealing SMS verification codes through deceptive emails, phone calls, other SMS messages or fake websites, thereby granting malicious threat actors' access to your accounts. These are often referred to as “Man-In-The-Middle" attacks, as they require a malicious threat actor to gain access to your account in real time.
Lack of Encryption: SMS messages often lack robust encryption, making them easier targets for cyber criminals.
How can TwentyFour help secure your accounts?
Two-Factor and Multi-Factor Authentication are not just technical jargon but essential practices for securing your business accounts. We can assist your business in setting up multi-factor authentication tools to secure your online accounts, business devices and even access to servers.
Contact us to find out how we can help you to improve your business online security through tools such as Password Policy Management, User Training, Multi-Factor Authentication, Single Sign On, Dark Web Monitoring and much more.