What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security mechanism that requires users to provide two or more forms of identification before accessing an account or system. The goal of MFA is to make it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to sensitive information. Traditionally, authentication is done with a username and password, but this method is not very secure. Usernames are often easy to guess, and passwords can be stolen or hacked. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of identification, such as a fingerprint, a smart card, or a one-time code sent to your phone. This way, even if someone knows your password, they still can’t access your account without the second factor.
Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, protects your applications by using a second source of validation before granting access to users. Common examples of multi-factor authentication include personal devices, such as a phone or token, or geographic or network locations. MFA enables organizations to verify the identities of users before they can gain entry to critical systems.
Why is multi-factor authentication needed?
As organizations digitize operations and take on greater liability for storing customer data, the risks and need for security increase. Because attackers have long exploited user login data to gain entry to critical systems, verifying user identity has become essential.
Authentication based on usernames and passwords alone is unreliable and unwieldy, since users may have trouble storing, remembering, and managing them across multiple accounts, and many reuse passwords across services and create passwords that lack complexity. Passwords also offer weak security because of the ease of acquiring them through hacking, phishing, and malware.
What are some examples of multi-factor authentication?
Cloud-based authenticator apps such as Duo are engineered to provide a smooth login experience with MFA. They are designed to integrate seamlessly within your security stack. With Duo, you can:
- Verify user identities in seconds
- Protect any application on any device, from anywhere
- Add MFA to any network environment
How does multi-factor authentication work?
MFA requires means of verification that unauthorized users won’t have. Since passwords are insufficient for verifying identity, MFA requires multiple pieces of evidence to verify identity. The most common variant of MFA is two-factor authentication (2FA). The theory is that even if threat actors can impersonate a user with one piece of evidence, they won’t be able to provide two or more.
Proper multi-factor authentication uses factors from at least two different categories. Using two from the same category does not fulfill the objective of MFA. Despite wide use of the password/security question combination, both factors are from the knowledge category–and don’t qualify as MFA. A password and a temporary passcode qualify because the passcode is a possession factor, verifying ownership of a specific email account or mobile device.