It’s no secret that cybercrime is on the rise. Many hackers worldwide have been exploiting the pandemic to take advantage of security vulnerabilities in the changing work patterns. As a response to this, security is at the forefront for many organizations and individuals. One of the biggest ways to easily enhance security is by enabling 2-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA). This article provides an in-depth look at 2-factor authentication, including how it works and the security advantages it offers.
Evolving Security Needs
Passwords have been the standard method of securing accounts and information for decades. They are an example of single-factor authentication because the user only has to provide one piece of information, the password, to gain access. Unfortunately, cybercrime attacks have become sophisticated enough that passwords – even lengthy and complex ones – are no longer sufficient for protecting data and networks.
While passwords have been an acceptable security standard historically, they have always had limitations. Password requirements vary from site to site. This requirement means that users have to develop new passwords that they frequently cannot remember or pick ones that are incredibly easy to remember but widely used. Some of the most common ones are “111111”, “123456”, and “password.” Hackers face very little challenge in cracking these codes! Additionally, many users implement the same password or one with very little variation across many accounts. So, if the hacker determines the password for one account, they can frequently leverage it to access others.
Two-Factor Authentication Basics
Multi-factor authentication was developed as a way to address some of the deficiencies in using passwords alone. This protocol provides an extra layer of security by requiring additional information from the user. It requires a combination of two of the following elements:
- Something you know: This could be information such as a password, a personal identification number (PIN), or answers to secret questions.
- Something you have: The most common example of this is when a code is sent to the user’s smartphone or another device, which must then be entered. Only the individual in possession of this device will know the code. Tokens embedded in credit cards are another example of this type of identity verification.
- Something you are: Some 2FA methods may rely on biometric data and require a fingerprint, an iris scan, facial recognition, or a voice sample before providing access.
If the user can only provide one factor, such as the password, they will remain unable to access the account. Currently, major data breaches have contributed to the fact that millions of email addresses or usernames combined with the passwords are available for sale on the dark web, which presents a tremendous threat to many individuals. With 2FA protocols in place, this information is far less valuable to hackers who still lack the second factor and would likely not be able to access the data or information they seek.
Vulnerabilities with 2-Factor Authentication
Despite the huge security advantages that 2FA has over password only, it’s important to remember that there are still weaknesses. Many people use information such as a mother’s maiden name, a first job, a pet’s name, or the high school they attended as the second factor. However, there is an abundance of personal information available today. For instance, many people volunteer this data on social media sites. If the hacker can figure out the answer to these questions or use social engineering strategies to trick you into providing it, then they will still be able to hack your accounts even with 2FA in place.
For these reasons, you must leverage the advantages of 2FA by selecting options that provide the maximum amount of security. It would be best if you were also very wary of what personal information you provide on social media and limit access to your information to only those you know and trust. These actions enhance the ability of 2FA to keep out unauthorized users, which is essential in protecting your data and digital security today.
Types of Two-Factor Authentication
There are multiple types of 2FA, and each provides a different level of security. Some have advantages or disadvantages over others. When enabling and working with 2FA, it’s a great idea to be familiar with the different types.
- Hardware Tokens: Hardware tokens are one of the oldest forms of 2FA. They work similarly to requiring a device like a key fob to access a building. But rather than physical entry, they provide digital entry by producing a new numeric code every 30-seconds that can be automatically transferred when the token is produced, such as through a USB port. The distribution of these tokens can be costly, though, which has limited their appeal.
- Software Tokens: Users can download and install a 2FA software app on their devices. They can then use the app with any site that supports this type of authentication. Like hardware tokens, the software token provides a valid code for a short window of time. These solutions can be used on mobile devices, wearables, or even offline, allowing user authentication from anywhere.
- Text- or Voice-Based 2FA: The most common form of 2FA requires an interaction directly with the user’s phone or another mobile device. After the user inputs their username and password into a website, the site generates a one-time passcode, automatically sent via text message or delivered by a voice call. Despite its popularity, this method of 2FA is not the most secure way to authenticate users since the passcode could be intercepted.
- Push Notifications: With push notifications, websites and apps send an option to approve or deny access when attempting to log into an account. This form of 2FA is user-friendly and, in many instances, more secure than relying on sent passcodes.
- Biometric Data: Some 2FA authentication methods verify identity by requiring data such as fingerprints, iris scans, or facial recognition. Currently, this method is very secure, although as this technology evolves, additional vulnerabilities may be identified.
Given the many security threats in the modern digital world, 2FA is one of the best ways to secure your personal data and assets. Contact Sagacent Technologies, a highly-trusted managed IT service provider in the San Jose area, for more information about 2FA today.