Two-factor authentication (2FA), also known as two-step authentication or multi-factor authentication, is used to improve the security of your online accounts. With 2FA, users can only get into their computer applications by entering two or more pieces of information into the authentication system. This adds additional layers of security to the login process. The most common way to confirm two factors when logging onto an account is to enter a password and then authenticate through a secondary verification process or application.
There are three types of two-factor authentication or verification you may be familiar with:
- What you chose: a password, a PIN code, a postal code or a response request (your mother’s maiden name, your pet’s name, favorite childhood friend’s name, etc.)
- What you have: a phone, a credit card or a chain.
- What you get: biometric features such as fingerprints, retina, appearance or sound.
Why is Two-Factor Authentication So Important?
Passwords have been the mainstay since the inception of computer usage. However, they have their limitations. Many people tend to use the same password for a variety of their applications and accounts and expert hackers can crack most passwords within just a few hours. Often, people forget their passwords as well. After all, we all have numerous online accounts and creating and memorizing the passwords for all of them can be nearly impossible.
Mark Dacanay writes on GlobalSign.com, “The password - it is arguably the most popular and most common security measure available, and at a lot of times it is also the most vulnerable. In 2016, Breach Level Index revealed that the leading source of data breaches are hackers and cyber criminals, who are after identity theft. And what is the response of most companies in the event and threat of data breach? It is to change user passwords.
Passwords have a lot of shortcomings. For one, passwords do not provide a strong enough identity check. Anyone who obtains the password can simply waltz into an account and take what they need. In addition, the security of the account is based solely on the strength of the password, which, as we all know, is usually not strong enough. Nobody likes to remember a string of characters containing uppercase, lowercase, numeric and special characters. Users want something simple, easy to remember and unwittingly, easy to hack.
Ransomware is a malicious software from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim's data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid to restore the data. Typically if the ransom in not paid within a certain timeframe, the victim is at risk of losing the data forever. Of course, there is also no guarantee that the data will be restored by the cybercriminal. Check out the article by Charlie Osborne about a hospital in Indiana that paid $55,000 to cyberattackers.
This is the reason why companies are adopting multi-factor authentication or MFA to supplement the password as a means of access control, or in some cases, as an actual alternative to passwords.
Programs like 1Password or LastPass help companies and their users organize and manage passwords. However, you must always have a unique password to protect your security. Multi-factor authentication increases the complexity for hackers attempting to accessing your personal or corporate data.
How Does Multi-Factor Authentication Work?
You must start by entering in your current password which is the first confirmation agent. The second agent or factor is usually requested and received through an application or SMS. Typically, it will give you a numeric code to log into your account. Unlike a debit card PIN, the 2FA code is only used one time. Each time you sign in to this account, you will be provided with a new authentication code. This is not like a password that you need to remember as each code is used only once.
Do I have to use an SMS or an application?
Many websites and services, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, permit you to use verification programs and SMS messages. Twitter is the largest instance of a website that requires you to use SMS. If you have the option, use the authentication application.
Password protection via SMS does not guarantee you will be secure. You can be at risk if a hacker has gotten a hold of your Smartphone’s SIM. Because they now have your phone number, they are able to intercept all of your messages, which gives them access to any two-factor authentications you receive and as a result, access to your accounts. In addition, when you coordinate text messages with your computer, hackers can receive your SMS codes making it easier for them to compromise you profile.
The use of the authentication program requires some additional parameters, but this provides better protection than using SMS. To start the verification process, you must install the app on your mobile device and set a secret password between your app and your account. This is frequently done by scanning a QR code using the phone’s camera. Once you start the program, you will protect your credentials by entering a password.
Since the authentication application does not require sending a code from your mobile carrier, it will remain in the application. This is another beneficial feature, so you don’t have to place your trust in the security of your mobile carrier.
Is it difficult to use 2FA?
It is actually quite simple to set up two-factor authentication. The Verge, an American news and media network, recently updated an article they posted which provides instructions on how to set up 2FA on all of your online accounts. Once you are set up it just requires you to complete that one extra step, a simple step that is worth it to give you some extra peace of mind. However that doesn’t mean you should neglect updating your passwords on a regular basis.
Still need help?
If you are still unsure if you or your business really need to implement 2FA, contact Blue Ridge Technology for assistance. Our security experts will advise you on the best approach to using and implementing 2FA to keep your passwords safe. Reach out to us today!