Are you unsure what multi-factor authentication is? “What is two-factor authentication?” or “What is two-factor authentication?”

You’ve probably come here because you’ve heard of multi factor authentication (MFA) and/or two factor authentication (also known as 2FA or 2FA) and are curious about what they are and how they function. In a nutshell, they’re both authentication processes that require a user to confirm their identity in order to protect their credentials and the data they want to access. Email and banking applications are gradually using these authentication methods.

But aren’t MFA and 2FA the same thing? That’s not the case. Oh, and there’s a third form of authentication I haven’t discussed yet: single factor authentication. (I’ll get to that shortly.)

In this post, I’ll dissect:

What are multi factor, two factor, and single factor authentication, how do they vary from one another, and how do you choose one over the other?

What is Multi Factor Authentication?

Multi factor authentication (also known as MFA) is a verification mechanism in which a user must prove they are who they claim they are using several methods before the company can grant them access to their account. Do you have any questions about how multi-authentication works? The basic authentication methods differ, but they generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Anything you’re familiar with. This type of information (which Imperva refers to as a “knowledge factor”) may be a password, a passphrase, an answer to a security query, or some other piece of unique information that allows you to be authenticated.
  • You have everything. This type of data (referred to as a “possession factor” by Imperva) contains information that you have in your possession. A USB security token, a common access card (CAC) reader, or even a mobile app on your personal or company computer are just a few examples.
  • You are everything. This type of data (referred to as a “inheritance factor” by Imperva) may be biometric data such as a fingerprint, retinal scan, facial recognition scan, or even a voice sample.

A user will have to follow two or more of these distinguishing requirements with multi factor authentication in place. They can, for example, require not only the possession of an object, but also the knowledge of a password, PIN, or other piece of information. Alternatively, they can need their phone and must biometrically prove their identity using a physical attribute.

What is Two Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication (also known as two-step verification, dual authentication, and so on) is a verification security mechanism that is less rigorous than one-factor authentication. Only two of these types of identification are required by 2FA. But, wait, doesn’t that mean MFA and 2FA are one and the same? No way. Since two-factor authentication is a form of multi-factor authentication, although not all multi-factor authentication is two-factor authentication. It’s similar to food in that all forms of mac and cheese are foods, but not all foods are mac and cheese.

Let’s take a look at a real-life scenario. When you use a debit card at an ATM machine, you are using two factor authentication. You must not only have the card (what you have), but you must also know the PIN (what you know) that is connected with the card in order to use it.

When I use my username and password to log into my mobile banking app, I’m prompted to enter a six-digit verification code that I receive via SMS text message or email. I must enter the code within a certain period of time to gain access to the account; otherwise, the code will expire, and I will have to start over. When users opt in to use Google’s 2-Step Verification system to secure their accounts, they must go through the same procedure.

What is Single Factor Authentication?

Now that we’ve covered the other two categories, it’s clear that “single factor authentication” is a self-explanatory concept. To compromise a user’s account, a single factor authentication system simply requires the user’s password. If you use “admin” as both your username and password, for example, you’re basically giving cybercriminals access to your data and accounts. It’s the most simple and vulnerable form of account security that, in fact, amounts to very little!

Account compromises are made simpler for hackers by password cracking software, password databases from data hacks, and brute force attacks. Hackers would have a lot of trouble trying to force their way into your account if you use a complex password that includes a mixture of uppercase and lowercase numbers, letters, and symbols. Hackers can break basic passwords like “admin” or “password” in seconds using some software.

Make life difficult for offenders by making them fight for it! Using complex login credentials that they can’t guess easily to make them fail time after time. Criminals are more likely to give up and move on to other (easier) goals if you find it difficult for them to break into your account.

How Do You Choose Between MFA, 2FA, and SFA Authentication Methods?

Now that we’ve clarified “what is multi factor authentication?” and “what is two factor authentication?” for you, let’s move on to “what is two factor authentication?” We can now move on to your next hot topic: What criteria do you use to choose between them?

The response is eventually determined by your company’s and customers’ security requirements. Consider the following scenario: How detrimental would it be if anyone gained access to your account? Could they obtain payment information or inflict serious harm in some other way? If not, you might be able to get by with SFA. After all, you don’t want to irritate customers unnecessarily by providing “too much” protection where it isn’t needed. For them, this can be a time-consuming or stressful experience.

The multi factor authentication mechanism should be made mandatory for critical websites, applications, or facilities that handle some kind of personal or financial information (such as banks, email service providers, healthcare providers, and credit agencies). Two-factor authentication can provide adequate data protection for other websites that handle non-critical personal information.

However, these authentication methods must be expensive for companies to adopt at scale, right? After all, there will be hardware and administrative costs to remember, not to mention costs associated with passwords, support, or the help desk…

Please don’t do it. Don’t use price as an excuse. I believe we can all accept that data protection is critical. After all, you can’t unscramble the egg once your device has been hacked and the information has been published. So, do you want to save money by having your ducks in a row and putting programmes in place up front? Do you want to pay even higher costs after the fact when the proverbial manure hits the fan, the brand image suffers, and you’re hit with penalties and lawsuits?

It’s all up to you. But, if you want to save yourself — and your clients — a lot of headaches and money in the future, I suggest going with option No. 1. Particularly when they are costs that could have been avoided.

Categorized in: