How Multi-Factor Authentication Works

Multi Factor authentication (MFA) provides an additional layer of protection for logins. When accessing an account or app, users need to provide additional identity verification, such as scanning a fingerprint or entering a code received by phone, etc. This system is currently used by many large companies in the user management process that is carried out. But what is the complete process? Check out the following post.
March 15, 2022

MFA is a method of ensuring that internet users are who they say they are by asking them to produce at least two pieces of proof to establish their identity. Each piece of evidence must fall into one of three categories: what they know, what they have, or who they are. Because the chances of another factor being compromised are low if one of the factors has been hacked by a hacker or unauthorized user, using several authentication factors provides a higher level of assurance regarding the user's identity.

What is MFA?

MFA stands for Multi-Factor Authentication, which is a security system that uses multiple authentication methods from different credential categories to validate a user's identity for logins and other transactions.

These credentials might take the shape of a password or passwords, hardware or hardware tokens, numeric codes, biometrics, time, and location in the realm of information technology (IT).

Technically, MFA works by combining the preceding examples, however most implementations only employ 2 (two) factors, which is why MFA is also known as 2 (two) factor (2FA) authentication or better known as 2-Factor Authentication.

Advantages of Using MFA

Unfortunately, by using weak passwords, using the same password for many applications, storing passwords in insecure areas, and using the same password for long periods of time, users make it simpler for hackers. These habits may make it easier for individuals to remember their passwords, but they also invite hackers in via the front door.

Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security for staff and customers, addressing all of these flaws. A bad actor may acquire your username and password, but if they're asked for additional factors before they can access sensitive data, complete a transaction, or get into your laptop, they're doomed.

IT and security professionals believe multi-factor authentication is the most effective security control for securing both on-premises and public cloud data. Not only that, but many MFA systems on the market are quick and simple to set up, allowing a company to employ this extremely effective security feature with little time or effort.

Multi-factor authentication is also a great approach to facilitate organizational mobility, which is usually a top goal for businesses going through a digital transformation. Employee productivity rises when they can utilize their preferred devices to access all of the resources they require without having to leave the office. They gain the flexibility and on-demand access that they value, and enterprises can ensure that their network and data are protected, by using MFA to connect into business apps or to the network remotely through VPN.

How Does It Work?

MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) helps to provide additional layers of protection to help ensure that the person requesting access is who they say they are. Cybercrime acts that might be possible to steal a single credential will be blocked by having to verify identity in a different way by applying the operating principle of Multi-Factor Authentication or multifactor authentication.

At least two of three separate categories, or factors, must be present in a user's credentials. Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is a subset of multi-factor authentication in which only two credentials are required, whereas multi-factor authentication can employ any number of factors.

  • Knowledge

The password is the most frequent example of this element, but it may also take the shape of a PIN or even a pass—something that only you would know.

Knowledge-based authentication, such as security questions , is also used by some organizations, but basic personal information can be discovered or stolen through research, phishing, and social engineering, making it less than ideal as a stand-alone authentication method.

  • Possession

This component confirms that you are in possession of a specific item. It's much less likely that a hacker has stolen your password and stolen anything physical from you. Mobile phones, physical tokens, key fobs, and smartcards all fall under this category.

Depending on the item, there are a few different ways to authenticate it, but the most frequent ones are confirming via a mobile app or pop-up notifications from your phone, typing in a unique code created by a physical token, or inserting a card (e.g., at an ATM).

  • Inheritance

This component confirms that you are in possession of a specific item. It's much less likely that a hacker has stolen your password and stolen anything physical from you. Mobile phones, physical tokens, key fobs, and smartcards all fall under this category.

Depending on the item, there are a few different ways to authenticate it, but the most frequent ones are confirming via a mobile app or pop-up notifications from your phone, typing in a unique code created by a physical token, or inserting a card (e.g., at an ATM).

A token device with a screen is given to the user, which displays a number that is only valid for a limited time (such as RSA SecurID and Vasco tokens). When a user requests access to the system, the authentication server balances the time of the two devices, the server and the user's device used to access the server, and then determines what code will be sent to all tokens requesting access. 

​​If a user enters the system using a username, PIN, or password, as well as a code generated by the token, the authentication server can determine whether or not the person has access rights to the system. It is the most effective approach for performing multi-factor authentication when applied correctly. Because the code is no longer valid if a system attacker knows what code the user has typed, the code information is meaningless.

The Use Case of MFA

Some businesses may desire to implement multi-factor authentication for all users, including employees and consumers. It's much more successful when used in conjunction with a single sign-on (SSO) solution, which eliminates several passwords from the equation, enhancing security and increasing user experience. 

In order to maximize employee and customer comfort, they may choose to skip MFA in low-risk scenarios, while demanding enhanced protection in high-risk situations, such as when dealing with highly sensitive data or high-value transactions. Consider the following scenario:

  • A bank may enable a consumer to connect into his online account with simply a username and password, but transactions must be approved using a second authentication factor.
  • When an employee accesses an HR application from a coffee shop or another off-domain location, a business may desire a higher level of assurance that she is who she claims to be.
  • When a vendor logs into their portal from a new device, a retailer can set up MFA to ensure it's not a hacker attempting to gain access.
  • Employees can usually download an app or carry a token that can be used for multi-factor authentication at work on a regular basis. Customers can be a little challenging when it comes to MFA because they have high expectations for simplified experiences and are quick to leave clumsy log-ins. Customers have been hesitant to enable MFA security for their accounts when given the option, even when the service provider offers it for free.

Other examples of MFA technology implementation include the following.

  • Token of Security

The first is a security token, which is a small piece of hardware that it carries and uses to authorize network service access. A device or devices could be designed as a smart card or placed in a portable object like a key fob or USB flash drive. For multi factor authentication, hardware tokens give a factor of ownership. Tokens based on software are becoming more common than tokens based on hardware.

  • Authentication via mobile device

SMS texts and phone calls to subscribers are examples of variations. It comes in the form of an out-of-band technique, a smartphone OTP application, a SIM card, and a smart card that stores authentication data.

  • Authentication via biometrics

Includes techniques like retinal scanning, iris scanning, fingerprint scanning, finger vein scanning, facial recognition, voice recognition, hand geometry, and even earlobe geometry.

  • Soft Token

Soft tokens, such software-based security token apps that create one-time login PINs, are the next step. Soft tokens are frequently used for multifactor cell phone authentication, in which the device, such as a smartphone, serves as a factor of ownership.

MFA in Cloud

Cloud-based multi-factor authentication (cloud MFA) provides consumers and users with a safe and seamless experience. Without the administrative and hardware expenditures associated with on-premise MFA, cloud MFA protects applications and data. It also boosts efficiency and convenience while lowering dangers.

Cloud-based MFA, like on-premise MFA, requires two or more factors to verify a customer or user. As an example, consider PingOne MFA. Users can authenticate by swiping, tapping, or utilizing fingerprint or face recognition from their mobile device via a secure push notification, or by using FIDO2 bound biometrics on their laptop or security keys. They can also utilize third-party TOTP authenticator apps or a one-time passcode given to their email or SMS to validate their identity (such as Google Authenticator).

The constraints of on-premise multi-factor authentication are removed with cloud multi-factor authentication. With ever-changing cybersecurity threats, keeping in-house personnel up to date on dangers and investing in the most up-to-date software and equipment may be a difficult undertaking. Cloud MFA allows businesses to delegate these tasks to professionals, allowing them to focus on their primary business.

Benefit of MFA in Cloud

  • Cloud-based MFA is simple to use and interacts with a company's resources.
  • Unlike on-premise MFA, there is no need to buy equipment or hire people to monitor and maintain it.
  • Cloud MFA is scalable, meaning it can quickly adapt to the demands of a company.

Adopted from: pingidentity 

Written by Denny Fardian
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