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What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and How Does It Work?

As the world is increasingly interconnected, everyone shares the responsibility of securing cyberspaceNewton Lee

With increasing cybercrime, single sign-on (SSO) solutions are no longer the best defense in preventing data breaches. SSO solutions rely on restricting data rather than protecting it, and since login credentials are the key focus of cybercriminals, it is no surprise  that almost 81% of data breaches are caused by credential misuse. To overcome SSO shortcomings, it’s necessary to deploy multi-factor authentication to protect sensitive data. 

What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security system that requires users to prove their identity in multiple ways before accessing user accounts, VPN, or shared resources. MFA is a core component of identity access management policy and relies on more than just a single piece of evidence. With MFA, each piece  of evidence that the user possesses is different:  something they have, something they know, and something they are. 

Small to midsize businesses are increasingly implementing MFA policies, and Gartner predicts that by the end of 2022, 60% of large and global enterprises and 90% of midsize enterprises will implement a complete passwordless approach. 

Man logging into his mobile

How Does MFA Works?

MFA is easy-to-use and adds a powerful extra layer of protection by  requesting verification information after a user inputs their login credentials. This additional information can include one-time passwords (OTPs), biometric authentication, or authentication via an application. 

Based on the type of authentication, MFA is be categorized into three main types:

  1. Knowledge factor: Requires answering a personal security question. Knowledge factor authentication usually contains passwords, PINs, and OTPs. 
  2. Possession factor: Requires access to specific items, such as an ID badge, token key, or a SIM card. 
  1. Inherence factor: Requires biometric authentication, such as fingerprint, iris, retina, voice, or hand geometry.

Benefits of MFA

MFA plays an important role in information security by protecting data against hackers and potential breaches. MFA benefits include

1. Multiple Layers of Security

MFA provides more layers of security than those offered by two-factor authentication. These additional layers ensure that the customers logging in are who they claim to be. For example, in the case of data theft, hackers may steal one piece of information but with MFA they will be unable to authenticate themselves without the additional required information. 

2. Easy Deployment

Because MFA is easy to use and non-invasive in nature, it doesn’t affect the rest of an organization’s virtual space. Its innate user experience is one  of the reasons why users choose MFA.

3. Regulatory Compliance

Implementing MFA can help organizations remain in compliance with necessary regulations. The PCI DSS (payment card industry data security standards) requires that MFA be deployed to prevent unauthorized users from accessing data. Even if application updates result in unintended consequences, MFA will ensure the system remains secure. 

4. SSO Compliance

An industry-compliant MFA comes with an SSO solution. Using a secondary identification with SSO confirms user identities and reduces the risk of data breaches due to password theft. 

Examples of Risk-based Multi-Factor Authentication

Organizations can use  different MFA types for their employees, customers, and users, with some organizations bypassing the MFA for low-risk scenarios while requiring stronger authentication in high-risk environments. For example:

  • A bank may allow customers to simply log in with their credentials but require additional authentication methods, such as biometric authentication, before completing a transaction. 
  • An organization may need a higher level of assurance that an employee is someone they claim to be when accessing certain areas of the organization, such as a server room, compared to lower risk areas such as a coffee shop, cafeteria, or conference rooms.
  • A retailer may set up MFA for vendors who log in from a non-company-owned device to ensure that the person logging in  is not a hacker who is trying to gain access with a stolen password or PIN. 

Risk-based MFA is adaptive and strengthens security only when warranted, ensuring these security measures can evolve over time. 

Multi-Factor Authentication Solutions by Imageware

Imageware Authenticate identifies, verifies, and authenticates who people are, not just what keys and codes they have. Our server-based, multimodal biometrics solution provide faster, accurate identification to better secure communities, data, and assets.

Imageware Authenticate includes:

  • Biometric MFA for both physical and logical access control
  • Multimodal biometric authentication, including face, palm, and voice
  • Modernized server-based solution
  • Passive anti-spoofing
  • Imageware Authenticate offers a scalable, affordable solution for organizations of all sizes.

Conclusion

The best MFA solutions create a balance between security and convenience by using multiple authentication options, implementing adaptive policies, and integrating them seamlessly into applications. If you want to prevent hackers from getting their hands on your valuable data, implement a good, strong MFA model as soon as possible.