Cybersecurity Awareness Month: The Importance of Multi-factor Authentication
Multi–factor authentication adds a powerful extra layer of protection to your online accounts by dramatically decreasing your susceptibility to phishing attacks.
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Usernames and passwords are among the favorite targets for attackers. After all, it is far easier to dupe an unsuspecting victim into giving away their login credentials than it is to brute-force hack an online account.
Cybercriminals deploy several different tactics to exploit login information. Common methods include setting up fake login pages that look like the real thing but are really designed to steal usernames and passwords. Other attacks take a more direct approach, such as by asking for login information via email or messenger while masquerading as an operator from a legitimate organization. In any case, almost all cases involving password theft are phishing attacks.
The main theme for this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month is the human element. While we should all learn to better identify potential phishing scams, it’s essential to apply multiple layers of security. Simply put, relying solely on usernames and passwords is a bad idea, which is why multi-factor authentication plays a key role in cybersecurity.
How does multi-factor authentication work?
Multi–factor authentication (MFA) may sound like a technical term, but it’s a simple concept and one that you likely already use regularly. For example, almost all banking apps enforce MFA by asking you to enter a one-time security key in addition to your username and password, particularly if you’re logging in from a new device, network, or location.
Unfortunately, a lot of online services, including cloud-hosted apps that are widely used in the business world, don’t enforce MFA by default. Weak authentication measures, such as those that only ask for a username and password, are one of the common causes of data breaches. As such, it’s often necessary to use a third-party service, like Microsoft Authenticator or Google Authenticator.
MFA works by combining two or more authentication factors. These may include the following:
- Something you have: A physical object, like a security authenticator or bank card
- Something you know: A password or PIN code
- Something you are: A physical characteristic, like a fingerprint or voice
- Somewhere you are: A specific geolocation or network
You already use a form of MFA whenever you withdraw money from an ATM. The bank card is something you have, while the PIN code is something you know. By themselves, each one of these authentication factors is useless. A thief needs both in order to steal money from your account.
The same applies to online accounts. Although MFA does not and cannot entirely eliminate the risk of falling victim to a social engineering attack, it greatly decreases it. For example, if you have to authenticate a login attempt with a one-time password, such as a code sent by text message, it will only be valid for a few minutes. For an attack to be successful, the cybercriminal would also have to have access to your phone. Other factors, such as biometrics, are even more difficult to steal or spoof.
How to implement multi-factor authentication
Most cloud-based services provide MFA, even if it’s turned off by default. However, you should avoid relying entirely on the authentication measures provided by your vendors. It can also get confusing for employees if MFA is enabled for some accounts but not for others, or they have to use different methods for each account. Moreover, any unnecessary complexity can have the opposite effect by encouraging people to take risky workarounds.
The best way to apply MFA is to combine it with single sign-on (SSO), which allows employees to access all the apps and data they need to do their jobs with a single set of login credentials. You can also automate MFA to a degree by using a system that only asks for further security questions if they’re logging in from an unfamiliar device, location, or network. It’s important to reduce barriers to adoption by ensuring that MFA is convenient and consistent.
Are you interested in implementing MFA for your organization?
We can help! It’s important to reduce barriers to company adoption by ensuring that MFA is convenient and consistent. Multi-factor authentication is an industry standard in the technology space, creating a strong first line of defense against ransomware, phishing attacks, and more. SeedSpark can help your organization implement MFA, keeping bad actors out of your accounts – even if your password is leaked or stolen.
SeedSpark provides managed services to bolster your security posture and mitigate the risks to your organization. Get in touch today to get the proactive IT support you need to succeed.