Data breaches, malware, device theft, and cyberattacks are becoming more prevalent as more people and businesses go online. Today, no matter how secure it might be, a password alone is not enough to protect sensitive information from hackers.

So, what can we do to reduce the chances of people with criminal intentions accessing our data? That’s where a layer of security known as multi-factor authentication (MFA) comes in.

Multi-factor authentication is a security technology where numerous authentication methods involving different credentials are required to verify a user’s identity to access an account or conduct a transaction.

Simply put, MFA technology combines two or more independent credentials such as a password and security token or even biometric verification.

This approach provides a high level of assurance about the user’s identity. Even if one of the factors has been compromised, such as the user password, the party attempting to gain access won’t successfully bypass the other factors.

Still, many websites use the email-password combination to authenticate their users. See more about multi-factor authentication, how it works, and how beneficial it can be to protecting user data.

How Does Multi-Factor Authentication Work

When a user logs into an app or website, they’ll input their username and password as usual. They will then have to verify their identity through various verification methods to ensure user identification.

The verification methods used vary depending on the type of verification system. They can be categorized according to:

1. What You Have

The authentication key required to gain access to a set of data could be a physical object such as a key that could access a vault where data is stored. It could also be a USB stick that is plugged into a computer to generate a secret code or token. In the case of a banking account, the authentication key could also be an ATM card.

2. Where You Are

This authentication factor uses the geographical location of the end-user to verify whether they are authorized to access a particular set of data. This approach means the user may not gain access remotely and can only do so when using the local network of a facility or when within the facility’s premises.

3. What You Know

This specific authentication approach is one of the most commonly used MFA keys used to unlock an account or data. It uses a combination of numbers such as a PIN, case-sensitive letters, and special characters that need to be typed during data retrieval or when accessing a secure account.

This means the end-user needs to memorize the code since they’ll need it when accessing an account. Alternatively, it could also be a series of questions that have pre-programmed answers. The questions are usually very personal to the end-user such that no one else would know or be able to guess the answers.

4. What You Are

This authentication approach uses the particular characteristics unique to the end-user. For instance, biometric identifiers such as DNA structure, iris, voice pattern, and fingerprints will never be the same between two people.

Different Methods of Multi-Factor Authentication

1. Magic URLs

Magic URLs are authenticating links containing tokens used to verify and authorize the user once they click on the link. The links can be sent through email, SMS, or even messaging apps such as Whatsapp and Telegram.

Magic links reduce the hassle of filling signup and login forms since a single click is all that’s needed to gain access.

2. One-Time Passwords

One-time passwords (OTPs) are unique codes, usually 4 to 10 characters long, sent to the end-users phone via email or SMS to verify their identity. After the end-user uses their username/email and password to sign in to an app or website, they will receive a text message on their phone or email account with a code they need to key in to gain access.

However, an account can be compromised if a hacker is successful in simjacking or sim swapping. They can do this when they get in touch with the account owner’s phone service provider and convince them that they need SIM replacement.

OTPs can also be sent via voice call or audio message, making it a convenient option for people with visual disabilities.

OTPs can only be used once, usually within a particular time frame. Only the server and user know this code, making it a highly secure verification system.

3. Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication is a security protocol that uses the unique biological characteristics of people such as voice recognition, iris/retina scans, facial recognition, and fingerprint scanning to verify that the user is who they claim to be.

Biometric authentication systems provide more security compared to other multi-factor authentication systems. Knowledge and password-based authentication models can be compromised since the information can be shared with another party. Biometric data, however, are non-transferable.

Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication

1. Strong Assurance of Valid User Identity

Multi-factor authentication helps protect information from theft and data breaches. MFA complements the security provided by the traditional username and password so that cybercriminals and hackers will find it difficult to bypass secondary factors be it OTP or biometric authentication.

2. It’s Easy to Use

Multi-factor authentication is non-invasive and easy to use. It doesn’t affect the network of a company or data facility and provides an effortless user experience.

3. More Secure Than Two-Factor Authentication

There is a slight difference between multi-factor authentication and two-factor authentication (2FA) despite both terms often being used interchangeably. While 2FA restricts the number of authentication factors to two, MFA can be two factors or more. As such, MFA provides more layers of security, making it hard for non-authorized parties to gain access.

The Bottom Line

People are increasingly raising concerns regarding their right to privacy. They don’t want other people or organizations to know what they’re doing in their private lives or the online space. They don’t even want the government spying on them in whatever form.

That said, cybersecurity is becoming a vital necessity for people and businesses, and it’s here that multi-factor authentication becomes supercritical since it provides enhanced security against data theft or breaches.