MFA (multifactor authentication) methods need users to supply two or more independent credentials: what they know (password), what they have (security token), and/or what they are (biometric verification). MFA aims to build a layered defense that makes it more difficult for an unauthorized person to get access to a target, such as a physical place, computing equipment, network, or database. If one of the factors is compromised or damaged, the attacker must still overcome at least one more barrier before successfully breaking into the target.
Implementing MFA methods improves an organization’s security posture by lowering the likelihood of identity theft, as a hacker would require more than just the user’s password to obtain access to their account. Each MFA approach has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but the essential premise stays the same: by adding additional layers of security, they make it much more difficult for cybercriminals to compromise a system or account. MFA, regardless of method, is a crucial component of a strong security strategy, and companies should carefully assess their specific demands and risks when deciding which MFA approaches to employ.
Let us first present 5 different multifactor authentication methods, exploring their use cases as well as pros and cons of implementing these cyber security solutions:
1. Biometric authentication
This technique of identification relies on unique biological traits such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scans. Biometric authentication method is popular for on-prem solutions, where there is part software security and hardware security interactions.
However, we see the rise of biometrics for personal phone devices as well. Most prominently, the fingerprint use to unlock mobile devices.
Pros: Extremely safe and convenient because users always have their biometric data on hand. They are very difficult to forge or steal.
Cons: Some users may be concerned about the storage of their biometric data. False negatives can also prevent users from accessing their accounts.
2. Software & Hardware Tokens
Hardware Tokens are a method that involves using a physical device, such as a key fob or smart card, that generates a secure code for authentication.
Pros: Highly secure since the token must be physically present for authentication. It’s not vulnerable to many common cyber threats, such as phishing or keylogging.
Cons: It’s inconvenient to carry an additional device, and there’s risk of it being lost or stolen. It can also be expensive to implement and manage due to the cost of the devices.
Software Tokens are similar to hardware tokens. Software tokens create the authentication code through a software application rather than a physical device.
Advantages: They are convenient since they can be utilized on devices that users already own, such as smartphones. They are also less expensive and simpler to manage than hardware tokens.
Cons: If the device that holds the software token is compromised, the token is affected as well. They also rely on the device being charged and operational at the moment of authentication.
3. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
Two-factor authentication (2fa) is a subtype of multifactor authentication that uses only two factors to authenticate. For example, a user may be required to enter a password (which they know) followed by a code sent to their mobile device (which they own). The popularity of 2FA stems from its ability to strike a balance between greater security and user convenience. Google’s 2-Step Verification, which uses a password and a verification number generated on the user’s smartphone, is one common implementation of 2FA.
Advantages: Significantly improves security over single-factor authentication. It’s also relatively simple for consumers to grasp and apply.
Cons: It is still theoretically vulnerable if both factors are compromised, and it requires the user to have access to their second factor (e.g., their mobile device).
4. Adaptive authentication
Adaptive authentication includes dynamically altering the number and kind of authentication factors based on the risk associated with the user’s current activity. If a user signs in from an unfamiliar location or device, or at an unusual time, the system may request additional authentication factors.
Pros: It strikes a balance between security and user experience by only adding friction when necessary.
Cons: It can be difficult to execute since it necessitates a system capable of precisely assessing risk based on a wide variety of variables.
5. Strong authentication
Strong authentication is frequently used interchangeably with multifactor authentication, however it refers to authentication mechanisms that are exceedingly difficult to compromise. Strong authentication normally consists of at least two factors and frequently includes anything about the user (biometric data), making it significantly more secure than password-only login. In strong authentication, biometrics and security keys are frequently employed.
Pros: It has a high level of security, making unauthorized users difficult to acquire access.
Cons: It may increase user friction, and biometric data in particular may raise privacy concerns.