As cyber criminals discover new ways to harvest login credentials, usernames and passwords have become less effective at keeping malicious users at bay. Research shows there are over 15 billion stolen login credentials on the dark web, which criminals routinely use to steal sensitive information from modern organizations.
With such a high volume of data breaches and credential theft, enterprises need to go beyond traditional password verification to prevent unauthorized access. Multi-factor authentication is emerging as one of the most effective solutions, requiring users to submit multiple authentication factors before accessing sensitive information.
It’s also one of the most popular authentication options available to enterprises, with the multi-factor authentication market projected to reach $23.5 billion by 2026. This article will examine what multi-factor authentication is and why it’s critical for cyber security leaders to use it to protect employees.
What is Multi-Factor Authentication and How Does it Work?
In its simplest terms, multi-factor authentication is an authentication technique where a user has to present two or more verification factors to confirm their identity before accessing an online account or application.
Instead of asking for only a username and password to verify a user’s identity, MFA requires additional verification information such as a one-time passcode, cryptographic token, or fingerprint.
For instance, a typical account service using multi-factor authentication with two-factor authentication will ask you to log in with two authentication factors; your email and password and a one-time code that’s sent to your email address or cell phone.
There are three main types of authentication factors you can use to verify users:
- Something you know – Information the user knows like a password or pin number.
- Something you have – Something only the user possesses, like their smartphone or a cryptographic token.
- Something you are – Something unique to the user like a fingerprint, voice, Face ID, or other biometric data.
Generally, the more factors you use as part of a multi-factor authentication process, the less likely an unauthorized user can gain access to sensitive information. It’s important to note that some service providers and organizations will only use multi-factor authentication where a user acts suspiciously or fails a primary authentication process.
How Multi-Factor Authentication Protects Your Organization’s Data
Multi-factor authentication provides additional protection to an enterprise’s data by verifying that each user is who they say they are. For example, two-factor authentication requires that the user attempting to connect has access to the registered user’s email or cell phone, increasing the likelihood that the person entering the password is the authorized user.
Using multi-factor authentication is essential for enterprises because it provides you with a reliable solution for authenticating all users connected to your applications and services, reducing the chance of unauthorized access and data breaches.
The main benefits of multi-factor authentication are that it can:
- Make it more difficult for cyber criminals to commit identity theft
- Prevent cyber criminals from using stolen credentials effectively
- Reduces the chance of data breaches
In short, multi-factor authentication reduces the likelihood of unauthorized users accessing sensitive information and using it for malicious purposes, which reduces your exposure to theft and regulatory liabilities.
It’s important to note that while multi-factor authentication doesn’t completely eliminate the chance of unauthorized access, it does help in reducing exposure to threats by providing an extra layer of security. For instance, Microsoft research shows that 99.9 percent of compromised accounts did not use multi-factor authentication.
The reason for this is that without multi-factor authentication in place, a cybercriminal only needs to obtain a user’s login credentials. Then they can break into an email account or application and have access to all of the sensitive information within that solution.
Multi-factor authentication also protects applications and services from credential stuffing attacks in case the passwords are reused by users and compromised on another system.
Using Multi-Factor Authentication to Protect Your Team
Beyond reducing the risk of data breaches, there is also a solid human argument for using multi-factor authentication. It helps protect your team members against external threats like phishing attempts, which put both their personal information and your organization’s information at risk.
For example, with traditional password authentication in place, all a cybercriminal needs to do to steal an employee’s login credentials is send a fake email that tricks them into logging into a phishing site.
Multi-factor authentication makes it much harder for cyber criminals to break into employee’s online accounts because they can’t steal authentication fingerprints and one-time passcodes in the same way they can with login credentials.
Multi-factor authentication is also imperative for online and cloud services or when organizations implement single sign-on solutions with only one username and password combination required to access all services.
Using multi-factor authentication is thus an essential step for enabling employees to access services safely, especially when working remotely or from home. For example, VPN connections to an organization’s network must always be secured with two-factor authentication.
When multi-factor authentication is done correctly, it can significantly increase the protection of an organization’s assets. Still, the implementation must be done correctly to avoid giving cybercriminals the opportunity to bypass the authentication process (e.g., forgotten passwords, lost devices, man-in-the-middle attacks, spoofing, etc.)
If your employees use usernames and passwords to log in to your business-critical applications, then your information might be at risk. Implementing multi-factor authentication is essential for making those resources less vulnerable to credential stuffing attempts and phishing scams.
Taking small steps and combining two-factor authentication alongside security awareness training ensures that employees are educated on selecting strong passwords and have authentication factors to keep out unwanted intruders.
Encourage your employees to leverage two-factor or two-step verification processes even for their personal online accounts.
Ultimately, multi-factor authentication will ensure that, even if an employee does make the mistake of selecting a weak password, they have another method of authentication in place to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to private or proprietary data.
If you want to find out more about how you can protect your employees against the latest online threats, contact us to find out more.
Cyber Security Hub: Access Exclusive Cyber Security Content
Take advantage of our free Cyber Security Hub – it is your one-stop cyber security awareness and knowledge center with one-click access to our COVID-19 Kit, Work From Home Kit, Password Kit, Phishing Kit and more.