What Is Multifactor Authentication, and Why Is It So Important?

What Is Multifactor Authentication, and Why Is It So Important?

When you're faced with diverse ever-evolving threats, you can never be too careful. Some of the most important security measures that every business should take to safeguard its data include encryption, round-the-clock monitoring, a patch-management strategy, and disaster recovery planning.

Another critical security measure is multifactor authentication (MFA). While it might sound like a techy term, multifactor authentication is actually pretty simple. In fact, you’ve probably already used it many times already. Rather than relying on passwords alone to access accounts and systems, MFA asks for additional login credentials. An everyday example of MFA in action is when you take money from an ATM: You provide your unique bank card, and then enter your PIN code to confirm your identity.

How Does MFA Work?

MFA typically combines two authentication methods, which is why it’s often referred to as two-factor authentication as well. However, some of the most secure systems may incorporate a third or even a fourth authentication method, particularly when a new user logs in for the first time. Most importantly, systems protected by MFA use two or more independent and, oftentimes, completely different methods to verify the user’s identity. To that end, MFA typically combines two or more of the following:

  • Something you have, such as a bank card or mobile authenticator.
  • Something you know, such as a password or PIN code.
  • Something you are, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition.

For example, when you use your credit or debit card to pay for something online, you might be asked to enter a secret passcode before you can confirm your purchase. If you log in to a web-based system from a new device or location for the first time, you might similarly be required to verify your identity via email or SMS message. In short, there are many possibilities for secondary authentication, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding a system that works best for your users.

Why Do You Need Multifactor Authentication?

Easily the most obvious reason why MFA is so important is that it greatly strengthens security. That’s because relying on passwords alone is not enough to protect your company’s sensitive data, even if you do have a particularly stringent password policy -- which in itself is a huge if. Recently, many people have developed the terrible habit of using easy-to-remember passwords or even choosing the same ones for every online service they use.

With MFA, however, you can reduce your reliance on passwords, which is also extremely effective for reducing the effectiveness of social engineering attacks and keylogger malware. After all, to successfully log in to an MFA-protected system, a hacker would need to have access not only to the password, but also the extra authentication method, such as your smartphone or fingerprint!.

Because MFA is so important for security, there’s a high chance that you’re legally required to use it anyway, at least in certain industries. Achieving government and industry compliance often requires implementing various extra security measures, with MFA being one of the most common. However, even though some legislations, such as HIPAA, don’t explicitly require it, they still emphasize the need for robust authentication procedures that cannot realistically be achieved without MFA.

A common concern people have with MFA is that it makes login processes more long-winded and complicated. However, taking the right approach by combining MFA with a unified login that works with all your systems can actually simplify the login process. Furthermore, you typically only need to enforce your MFA policy when someone logs in from a new device or location for the first time. That way, once a user has been authenticated, they’ll have automatic access to covered apps without having to log into each one separately. You can further enhance security by asking your users to again verify their identities when specifically accessing confidential information, such as payment data.

Multifactor authentication isn’t just the latest trend in cybersecurity – it’s a mandatory part of any security strategy and one that no organization can afford to ignore. That’s why SpectrumWise protects your resources with cutting-edge security you can count on. Talk to one of our experts today to learn more.