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A quick guide to choosing multi-factor authentication methods

Authentication is everywhere and is something that you’ve undoubtedly heard of. It grants you, and only you, access to your account during login. To to ensure the online security of your data, learn more about multi-factor authentication, and choose the right MFA methods to suit your security needs.

1. What is MFA

We’ve compiled an explanatory summary of concepts in order to provide a more concise understanding of what multi-factor authentication is about.

Authentication

Authentication means users have to prove their identity when registering or logging into a service. It is an additional method of ensuring only the actual person owning an account is allowed access. Authentication prevents cyber attacks such as:

  • Fraudulent access into an IT system, which is breaching confidential data, for example, by entering someone’s account
  • Identity theft which is stealing a user’s credentials and acting on their behalf, for example, typically when undergoing criminal activity

Robust authentication systems make it more difficult for cybercriminals to access and steal confidential information by requesting multiple identity verification methods. Proper authentication is essential not only for individual users but for enterprises as well. It helps to ensure the protection of employees’ and customers’ data and the security of any network-based resources.

SFA, 2FA, MFA – what is the answer to security needs?

Authentication systems can be built using one or more factors of authentication. Relying on just one factor is called Single-factor authentication (SFA). Typical SFA depends on the user knowing the username, and something secretive which is, usually, the password. Users and enterprises prefer single factor authentication due to its simplicity and user-friendliness. Nevertheless, SFA is largely viewed as insecure and not reliable to safeguard online accounts, with passwords being the primary cause of 81% of data breaches.

The next step forward is requiring Two-factor authentication (2FA) or Dual-factor authentication. An example of 2FA is when, in addition to entering their password, users must utilize a verification code received via SMS, email, or apps like various Google Authenticator options.

Finally, to provide a higher level of safety, using at least two different types of factors, known as Multi-factor authentication (MFA) has become the norm. There are various MFA solutions available on the market with a range of factors from different categories to ensure thorough identity verification of users.

2. MFA methods – the more, the merrier

There are a variety of authentication methods available, depending on the type of credentials being presented and methods utilized. These methods are split into three broad categories and are all mentioned below:

  • Knowledge – it is something you know, kept in your memory and retrieved when required, such as a username and password, or a personal identification number (PIN).
  • Possession – refers to something you have physically with you like a smart card, security token, or one-time passwords (OTP) through SMS or email.
  • Inherence – links to something you are like physical biometrics such as fingerprint, handprint, retina, face, and behavioral biometrics such as voice recognition, or typing pattern. 

Compliance

Regulations such as NIST DPC, FFIEC, IEFT, and PSD2 deal with cybersecurity issues and stipulate how authentication measures must be used to protect users’ online data. Strong customer authentication (SCA) is a subject of interest in these regulatory documents. Compliance with SCA implies the use of at least two or more authentication factors from different categories. 

3. Choosing the right MFA methods

With a wide range of available factors within different categories, let’s continue by looking into the main drivers of effective authentication. 

Security 

It’s essential to choose MFA methods to suit security needs with low failure rates. The harder it is for a hacker to breach the method, the more secure your information is. Knowledge or possession factors like passwords, OTPs, or tokens provide inadequate security and can be easily breached. Even physical biometrics like fingerprints can be spoofed. However, behavioral biometrics provides an additional security barrier are almost impossible for someone to steal, being embedded in the unique way people interact with the device. Therefore, behavioral biometrics is one of the most reliable methods of multi-factor authentication.

Cost 

The impact on business costs when applying additional authentication measures to their customers can be huge for several reasons. It’s hard work to introduce MFA to an already existing identity and access management system (IAM). Besides, the hardware required would considerably burden the enterprises budget. Physical biometrics scanners, for example, are both difficult to implement and highly costly. Other examples are the costs of maintenance and replacement of lost or stolen security tokens or smart cards, including the hassle of the IT department. From a customer perspective, it’s a matter of opportunity costs, wasting time, and making additional efforts to get authenticated. 

User-friendliness

It is always best practice to choose effective MFA methods which suit your security needs in a consumer-oriented way. A user-friendly MFA process increases the quality of the user experience while providing an additional layer of security besides passwords, desirable in protecting online accounts of any sort.

Choosing the right MFA: security, cost, and user-experience.

A frictionless, secure, and widely available MFA methods is typing biometrics. It analyzes a user’s typing pattern, which then can be matched against previous enrollments to produce identity verification. The authentication with typing biometrics is frictionless, happening in the background during the introduction of credentials at sign-up and login, respectively. It simply requires an existing keyboard, and no additional hardware, or maintenance costs. 

In this quite writeup, we went over what multi-factor authentication is and what methods are there available. First, it is essential to grasp a concise idea of the meaning of authentication. Then, look at the variety of authentication methods available in order to choose correctly. In a world with an increasing amount of cyber threats, the question posed is no longer whether we need authentication. The real question is how to choose the right MFA methods to suit your security needs, in a user-friendly way. Integrating typing biometrics with other authentication factors builds secure, affordable, and frictionless MFA.

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