Multi-Factor Authentication: Why It Works

  • By Emmett
  • May 20, 2022

multi factor authentication
Devices like smartphones have moved from a luxury to a necessity in our lives; many of us rely on our phones to store important information like passwords, bank account logins, and other personal data. Because of the growing importance of these devices, safety has become a major priority for many smartphone users. That's where multi-factor authentication comes in: with MFA, you can make sure that wannabe criminals can’t get into your phone and access your information. 

What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Multi-factor authentication adds a layer of protection to your smartphone or any interconnected electronic device by requiring additional verification from its user. To get into a device protected by MFA, you’ll need to provide two or more separate methods of identification before being allowed access. These methods include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Password
  • PIN
  • Biometrics 
  • Email verification
  • Phone number verification

what is multi factor authentication

Most of these types are based on authentication that is difficult to emulate or discover. Your passwords and PINs are likely memorized; if they aren’t, make sure they are not listed somewhere noticeable for thieves to see. Your email and phone should be in your possession, making it impossible for a criminal to use them for the second layer of authentication. Biometrics, like face ID, voice recognition, and fingerprints, would be incredibly hard to copy, likely requiring sophisticated deep fake or spoofing software. Combined together, all of these factors make MFA nearly impossible to crack. 

Are There Other Types of Multi-Factor Authentication? 

While the primary methods of MFA focus on a combination of passwords, device verification, and biometrics, there are several other ways to safeguard access to your devices. Location data is a useful tool for verifying a user’s identity; most smartphones feature geolocation, which tracks the user’s movements as well as their IP address.

With a location-based MFA program, you could restrict access to your devices to a certain region of the world, either your city or any city you travel to. This way, if someone tries to access your accounts from another country, they will instantly be shut out. 

Another auxiliary MFA method is called adaptive authentication. Sometimes referred to as risk-based authentication, this type of MFA involves algorithmic analysis that determines how a user is behaving while utilizing a device or account. After the program establishes a normal pattern for your behavior, it will watch to see that anyone accessing your devices is acting in the same, or at least a similar, way. 

Risk-based authentication is an incredibly powerful form of MFA; it would be almost impossible for a thief to study and emulate your actions in a way that could trick the algorithm. Because of the invasiveness of this method, it should really only be used on devices that contain highly-sensitive data, like those used by government or law enforcement agencies. 

Why is Multi-Factor Authentication Important?

There are several distinct benefits that MFA offers:

  1. Requires Privileged Knowledge

    Each piece of information required by a multi-factor authentication can be categorized by the necessity of prior knowledge or possession: with memorized passwords, devices on hand, and biometrics requiring your actual body for authentication, MFA offers a level of security that a simple password just can’t match. 

  2. Increased Immunity from Brute Force Attacks

    Another vulnerability of passwords is their weakness to brute force attacks. This style of hacking will run hundreds or thousands of password combinations in a short amount of time, eventually finding the right combo that gets the hacker access to your phone. 

  3. Offers Better Data Protection

    While services like identity threat monitoring are still vital to data safety, MFA can help further quell any fears that your information has been stolen. With multiple layers of varied authentication, you can be sure that your data won’t fall into the hands of criminals. 

What's the Difference Between Multi-Factor Authentication and Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)? 

The main difference between MFA and 2FA is the number of layers that protect your device. While two-factor authentication only requires two methods of identification, multi-factor authentication requires a minimum of two. 2FA still provides a decent amount of security and can be a bit less of a hassle than MFA; that being said, if you want to be absolutely sure that your devices are protected, then MFA is the way to go. 

Multi-Factor Authentication: Advanced Cybersecurity for Better Peace of Mind
 two factor authentication

While it may seem like a lot of work to utilize so many layers of authentication for access, MFA can remove much of the stress of regular device usage. We need to keep sensitive information on our phones, whether it be for work, our children, or simply for convenience; having the constant worry your phone could be accessed can be draining. With cyberattacks increasing as technology becomes more interwoven with our work and entertainment, finding a way to safeguard your data is shifting away from becoming an option: soon, it will be an absolute necessity.

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