There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds. With that continuous period, it is only a matter of time before the user names and unprotected passwords are pirate.

Multi-factor authentication is an additional security line of security that you can use, protect your account even more.

Our mini guide tells you everything you need to know about multifactor authentication and why you should be using it.

What is Multi-factor authentication?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a requirement for other forms of verification before allowing access to an account. Traditionally, we use passwords to log in to most online services, and using MFA means having to enter more information or take action. This could be entering a code sent to your phone or a fingerprint scan.

Multiple authentication factors are protection against one of the compromised factors. Therefore, if your password is hacked, they still need access to other factors to gain access to your account.

How does Multi-factor authentication work?

The authentication factors are divided into 3 different groups. When using MFA, you must select at least two factors from two or three different groups.

What you know

This is the most common form of authentication. This is what you will know. Including passwords, PIN codes and memorable words. For a long time, banks have been using more than one form of authentication, which themselves provide a good level of security, but when using MFA, you should not only use factors in this group. All these types of authentication can be discovered or stolen.

What you own

These are physical objects that can be used for additional authentication. The most popular is the code sent to your phone. Other examples include key chains and smart cards. The chances of your password being hacked and your phone being stolen by the same person are very high. ATM uses bank cards and PINs like MFA. Someone can access your PIN, but if they don’t have your card, they won’t be able to withdraw money (and vice versa).

By choosing a factor from this group and the “what you know” group, you can greatly increase the security of your account.

What you are

This factor is something on your body. The most common is the fingerprint scanner, which is now common in most smartphones. It also includes facial recognition (also common in new phones), voice recognition, and any other type of biometric technology.

The premise behind this group is simple. Someone may have access to your password, but it will take a lot of time to access your fingerprint! (You will most likely notice!)

Two-Factor vs Multi-Factor Authenticator

Two-factor authentication is a common form of MFA, where only two credentials are required. Multi-factor authentication requires multiple factors.

Stolen or hacked credentials are used in 95 per cent of all web application attacks. By using the same (or slight variations) of a password on multiple accounts can put you at risk. If one of those accounts is breached, then the hackers will know your password. If that password is used on all your other accounts then they can gain access to them all just from one breach.

Multi-factor authentication is protection against a breach of your password. By requiring at least one more form of authentication it is must harder for criminals to gain access to your accounts.

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When to use multi-factor authentication

If you use a password or something similar (such as a PIN code to protect your account), you should also use MFA. Even if you are using a password manager, the additional security provided by MFA makes it almost impossible for others to access your account.

Within the company, MFA is more important. There are countless examples of possible leaks of passwords. How many times is the password sent in an email or text message? Walking into most offices, you may see the password written on a sticky note sticking to the monitor.

As a business and an individual, you should seriously consider whether to use services that only provide single-factor authentication.

Multi-factor Authentication examples

There are many multi-factor authentication services available, such as Duo, AUTH, and Google versions. If you want to learn how to use MFA yourself, here are some examples you might want to use. You may even be using some of them without even realizing that this is a form of MFA.

  • Codes generated by smartphone apps
  • Badges, USB devices, or other physical devices
  • Soft tokens, certificates
  • Fingerprints
  • Codes sent to an email address
  • Facial recognition
  • Retina or iris scanning
  • Behavioral analysis
  • Risk score
  • Answers to personal security questions