Authentication is the process of verifying the identity of an individual before granting them access to a specific resource.
When a user tries to log into an account, a dialogue or a page opens up that asks for the login credentials – typically, a username and password.
The user-provided credentials or their hashed versions are compared with the hashes stored in the system’s password database.
If a match is found, the user is granted access. This is the process of single-factor or password-based authentication.
Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of verification to this process before giving access even after a credential match.
How Does Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) Work?
There are three primary factors that determine the authenticity of an individual’s identity.
- Knowledge – Something only the intended user knows (a password or passphrase, for example)
- Possession – Something only the authentic user has (a phone, or a key)
- Inherence – An intrinsic feature of an individual (fingerprints, voice, any type of biometric data)
Two-factor authentication or 2FA involves two of these three authentication factors. Here is how it works.
A user can link a phone number, an authenticator app, or an email account, to the specific account they want to secure with 2FA at the time of enablement.
Once 2FA is enabled they will no longer be able to log into their account by just inserting the username and the password.
Once they insert the accurate credentials, the service provider will send a one-time password via SMS, email, or the authenticator app, or send a prompt to one or more devices where the user is logged in. The user then has to enter this code to log into the account.
Importance Of Two-Factor Authentication In Business Security
In 2022, businesses across the world were using 130 SaaS applications each on average.
There’s no reason why the number should have declined in 2023. Businesses may share any amount of sensitive data on these SaaS platforms – for analytics, management, and communication.
If access to such platforms hinges on a single passwords (and a human to remember it), that’s alarming security news.
A Password Alone Is Not Secure
- Passwords may be compromised in a data breach
- They can be stolen through phishing attacks
- Users often tend to reuse passwords or create easily-guessable passwords
- Passwords are often shared among colleagues in plaintext
- They are often stored in an unsecured manner – without encryption
How Does 2FA Help?
Once 2FA is enabled, an attacker cannot access an account even if they have the right username and password for it.
The authentication page will ask the attacker for the passcode, or prompt them to approve the login through a specific device.
This makes hacking into an account significantly harder and the hacker is likely to move on to the next target.
Why Two-factor Authentication Is A Must For Every Online Account
Compromising a password is not incredibly hard if the attackers have the right tool especially if the victim is a little careless.
Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer on top of password-based authentication and shares the burden of securing an account with the password.
Thus, the risk of unauthorized access, account takeover, or password-related cybercrimes is significantly reduced.
2FA reduces the impact and success rate of social engineering attacks since the malicious actors cannot get into the accounts even with the username and password stolen through a phishing attack unless they also steal the 2FA information.
While that’s not impossible, it takes more sophistication and more work on the hacker’s part.
Two Factor Authentication For Compliance
2FA enablement is considered to be an appropriate measure of internal security control and access control by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), among other authorities.
In the event of a data breach or even during a compliance audit, not having 2FA enabled for all accounts used for business can reflect poorly on the organization’s seriousness about data privacy and cybersecurity in general.
Is 2fa Enough To Protect Your Business Against Cyber Threats?
The security health of an organization depends on a host of different factors and 2FA is just one of them.
A secure business has firewalls and antiviruses in place, it conducts regular security audits to ensure all security measures are active, and it engages in external vulnerability assessments to find out weaknesses before they are exploited by bad actors to gain access.
But even if we speak just in terms of access controls, two-factor authentication is not invulnerable.
An employee of an organization receives an email from one of the many services they use for regular business operations.
The email requests the employee to reset their password for the said account as it is old, not strong enough, or compromised.
There is a sense of urgency in the email – it’s a security concern for the employee and for the business, it might even land the user in some trouble. So the employee complies by clicking on the reset link and a login page opens.
Now, quite obviously, the user needs to provide the existing password to create a new one. So, they insert their username and password and hit submit.
Now, the account is 2FA enabled and the user receives a passcode via text message. And at the same time, a new user-input field appears on the screen asking for the 2FA passcode. They type it in, hit submit, and lose their account.
The same thing can happen if the user receives a prompt asking if they are trying to log in. However, since the prompt shows the device being used to log in, there’s a chance that a vigilant user might notice that the device name is wrong and recognize the attempted cyber attack.
The point is, even with the extra layer of security afforded by 2FA, accounts are not secure from sophisticated social engineering attacks.
A Powerful Password Manager Can Solve The Issue
It doesn’t matter if employees use 2FA if they are typing their passwords and two-factor verification codes into phishing sites. The key is to further reduce the involvement of the human element in the authentication processes.
It’s possible with a password manager that enables automated logins where employees never have to type their passwords in plain text. In fact, they do not even have to know their passwords.
For instance, with a password management tool like Uniqkey, all a user needs to do to log into their acccount is to send a login request to the password manager app installed on the user’s mobile phone.
Once the mobile app receives the request, the user has to open the Uniqkey app through biometric or password-based authentication and approve the login, whereafter they’re logged into their account.
Even the 2FA information is handled by the password manager and the human user never needs to type anything anywhere. This is the most well-rounded password security that the industry offers at present.