Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is a technique of gaining access to an online account or computer system- one that requires the user to provide two distinct pieces of information.

In a sense, a factor is simply a method of convincing a computer system or online service that you are who you claim you are. It can then evaluate if you have the permissions to access the data services that you’re attempting to access.

The username/password pair is by far the most prevalent authentication factor in use today, and because most accounts just require a password for access, most systems utilize single-factor authentication for security. To get access using Two-Factor Authentication, you must both enter a password and confirm your identity in some other way.

As passwords have grown less secure, whether due to data breaches or poor user behaviors, a growing number of people are switching to 2FA to safeguard their digital life, and many service providers are promoting or enforcing the change as well.

Why 2FA is Used

2FA is used to secure both a user’s credentials and the resources that the user has access to. Two-factor authentication provides a higher degree of security than single-factor authentication (SFA), which requires the user to give only one factor, often a password or passcode.

Two-factor authentication systems rely on a user supplying a password as the first factor, along with a second, distinct element – typically a security token or a biometric factor such as a fingerprint or face scan.

Two-factor authentication adds another layer of security to the authentication process-overall, it makes it more difficult for attackers to gain access to a person’s devices or online accounts. Even if the victim’s password has been obtained, a password alone is not enough to pass the authentication check with the two-factor security.

Components of Two-Factor Authentication 

MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) is a type of Two-Factor Authentication. It is technically used whenever two authentication factors are necessary to obtain access to a system or service. Using two factors from the same category, on the other hand, does not form 2FA. For example, requiring a password PLUS a shared secret is still considered SFA (Single-Factor Authentication) because they both fall under the knowledge authentication factor category.

When it comes to SFA (Single-Factor Authentication) services, usernames and passwords are not the most secure. One issue with password-based authentication is that it needs knowledge and care in order to generate and remember secure passwords. Many insider risks, such as poorly placed sticky notes containing login passwords, outdated hard drives, and social engineering vulnerabilities will hinder password security. Passwords are also vulnerable to external threats, such as brute-force, dictionary, or rainbow table assaults.

An attacker can typically break password-based security systems and steal business data if given enough time and resources. Because of their low cost, simplicity of installation, and familiarity, passwords have remained the most prevalent form of SFA.

Depending on how they are implemented, multiple challenge-response questions can give additional security, and separate biometric verification techniques can also provide a more secure way of SFA.

Push Notifications for Two-Factor Authentication

A Push Notification is a type of password-less authentication that validates a user by delivering a notice straight to a secure app on a device, making the user aware of an authentication attempt. With a simple swipe, the user may examine the specifics of the authentication attempt and either accept or reject access. If the user accepts the authentication request, the server gets it and logs the user into the web app.

Push notifications authenticate the user by validating that the device  is in the user’s possession (often a mobile smart phone). Push notifications are also affected if an attacker accesses the device. Man-in-the-middle attacks, illegal access, and social engineering attempts are all eliminated via push notifications.

While push notifications are more secure than traditional types of verification, they nevertheless pose security concerns. Users, for example, may authorize a fake authentication request unintentionally since they are accustomed to pressing approve when they get push alerts.

Authentication’s Future

Three-factor authentication, which generally requires the possession of a physical token and a password used in conjunction with biometric data-such as fingerprint scans or voiceprints-may be of use in environments requiring enhanced security in the near future.

Geolocation, device type, and time of day are also utilized to determine if a user should be authenticated or banned. Furthermore, behavioral biometric indicators, like a user’s keystroke length, typing speed, and mouse movements, may be discreetly tracked in real time to offer continuous authentication rather than a single one-time authentication check during login.

While using passwords as the primary form of authentication is widespread, it frequently does not provide the security or user experience that businesses and their users require. And, while conventional security technologies such as a password manager and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) attempt to address the issue of usernames and passwords, they rely on an essentially obsolete architecture: the password database.

As a result, many businesses are adopting passwordless authentication. Using biometrics and secure protocols, users may safely authenticate themselves in their apps without entering passwords. In the corporate world, this implies that workers may access their work without entering passwords, but IT has complete control over every login. The use of blockchain as an alternative to traditional authentication techniques, such as through decentralized identification or self-sovereign identity, is also growing rapidly.

Regardless, if you’re concerned about your account security, the days of simple username/password credentials are over.  RCI can help you implement 2FA solutions for most major platforms, all you need to do is ask!