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What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Securing sensitive information online has never been more critical. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) has come about as a robust security measure, adding an extra layer of protection beyond traditional passwords.

Multi-Factor Authentication, often abbreviated as MFA, is a security method that requires users to provide multiple forms of identification before granting access to a system, application, or online account. The goal of MFA is to improve security measures by adding layers of verification beyond the conventional username and password combination, which helps to decrease the chances of a cyber attack.

What are the components of Multi-Factor Authentication?

  1. Something you know:
    This is typically the first factor and includes information that the user knows, like a username and password or a PIN

  2. Something you have:
    The second factor involves a physical item or device that the user has, usually a phone.

  3. Something you are:
    The third factor relies on unique biological or behavioural attributes of the user, like a fingerprint or facial recognition.

How does MFA work?

When a user attempts to access a secured system or account, multi-factor authentication requires them to provide evidence for at least two of the three components mentioned above. This approach significantly reduces the risk of unauthorised access, even if one factor (such as a password) is compromised.

MFA requires additional verification factors, one of the most common ones being one-time passwords (OTP). OTPs are 4-8 digits, often sent via email, SMS, or a mobile app, which are periodically generated or generated every time authentication is requested.

What is an example of Multi-Factor Authentication?

In a scenario where an individual wants to access their online banking account, the Multi-Factor Authentication would involve the 3 factors:

  1. Something the user knows - The user enters their username and password.

  2. Something the user has - The system sends a one-time verification code to the user's registered mobile device through SMS or a mobile app.

  3. Something they are - The user provides a fingerprint scan using their smartphone's biometric authentication (third factor).

In this example, successful access to the online banking account requires the combination of knowledge (username/password), possession (mobile device), and biometric identification (fingerprint), making it significantly more challenging for unauthorised individuals to gain access to their account.

What is adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication (Adaptive MFA)?

Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication takes MFA a step further by automatically adjusting the level of authentication required based on the perceived level of risk. It uses contextual factors such as the user's location, device used, and time of access to determine the appropriate level of security needed. For example, if a user is attempting to log in from an unfamiliar location or device, Adaptive MFA may prompt for additional verification steps for an extra layer of security.

Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication allows you to set contextual authentication based on

  • User
  • workgroup
  • application
  • Device
  • IP Location


Adaptive MFA levels

Low risk → Single Sign-On
Medium risk → Multi-Factor Authentication
High risk → Access denied

MFA vs Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): What is the difference?

While often used interchangeably, MFA and Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) are related but different in that 2FA is a subset of MFA, where only two authentication factors are required. MFA doesn’t have a limit to the authentication factors for added security.

Why is Multi-Factor Authentication important?

  1. Increased security
    MFA provides an additional layer of defence against unauthorised access to accounts or systems by requiring multiple forms of verification. Even if one factor is compromised, the other factors protect against unauthorised access.

  2. Protection against credential theft
    The risk of credential theft through methods like phishing or force attacks is higher with just traditional passwords alone. MFA mitigates this risk by adding additional authentication steps.

  3. Compliance requirements
    In certain industries, MFA is compulsory when it comes to safeguarding sensitive data and meeting regulatory requirements.

  4. Flexible user authentication
    MFA allows businesses to choose from a variety of authentication methods based on their security needs, enabling them to adapt to evolving threats and technologies.

Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication

When it comes to implementing a MFA, there are 5 recommended steps to take:

  1. Choose appropriate factors
    Assess the sensitivity of the data or systems being protected and select the factors accordingly. High-security applications may require more stringent authentication methods whilst everyday tools that don’t hold sensitive data may not.

  2. Consider the user experience for your employees
    User-friendly methods contribute to successful adoption across the organisation, so implement an MFA solution that balances security with convenience, like My1Login MFA.

  3. Seamlessly integrate with existing systems
    Ensure that the chosen MFA solution seamlessly integrates with existing systems, applications, and workflows to minimise disruption.

  4. Educate your users
    Ensure you provide clear instructions and educational resources to users for a smooth transition to multi-factor authentication.

  5. Regularly update and monitor
    Review and update the MFA solution regularly to ensure you are up to date with emerging security standards. Regularly monitor user accounts and system logs to detect and respond to any unusual activity promptly.

Multi-Factor Authentication offers a proactive approach to safeguarding sensitive information in a complex digital landscape. As cyber threats continue to evolve, the need for MFA becomes imperative for individuals and businesses across the world. Whether it's traditional MFA or the adaptive variant, the key lies in staying one step ahead of potential threats. Understanding and implementing Multi-Factor Authentication is not just a best practice; it's fundamental in safeguarding our digital identities and sensitive information.

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