2FA: Benefits of Two-Factor Authentication

by Jake Wengroff

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security measure that increases the likelihood that a person is who they say they are. As a process to confirm a user’s identity, 2FA requests users to provide two different means of identification before they are able to gain access to an application or system. The first authentication factor is usually a password and the second is usually another piece of information that people know or can access, as outlined below.

2FA is a vital security tool for organizations to defend themselves against cyber attacks that have grown in both quantity and sophistication. Even if cybercriminals were to use techniques to harvest passwords through phishing techniques, 2FA makes it harder for such criminals to gain access because they would need that critical second piece of information.

2FA Benefits

The following are the chief benefits of two-factor authentication and implementing a policy across an enterprise:

Reduces Fraud This is the obvious benefit of 2FA, as requiring more than a password to gain entry to a corporate device, application or network reduces the possibility of a breach.

Increases Trust in the Enterprise While requiring employees and customers to take an extra authentication step might cause friction or a headache, in the long run, 2FA engenders trust in the organization that data and assets are kept secure.

Maintains Compliance Health, finance and government entities demand that businesses follow strict guidelines that both protect information and mitigate risk. 2FA helps ensure compliance with such standards as GDPR, HIPAA and PCI-DSS.

Reduces Operating Costs Fraud, and even signs of potential fraud, are costly distractions for any organization. Notifying customers of suspicious activity on their accounts costs businesses time and money. Because 2FA reduces the occurrence of fraud, IT help desks are less constrained and can focus on more complex customer service or enterprise IT issues.

Satisfies Insurance Requirements 2FA is now a requirement of most cybersecurity insurance policies. Without demonstrating use of 2FA across the enterprise, an organization may not get insured, or might find itself paying higher premiums for coverage.

What Are the Types of Authentication Factors?

There are several types of authentication factors that can be used to confirm a person’s identity in 2FA. The most common include:

A Knowledge Factor: This is information that the user knows, which could include a password, personal identification number (PIN) or passcode.

A Possession Factor: This is something that the user has or owns, which could be their driver’s license; identification card; mobile device; a secondary, temporary passcode; or a number obtained from an authenticator app on their smartphone.

An Inherence Factor: This refers to biometrics detected by a device or mechanism. These include fingerprint readers, facial and voice recognition as well as behavioral measurements like keystroke dynamics and speech pattern trackers.

A Location Factor: This is usually guided by the location in which a user attempts to authenticate their identity. Organizations can limit authentication attempts to certain devices in specific locations, depending on how and where employees or customers log in to their systems.

A Time Factor: This factor restricts authentication requests to specific times when users are allowed to log in to a service. All access attempts outside of this time will be blocked or restricted.

How Does Two-Factor Authentication Work?

The two-factor authentication process begins when a user attempts to log in to a device, application, service or network until they are granted access to use it. The authentication process generally is conducted as follows:

Step 1: The user opens the application or website of the service or system they want to access. They are then asked to log in using their credentials.

Step 2: The user enters their login credentials, which will typically be their username and password. If done properly, the application or website confirms the details and recognizes that the correct initial authentication details have been entered.

Step 3: If the application or website does not use password login credentials, then it will generate a security key for the user. The key will be processed by the authentication tool, and the server will validate the initial request.

Step 4: The user is then prompted to submit a second authentication factor. This will usually be the possession factor, which is something that only they should have access to. For example, the application or website will send a unique code to the user’s mobile device, or an authenticator app will generate a temporary passcode.

Step 5: The user enters the code into the application or website, and if the code is approved, they will be authenticated and given access to the system.

The Solution to Your Access Control Needs

The Migus Group can help you implement or redesign the access control policies within your organization. Whether you’re just starting out or your access management has been in place for years, The Migus Group can advise on strategies to strengthen your organization’s security posture while reducing complexity and improving user experience.

Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, he covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce and the Internet of Things.