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The Multi-Faceted Approach of Multi-Factor Authentication

15 August 2018

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) might not be top of the cyber-security agenda, but it’s one of the most reliable methods of securing your data.

With MFA, there are several levels of security to get through, where at each stage different independent credentials are requested and then combined to authenticate the person accessing the information. It’s a highly successful way of preventing fraud, with the right combination credentials required to authenticate a person.

The use of authentication over different devices and through different forms of communication allows for extra security designed to stop interception by any bad actors. Even if one layer of credential authentication is fooled or compromised, the other layers will stand as protection of the person’s identity, data or funds.

There are three key methods of MFA: ‘Something You Know’, ‘Something You Have’ and ‘Something You Are.’

Something You Know

A common example of this is in accessing your bank account through an ATM – you need to use the right bank card and the right PIN number in combination to successfully access your account. Online passwords and security questions that only you could answer also fall under the ‘Something You Know’ category.

Something You Have

This is also found in banking practices, with the key example being online banking access through the use of a physical card scanner or token, which gives out a one-time password that will then allow users access online. Another example would be an iTunes account with Apple, which will flag logins and purchases on unfamiliar devices and requires access to an already registered mobile device to authenticate and authorize the account.

Something You Are

Another form of MFA uses biometrics. This involves the use of facial recognition, iris scans and fingerprint checks. In MFA, this would be used in conjunction with a passcode to ensure several layers of security and protection. The iPhone 5s was the first smartphone to have a capacitive fingerprint scanner to access the phone, although most modern android devices also have similar biometric capabilities.

In Modern MFA, increasingly a ‘4th dimension’ is becoming a viable option of authentication; this is contextual rather than physical, such analyzing geolocation or if a different mobile network to normal has been used in an access attempt.

The Challenges of MFA

In implementing MFA, flexibility in combining different technologies for authentication is very important. In mobile phones, for example, the ease of authentication is important in case of unforeseen circumstances, such as an issue with data connectivity or service, or a broken fingerprint scanner.

MFA must also be able to integrate with different technologies, such as different operating systems and different browsers. A lack of effective integration will mean users may not get consistent access, or no access at all. Some services require more severe forms of authentication or additional layers. Implementing MFA will definitely require an ability to adapt and change should additional security be needed, particularly as businesses are seeing data at a higher risk than ever before.

That said, MFA is now considered to be standard practice in security and authentication. The use of MFA can greatly decrease interception by an outsider as the person in question is unlikely to be able to bypass every single level of authentication. So, for businesses that care about securing their data, MFA is a key process to keeping information safe. As for those who have yet to embrace MFA, they risk becoming just another media story for all the wrong reasons.