Multi-factor authentication – what is it and why do we need it?

Mobile Phone

The threat of cyber-attacks in the UK is at an all-time high thanks to cyber-criminals becoming sophisticated in their methods. Against the threat of a data breach, many businesses respond by changing their passwords regularly. The password might be the most popular security measure and it is good practice to change them – but we all know a password alone is not a strong enough defence. No matter how many special characters you use or how ‘strong’ your account says your password is, anyone that gets hold of it can easily breeze in and take what they want.        

This is the reason businesses are adopting multi-factor authentication or MFA – to add additional layers of protection to their password. But what is MFA and why do you need it?  

In short, multi-factor authentication identifies a user with a two or three-step validation process – each from a different category of factors, such as verification on a trusted device. For example, Microsoft uses the username/password combination and a security code sent to a mobile, email or authenticator app. 

There are three basic elements to MFA: something the user knows, like a password or pin, something the user has, like a mobile device and something the user is, like a fingerprint or voice. The idea is that a second or third factor will compensate for the weakness of another factor. Here are some of the added benefits of MFA:

Stronger security

More than one authentication factor presents a serious challenge for cybercriminals – even if they manage to get hold of a password, it is useless without the other(s). Nobody can remember long passwords with special characters, capital and lower-case letters – so you can pick a password that’s unintentionally easy to hack but supplement it with ‘something you have’ like your mobile phone. Unless the hacker has all the factors required, they will not be able to access the account.

Simple login process

You would think that MFA would make logging into accounts more complicated – but the extra security allows for the use of advanced options like single sign-on. A single sign-on solution is very practical – it eliminates the need for employee passwords, reducing the risk of losing them or sharing them with unauthorised users. Single sign-on validates the user through MFA when you login to a single sign-on software, like Microsoft Office. Logging in once gives you access to the covered apps of the software without the need to log in to each separately.

Boosted flexibility and productivity

A challenge facing businesses today is remote working and security – logging onto an unsecure network or accessing files from a non-protected device is risky, just as working from a coffee shop or bringing your own device to work is. Multi-factor authentication enables you to access documents, data or corporate applications securely without putting your company’s information in danger – you can work on the go from any location.

With the increasing threat of cyber-attacks, password strength cannot be relied upon as the only layer of protection. No system is ever 100% secure, but multifactor authentication is proven to lessen the likelihood of your data being compromised. Multi-factor authentication comes as part of Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365 Business solutions. For more information about the implementation of these solutions, contact the team at Aura Technology.