There’s no doubt about it. If you fail to protect systems access securely with two-factor authentication (2FA), you put your business and personal data at huge risk.
But how do you know if you are getting it right? Do you really understand how two-factor verification actually works? If not, you might end up making mistakes.
We want to help empower you with knowledge, so that you can make an informed decision about your own information security. Read this helpful guide about the methodology behind two-factor authentication solutions, and some of the most popular options.
Think you know your possession factors from your knowledge factors? You will by the end of this blog!
What is Two-Factor Authentication?
Two-Factor Authentication, also known as two-factor verification or simply 2FA, means a user provides two identification factors to protect themselves. It protects both the user’s personal data and the data that they are able to access.
You have been using 2FA for years, without realising: every time you withdraw cash from the ATM, you need to use a possession factor (your bank card) and a knowledge factor (your PIN code) before you are able to proceed.
Different factor categories
There are five broad factors for authentication solutions. These are described as:
Knowledge factors, or “something you know”
Possession factors, or “something you have”
Inherence factors, or “something you are”
Location factors, or “where you are”
Time factors, or “when you access”
Most two-factor authentication solutions rely on knowledge, possession or inherence factors.
2FA protects users far better than single authentication methods, because they are much more secure. Passwords can be hacked or phished, but are far more effective when combined with another authentication factor such as an authentication code.
What is a multi-factor authentication solution?
Two-factor verification is a form of multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor requires verification from multiple independent categories of factors. Two-factor authentication requires verification from two distinct factors in order to be secure.
A note on two-step verification
Two-factor verification is effective because it employs two different methods of verification. Two-step verification means using two solutions from within the same method: e.g. a pin and a password, both knowledge-based factors. This is not acceptable within two-factor because it is less secure.
Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication
Every additional method of authentication adds security to prove that the individual attempting to access secure data is who they claim to be. Any two-factor method is beneficial, as long as they are from different categories.
Multi-factor authentication is useful to organisations because it adds an extra layer of security to access servers, applications and networks. It requires an individual to prove their identity in a way that is more resilient to security risks such as identity fraud and phishing scams.
Should I Use Two-Factor Verification?
You might be asking yourself: is two-factor authentication really worth it? Clearly, there are benefits to two-factor, but it can be difficult to understand why it is worth the investment.
For an individual who is savvy to phishing attempts and takes care of their possessions, it’s tempting to think you’ll never be a victim to identity theft or fraud. But do you know and trust the security for every app on your phone, every account you access? The answer, inevitably, is “no”.
To take control of your own data, you need to adopt an effective two-factor verification solution. Don’t leave your personal data in the hands of other organisations, who may not protect it properly!
Does my business need to invest in two-factor verification?
Any organisation that does not deploy multi-factor authentication solutions is wilfully disregarding the safety of their data and that of their staff, partners and customers. Single-factor methods such as network login passwords leave your network prone to misuse and security hackers.
Investment in two-factor doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. There are many solutions for providing two factors via software and hardware that are affordable for any forward-looking business.
As the number of reported incidents of password exploitation continues to rise, businesses cannot afford the reputation damage caused by failing to provide adequate two-factor identification security.
Two-Factor Authentication Methods
The following identification methods are well-known:
SMS authentication is a type of possession factor (“something I own”). SMS 2FA utilises software to provide a single-use, unique code. It is also called mobile authentication.
Firstly, the user inputs their username and password (“the something I know” or knowledge factor - an example of type 1 authentication).
Then a text message is sent directly to the user’s phone containing a code.
The user inputs the code to complete the two-factor verification process.
You may have been using SMS 2FA for some time. Have you received a code via text to access your online banking account? Or when you been logged out of your email account? That code is the second factor and is an important way of authenticating the individual, alongside their password.
SMS 2FA is one of the most popular and easiest to implement of the various two-factor solutions. It does not require any specific hardware and utilises easily-accessible, straightforward and inexpensive software tools.
Often in the form of a key fob or USB drive, hardware tokens are another form of possession factor. The user requires the physical token, along with the randomly-generated pin that changes every few seconds, in order to sync up a connection with a network. This method was once popular, but can be costly in the form of lost pins or lack of synchronisation.
Soft tokens are a common example of a knowledge-based factor. Soft tokens are a software-based version of the fob, and also generate a single-use pin. Soft tokens can be part of a two-factor mobile solution if the software is in the form of an app on the user’s phone (a possession factor).
There are also factors you may not have considered. Inherent, location and time factors are usually more secure than knowledge or possession factors. They and are becoming increasingly popular.
You may not be aware that your voice provides a unique biometric authentication solution. It is an inherent factor, or “something I am”. Voice ID uses voiceprint biometrics. These are based on the unique vocal characteristics of an individual.
Voice authentication is based on the unique shape of your mouth and throat. These remain the same, even under variable conditions such as a sore throat or a disguise.
To create a unique voice authentication identification, an individual reads and repeats words in a random order. This minimises the opportunity for people to record your voice and attempt to hack into your account by setting up voice ID.
Voice authentication is one of the most secure authentication method of two-factor authentication. As a result, governments and banks use voice ID to protect sensitive information. They have even been used in keeping prisoners under house arrest. There is a decreased risk of identity theft, where a voice 2FA solution is in place.
Which type of two-factor authentication is the least likely to be cracked?
As you will appreciate, there are benefits and disadvantages to any type of two-factor solution. Some are prohibitively expensive - especially those in the biometric factor category, such as iris or fingerprint authorisations. These are the most secure and least likely to be hacked. Some are becoming easier to hack, meaning you need to use them with another, more secure authentication solution.
There is one thing that everyone can agree. For business data security, any two-factor authentication solution is better than none. So, research your options. Contact a specialist who can support you. Implement a two-factor verification solution and feel reassured that your company data is securely protected.