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2FA vs MFA (Which One is Should you Use in 2023?)
Updated · Aug 14, 2023
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Gone are the days when your password alone could thwart motivated hackers from accessing your account. Cybercriminals have perfected their way to bypass single-factor security.
More than a password, you’ll need the help of technologies like Two-factor authentication (2FA) and Multi-factor authentication (MFA). There's a high chance you're already using them as businesses have begun implementing these tools.
They are much more secure forms of authentication than single-factor security, where you need only a username and password to verify your identity to log in.
In this article, learn the concepts of 2FA and MFA, the types of authentication, and their differences.
Differences between 2FA and MFA
Two-Factor authentication statistics show that cyberattacks are becoming rampant. A Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon in 2020 found over 80% of hacking breaches involve brute force or the use of lost or stolen credentials like passwords.
To neutralize the risks associated with compromised passwords, 2FA and MFA technologies can be useful.
Both 2FA and MFA have the same goal—to protect your account from being exploited by cyber attackers.
Let's first discuss the three authentication factors and how they can be used together with multi-factor authentication.
3 Common Types of Authentication
There are three recognized types of authentication: something you know, something you have, and something you are.
Something You “Know” or the Knowledge Factor
The knowledge factor involves anything you can remember and then type, say, do, perform, or recall when needed. It's the most vulnerable factor since people use either the same password or its variations.
Password statistics show that 52% of internet users use the same password for multiple (but not all) accounts, and 13% say they reuse the same password for all their accounts.
This factor involves the following knowledge-based authentication:
- Passwords. It’s something you had already known before authentication took place.
- Security questions. These are questions you previously set up yourself. Some sites allow users to set up more than one.
- Personal identification numbers (PINs). PINs are the alphanumeric strings you use for electronic financial transactions, like when you withdraw money from an ATM.
Something You “Have” or the Possession Factor
This factor requires you to provide physical evidence of a device previously proven to belong to you as a token used for authentication. Physical items include the following:
- Phone for SMS authentication. Your smartphone is a robust authentication device with SMS token authentication. An organization sends a PIN to you via a text message then you enter it as a one-time pin (OTP) code to gain access to your account.
- Any device for email token authentication. The email authentication mechanism allows you to enter your email address, and you are sent an email with a link to click. This method sends a pin to your email address as an authentication factor.
- An app on a smartphone or tablet for software token authentication. An organization prompts an OTP to the app installed on your device that you need to enter within a limited time frame as a factor of authentication. Most apps generate a new pin every few minutes, which makes it harder for hackers.
Something You “Are” or the Inherence Factor
This factor refers to any biological traits you have that are confirmable for log-in. You can confirm your identity by presenting evidence inherent to your unique features.
Inherence factors are the metrics intrinsically owned by you, like biometrics.
According to the Trusted Access Report of the American networking company Cisco, 81% of all smartphones enabled biometrics in 2022.
The inherence factor includes the following biometrics:
- Fingerprints and hand geometry. Each fingerprint/handprint is unique to each individual. Hand geometry recognition is considered to be the oldest biometric technology. It involves using your palm and fingers and their dimensions like length and width.
- Retina and iris scans. This biometric technique maps the detailed patterns of your eyes for personal identification. Retinal scanning beams visible light into the eyes to map the unique patterns of your retina. At the same time, iris recognition uses camera technology with subtle infrared illumination to acquire images of your iris.
- Facial recognition. This type of biometric data maps, analyzes, and confirms the identity of your face in a photograph, video, or live. Facial recognition is commonly used in smartphones. Though it can be inconsistent when comparing faces at different angles, some technologies prevent spoofing, like ID R&D’s passive facial liveness detection.
- Voice recognition. Also known as speaker recognition or voice printing, it examines your speech patterns. A voice recognition device may take one or more speech samples to create a unique digital template to identify the user.
What is 2FA?
Two-factor authentication (2FA), a.k.a 2-step verification, is an account access security approach that requires you to present two authentication factors. It could be a password and a code sent to your phone or email.
If a hacker obtains one of the authentication methods, they will still need the other to gain access.
Who uses 2FA?
2FA Statistics show that employees in education businesses share the most significant percentage who use 2FA with 33%. Closely followed by the banking and finance industry at 32%, the telecommunications industry at 31%, the software industry at 27%, and the government industry at 27%.
Here's how different industries use 2FA:
- Banking: Banks use 2FA to protect against hacking attempts on their systems. It's also to confirm your identity when completing certain transactions or changes, no matter where you do your banking.
- Social Media: 2FA is employed by large social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to protect billions of user data worldwide.
- Media: 2FA lets journalists secure their passwords to prevent losing access to their social media accounts. Because when they do, it may cause a cascade of events that can cost money, resources, and time to remedy.
- Government: 2FA assists federal agencies in implementing zero-trust policies for the millions of end users who need access.
- Higher Education: Higher education institutions contain sensitive user data they must protect as they have been prime targets for hacking and malicious security breaches.
- Healthcare: For securely enabling physicians to access patient data. Healthcare organizations are securing patient data and personally identifiable information with 2FA.
- Energy: As energy companies need to secure data on sensitive projects, 2FA helps protect their system by securing user endpoint devices.
- Travel: 2FA technology protects against weak employee passwords allowing them to work remotely securely.
- Ridesharing: 2FA assists ridesharing apps in securing the endpoint devices of their employees regardless of location. It authenticates employees before they gain access to internal information systems.
- Retail: Common attacks targeting retailers are credential phishing and malware. As a security solution in this trillion-dollar retail industry, 2FA helps retail companies authenticate users' identities.
What is MFA?
Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, requires users to present at least two if not more, types of authentication.
MFA comes after the traditional password-based login. When logging in, you input your username and password as usual then MFA comes into play.
The idea behind MFA is to make it as difficult as possible for hackers to gain access to personal information and data. Statistics show that 57% of large organizations use it as an essential security tool.
Who uses MFA?
MFA as an authentication solution increases an organization’s access and authentication complexity. It is commonplace for businesses engaging in high-risk transactions like the Bank of America and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The following are industries that utilize MFA :
- eCommerce: MFA can secure your business accounts against threats like credential theft and takeover. Account takeover is the fastest-growing fraud threat for eCommerce companies; it caused 5.1 billion dollars in 2017, a 120 percent increase from 2016.
- Finance: MFA benefits financial institutions in many ways. It's a simple way to add security with digital banking by confirming that you are accessing your account.
- Healthcare: With MFA, healthcare workers can use a badge to quickly tap in and out of work. It can also protect patients' and hospitals' sensitive medical data by providing secure access.
- Government: MFAs are common on government websites to combat the threat of hackers. The U.S. Department of Defense uses biometrics, access cards, and behavioral analysis.
The 2FA and MFA have the same purpose and are often used interchangeably. However, they differ considerably. Understanding the distinctions between them is essential to decide which fits your organization best.
The Key Difference of 2FA vs. MFA
The 2FA and MFA are close. Both are enhanced security measures beyond username and password credentials, but 2FA is only a subset of MFA.
2FA is the easily accessible subset of MFA that only requires two authentication factors. Any security protocol that involves three or more factors is considered MFA.
Which is Better: 2FA or MFA?
2FA uses two factors to verify and authorize your access attempt, whereas multi-factor authentication uses two or more of these checks. This makes MFA a more robust solution than 2FA, though just as easy to implement.
All 2FA is technically MFA, but not all MFA is 2FA. Therefore, opting for MFA rather than just 2FA is best to ensure maximum security.
There's always something you can do to protect your data in today's public digital sphere. 2FA and MFA are only a few of the many cybersecurity tools out there.
Before implementing one, it's essential to consider the security risks facing your organization—use it to decide the level of authentication needed to protect your network.
Learning as much as possible to keep your data private doesn't hurt. You can check out our list of global online privacy and security trends.
Which authentication factor is strongest?
The inherence factor is the most challenging type of data for a hacker to steal. It is said to be the strongest among all authentication factors.
What is the difference between MFA and SSO?
SSO, or Single Sign-On, is an authentication tool where you only need one login to access a suite of services or applications. For example, a single Google authentication check gives you access to multiple potential Google accounts.
MFA ensures that only authorized users have access to the data. It focuses on adding a layer of security, while the purpose of SSO is for the convenience of user logins,
What is the weakness of multi-factor authentication?
MFA is effective, but its weakest link is the vulnerable user who can be tricked into downloading malware through phishing and many methods.
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