What is multifactor authentication (MFA)?
If you’re a professional, dealing with API or system security, then multi factor authentication won’t be an unfamiliar term. Afterall, it is the spine of system security. Used at multiple places and for various purposes, it is a real savior against online vulnerabilities for all of us.
In this post, we’re going to get into the details of this technology and explain why using this one is a wise move to make.
What is Multi factor Authentication (MFA)?
As per the accepted Multi factor Authentication definition, this is a high-end security technology clubbing a couple of authentication methods in one place so that the user’s identity is confirmed before using software/products or before making any transaction.
Mostly, this technology combines passwords, security tokens, and biometric verification together. This is done to make sure that there is a multi-layer defense system guarding a product or transaction. Such a robust system keeps unauthorized access from the targeted product/technology and reduces the odds of security breaches, data thefts, and online frauds.
Multi Factor Authentication is commonly used to protect computing devices, databases, networks, and software.
Why Is Multifactor Authentication Important?
Now that the basic MFA definition is clear, let’s talk about its importance. In the past few years, hackers have become very smart and are able to crack even the toughest passwords. So, if you’re thinking that a complex password can safeguard your computing device and network then you’re mistaken big time.
Organizations of all sorts have been victimized by data theft, phishing, brute-force attacks, password stealing, and various other kinds of online fraud. These attacks on cybersecurity and computing devices are going to make the world lose $10.5 trillion by the end of 2025, says the recent market research.
The use of multifactor authentication adds multiple security layers, which is hard to decode. Hackers will surrender in front of it. Hence, you’ll face fewer security risks.
When Should I use MFA?
Honestly speaking, you should bring MFA into action whenever you want to protect your sensitive information, devices, software, databases, or any other sort of digital asset. Most people use it to access their email boxes, financial accounts, and health records.
From an organizations’ point of view, MFA is used to verify the user identity whenever access to the database, computing device, and network is required.
How it works?
Multifactor authentication uses a structured approach to verify the user’s identity. This approach includes asking for added verification credentials, one after another. For different categories, verification factors are diverse.
One of the widest verification processes is OTP or one-time passwords. OTPs are usually 4-8 digit codes, shared with the user via SMS, emails, and phone calls. Each time a new code is generated as OTP based on a seed value.
Types of Multi Factor Authentication
Based upon the information asked or shared with the end-user to complete the process, there are three categories of MFA. We have explained them in detail below.
Based on knowledge, this factor involves answering certain security questions by the end-user. Some of the most common tools used to make this happen are the use of passwords, PINs, and OTP in scenarios such as:
Using a debit/credit for payment at multiple outlets needs entering a PIN.
- Entering the information like a pet name or previous address each time one needs to gain access to any particular system.
- Using a VPN client with a verified digital certification and connecting to it each time you access a network.
It involves sharing the user's possession details to enter a network or computing device. Use of badge, token, SIM card and key fob are commonly used possession factors for authentication.
Lastly, we have an inherence factor that requires sharing the details of the user’s biological traits to confirm the login. Each human has distinct biometric traits. Hence, such authentication has very low odds of manipulations and tempering.
The most common information used by Inherence factor technologies is scanning of retina/iris/fingerprints, voice authentication, verification of hand or earlobe geometry, facial recognition, and digital signatures.
In this type of authentication factor, a device/software is used to scan the biometric traits and compare their details with the stored use cases. Based on this, a match is found or the user is found unauthorized.
Examples of Multi Factor Authentication
MFA has become a common practice and is used by almost everyone. Some may use it for all the users while few keep it for a certain group. To give you better clarity on the use of the actual world, we have come up with some of the real-life examples:
- Each time you log in to your internet banking, you provide a username and password, along with sharing of OTP. This is a multi factor authentication example.
- Companies are using retina scans or fingerprint scans for employees before granting access to the database.
- Open Banking Limited is a UK-based non-profit organization using Trust framework, identity, and dynamic client registration to initiate a transaction.
- Etsy is using a multi-level security solution with the user’s smartphone in place of the unreliable token.
Benefits And Drawbacks of MFA
If there is anything that grants ultimate peace of mind to individuals and organizations about safe access to the organization’s digital assets then it’s the use of multi-factor authentication.
Here are some of the key perks to relish over after bringing this technology into action:
- It can safeguard hardware, software, database, and networks with the same ease and excellence.
- The real-time generated OTPs are hard to decode for the hackers.
- Its usage with passwords can trim down hacking or data-breaking incidents by 99%.
- No high-end technical skills are required to set up.
- Security technologies can be modified as per the need of the hour.
- It allows organizations to keep unwanted expenses like loss due to data theft at bay and deliver better ROI.
- For sectors like e-commerce, banking, and financial dealing, the use of MFA builds trust in the customers and gives them the confidence to proceed. This has a direct positive impact on sales and customer retention.
While there is no second opinion about the fact that multifactor authentication is the Knight in shining armor, it’s not always a win-win situation as there are certain drawbacks. For instance:
- Having a phone is a primary prerequisite to bring MFA into action.
- If hardware tokens are used, the risk of losing them is high. One has to remain highly diligent about it.
- Once the phone is lost or damaged, the stored MFA-related information can also be lost.
- Biometric data has a probability of showing false negatives and positives.
- MFA verification depends on the network connectivity and can fail to help you out when there is an internet outage.
- Constant update and upgrade are required.
Two Factor Authentication vs Multi Factor Authentication
Like the 2 faces of the same coin, two-factor and multifactor authentication are like hands in gloves. However, they are a bit different from each other.
The difference is very basic and is clear from the title itself. In two-way factor authentication, only two factors are used to verify the user’s identity. On the other hand, MFA uses more than two sorts of factors to authenticate access.
The Role of Multifactor Authentication in API Security
MFA is used in various domains. API security is one of them. Adding multi-factor authentication in API is a sure shot way to double the API-security and keep the code safe.
It’s wise to introduce MFA in the early stage as this keeps the API secure and away from unauthorized access. Doing so reduces the incidents of the introduction of bugs in the code and allows developers to create functional and viable APIs.
Whether you use RESTful API or any other kind of API, adding multifactor authentication is a must move to make. Here are some of the ways using which one can introduce MFA in API security:
- Add an access token like OAUTH 2.0 for the API
- Generating an access key
- Using Factor APIs
- Using a single Sign-on or mobile sign-in login process
In addition to this, there are certain APIs that are already backed with multi-factor authentication. Using such APIs makes their security high-end in the least possible efforts.
Multifactor authentication is one among multiple methods available to make the IT ecosystem secure and robust enough to keep any authorized access from crucial information at bay. It’s just an added step to take towards unmatched peace of mind.
There are multiple ways to introduce it into the system. Pick what suits you the most and move ahead. This one step will keep your computing devices, databases, and network safe and far away from the reach of intruders.
If you haven’t thought of using it for APIs then do it now as it leads to the development of secure and viable APIs and applications. Bug-free performance and optimized service delivery are sure things by introducing multi factor authentication for multiplied security.
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