What is two-factor authentication?

What is two-factor authentication?

Corporate or business data breaches aren't something any business would want to experience. As a business owner, you want to have the highest levels of data security possible, but this isn't always the case. The need to secure your data more raises the need for two-factor authentication to replace single-factor authentication that is easy to hack. Besides enhancing information security, two-factor authentication ensures you follow safe business practices to keep business operations running smoothly in a highly IT-based world.

What is Two-factor Authentication?

Also called two-step verification, two factor, two step authentication or multifactor authentication is a security process that requires an Internet user to provide two factors or details to prove their digital identity. Two-step verification or 2FA is an improvement to single-factor user authentication that requires a user to provide only one factor, usually a password. Two factor authentication is a type of multi factor authentication (MFA) system. MFA requires a user to provide two or more factors for enhanced security, which means that 2FA is MFA, but not every MFA is 2FA. You can use two-factor authentication in your business for various online accounts such as:

  • Microsoft
  • Google - YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps
  • Payment services like PayPal
  • Social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Whatsapp
  • Workspace and storage tools like Dropbox
  • Workplace communication tools like Slack

Methods Used in 2-factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication uses various methods that require you to provide something unique to you. Put simply, the second factor reinforces the password and can take any of the forms below.

  • Something you know - This is usually a PIN (personal identification number), answers to some preset secret questions, or a password.
  • Something in your possession - This could be something you have, such as a hardware token, smartphone, mobile device, or credit card.
  • Something inherent - Technological advancements now allow for 2FA using biometric details like a voiceprint, fingerprint, or retina scan.

The second factor helps add an extra layer of security such that losing your password won't expose you to a successful data breach by hackers. Below are some common 2FA methods.

Text-based 2FA and Voice-based 2FA

When you log in on a digital asset like your business website using your password, you can have a code sent to you by text or email. The code becomes the second factor or evidence of you and can be a link or number, depending on the service provider. Email, text, or SMS-based 2FA isn't your best option as a business owner. They are prone to hacking since they involve transferring the code or link via an easily-hacked platform. Like text-based 2FA, Voice-based 2FA involves receiving an automatic call through which the user receives a code. Sometimes, the service provider simply makes an automatic call to the number provided by the user and completes the log-in without the need for a code. In a business setting, 2FA is risky if your employees rely on personal phones to make important logins to company assets. You'll need to find a dedicated business phone to receive the codes. However, it still isn't the safest option because hackers can intercept the mobile phone number and pretend to be you, locking you out of service. By the time you realize and call your phone service provider for a restoration, the hacker might have unauthorized access to your login information. Some 2FA services that offer email-based authentication include Google Workspace and Microsoft Authenticator once you connect your emails to them.

Authenticator Apps

An authenticator app or authentication app is a better solution than the text-based two factor authentication method. 2FA authenticator apps use a passcode or QR code that ensures nothing is sent in real-time at the login. Not sending any detail means that hackers have nothing to intercept, making this method safer. Authentication apps' safety is also enhanced because the codes change every 60 seconds and are predetermined depending on the current time and date. If you are using a mobile phone to complete two-factor authentication, you don't always have to type an authentication code into your phone. Some services allow for receiving a text asking you if you are trying to log in. You can then say yes to complete the process. Reliable 2FA authenticator apps include Hennge OTP Generator, Microsoft Authenticator, Authy, and Google Authenticator.

Biometric 2FA

Biometric two-factor authentication is an advanced way of proving digital identity using person-unique items like iris scans and fingerprints. Biometric 2-step verification is an even safer method than authenticator apps, but not impregnable by hackers. Hackers can still access the information because there are copies of them on the system.

Conditional Access as an Alternative

A newer concept that works even better than two-factor authentication is conditional access. It involves allowing specific conditions for login and disallowing all others. For example, in a business setting, you can allow specific devices like desktops, laptops, and phones to access your digital assets while locking out all the others from logging into the assets. The result is that hackers won't get access unless they use the devices you have allowed. Besides locking out multiple devices, you can also practice conditional access by allowing only login attempts made using your IP address. Any attempt outside of your IP address is not permitted.

Is Two-factor Authentication Safe?

While two-factor authentication is safe, it isn't foolproof. Hackers can still find their way into your business data banks and steal information that could lead to reputational loss or financial damage. Of all the 2FA methods explored above, text-, email-, or Voice-based 2FA can be hacked easily because they involve receiving something via another platform. As noted, hackers can intercept emails or hijack phone numbers and receive vital authentication evidence before you. If they already have your password, the missing piece in the puzzle would be the code or link in the SMS text message or email. Authentication applications are also not completely safe. If your device gets stolen, your accounts are in jeopardy. Security tokens can also be hacked at the level of the manufacturer. Biometric two-step verification is also not infallible. A digital representation of your unique physical attributes like the retina and fingerprint is stored online, which can be hacked.

Tips to Achieve More Safety with 2FA

Since 2FA isn't completely safe, you'll want to take some measures to ensure you maximize the safety of your business operations. Below are some aspects to consider.

Avoid Email-based Account Resets

Resetting your accounts by email puts you at risk because hackers can easily gain access to your email and bypass 2FA processes to log into your online account using a password and username.

Combine various authentication methods

One 2FA method isn't enough across your entire business. The best route is to use different methods to secure different accounts. For example, some devices can use text-based 2FA and other authenticator apps.

Avoid using personal phone numbers for 2FA

Your personal phone number can be hacked easily, so avoid using it to receive a verification code or security key.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Two-factor Authentication Really Necessary?

Two-factor authentication is necessary for ensuring safe business practices with utmost security for your data and that of your customers. If you use only single-factor authentication like a password, you are at higher risk of getting hacked and suffering financial and reputational loss.

How Effective is Two-factor Authentication?

In 2019, Microsoft released a report saying that two step authentication blocks up to 99.9 percent of automated attacks. References: