What is 2 Factor Authentication and Why Do you Need it?
A Variety of User Authentication Methods
Cybersecurity, as you surely already know, is important for keeping your personal and organizational systems secure from outside threats. Multifactor authentication is a way of verifying a user’s identity in a secure way to help ensure only the right individuals are given access to a particular system.
Multifactor authentication comes in two flavors, 2 factor authentication, or 2FA, and 3 factor authentication, or 3FA. For most use cases, 2FA is sufficient. In certain cases, though, such as protecting classified information or dangerous areas, it would likely require 3FA.
It’s easy to grasp the importance of user authentication when you just consider all the data only approved users should be able to access. This can range from a simple Gmail login to access to critical servers that store private medical information, industrial facility controls, or public sector systems.
Three main types of authentication are easy to understand in terms of “something you know,” “something you have,” and “something you are.” Below, we’ll look at all three of these varieties and how they are best used.
Something You Know
The most commonly known method of user authentication and authorization is “something you know.” This can take the form of a password, a pin number, a pattern, or any other type of verification code. Most of us use this single method every day for all sorts of applications, from accessing an ATM to opening our phones.
Not all of these methods are equal. A four-digit pin number is far easier to guess than a six-line pattern to unlock a phone. Verification codes can even take the form of phrases or even sentences, complete with punctuation. In the case of phrases or sentences, this can be incredibly secure, easy to remember (at least, easier to remember than some random assortment of letters, numbers, and special characters), and incredibly difficult for a hacker to guess.
Something You Have
This method includes any physical or virtual object you possess. It can be something you have at all times, like a set of physical keys or a swipe card to get into a door, or it could be something you are provided. For example, at times you could be prompted to enter your email or phone number into a system where you would then receive a short verification code.
This is commonly used when a user has forgotten their password, so you may be familiar with this method. The difference between a verification code that is provided to you and one you already know is just that: You don’t know it until an external source generates it.
Something You Are
Commonly known as biometrics, this factor includes fingerprints, iris scanning, facial recognition, or even grip recognition. In recent years, biometric methods of authentication have become easier to implement on a range of devices we use every day. Many smartphone models, for example, have fingerprint scanners or use front-facing cameras to verify your face.
When accessing secure rooms, like for a safe deposit box at a bank, you may even be required to place your whole hand onto a screen. The idea is that different methods can track more or fewer biometric features depending on the system’s particular security requirements.
Making 2 Factor Authentication part of your cybersecurity profile for personal and professional purposes is an effective way to reduce the risk of data breaches and identity theft.
Using These Factors Together
Each of these factors individually can be more or less secure based on the method used but, when used together, the level of security is boosted significantly and could mean the difference between critical data breaches and operations as usual. But how can they be combined?
A simple use case can be described with an email login to a device you don’t commonly use. If we imagine a user is trying to sign in to their Gmail account from a public computer, they will navigate to the sign-in page, enter their password and, if 2FA is enabled on the account, they will be prompted to enter a security code that has been sent to their phone.
This can happen through an SMS text message or another method. In recent years, Google has made this process even easier. Instead of sending you a code, your phone may light up and prompt you to verify that you are in fact the one trying to access the Gmail account. This will take the form of a simple “Yes” or “No” response. In this case, your initial password is the “something you know” and the provided code or question is “something you have.”
Data Security Is an Active Practice
These factors can all be used together in different combinations, and a number of tools are available to make this easier. Google Authenticator, for example, is a tool that generates three-digit codes that expire every 60 seconds—something you have—that can be used for a variety of online systems.
These tools simply need to be activated first and then, after some getting used to, it’s no more difficult to use them than signing into systems using older methods. For your organization, 2 factor authentication may be appropriate. Virtual Technologies Group is made up of experts in cybersecurity, and we’d love to build a 2FA solution for you. Connect with us today to learn more!