This day and age, a user name and password aren’t always enough to ensure a secure log-in. With greater tech-savvy and tools at their disposal, hackers are able to get past even seemingly complex passwords. That’s why multi-factor authentication is now required by many online accounts and devices to give users access.
Multi-factor authentication is essentially anything that’s added to the log-in process to help a user establish their identity. And, therefore, their authorization to access a device or account.
One more layer added on after a user name and password is referred to as two-factor authentication (2FA). Multi-factor authentication technically includes 2FA under its umbrella. But the term more commonly refers to two or more security layers on top of a user name or password.
There are a variety of ways this authentication can take place. The following elements–or factors–can be used as part of a 2FA or multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocol.
Something You Know
Otherwise known as “Knowledge,” this factor includes basic log-in information, like your user name and password or PIN. When it comes to additional authentication, this category also includes security questions to answer.
The name of your first pet, where you went to elementary school, your mother’s maiden name, etc. All of these should be things that you know but an unauthorized user may not.
Something You Have
This factor requires you to possess a tool or ID to authenticate a log-in. (That’s why this factor is often referred to as “Possession.”) This could include an ID card, access badge, or USB key.
But most commonly, the tool you need to have with you is your cell phone. That way, you can receive a one-time multi-digit passcode by text message and then enter it on your log-in device. Given the ubiquity of cell phones, this is the mechanism by which many 2FA processes work these days.
Something You Are
Your fingerprints, face, retina, or voice. These are things inherent to you and your body. Commonly referred to as “Inherence,” this factor requires you to use your unique physical aspects to identify yourself.
Your cell phone or laptop, for example, may only unlock if you use your fingerprint or let the device scan your face. (Or yes, you can still use a passcode if your face or hands are covered or otherwise unavailable.) Since your face and fingerprint are unique to you, they are just about impossible for an unauthorized user to replicate.
Somewhere You Are
With this factor, your location becomes a source of authentication. In this case, you probably access your computer or other device from the same or similar location each time. If that’s true, a two-factor or multi-factor authentication process may utilize a network stamp or GPS.
This factor isn’t used as commonly, however, as a single location does not necessarily equal a single authorized user.
Two-Factor Authentication or Multi-Factor Authentication?
To answer this question, you need to ask two more: How secure do you really need a log-in process to be? And how complicated/time-consuming a process are you comfortable with?
In most cases, 2FA protocols are sufficient to keep a log-in process nice and secure. It takes a little bit longer than simply entering a password, but not so long as to feel exceedingly cumbersome.
But if you are okay with putting in an extra amount of time and effort to really make a log-in iron-clad, adding a third layer of authentication could be worth it. And you may feel it is a necessity if you regularly deal with sensitive information or feel extra-protective of your online identity.
Either way, you will likely encounter more and more instances of two-factor and multi-factor authentication moving forward. When it comes to fighting hackers and keeping user information safe, right now, it’s the most secure game in town.
For more information on multi-factor authentication processes and other things to help keep your digital identity secure, be sure to read the PeopleFinders Blog.
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