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OP-ED: Staying safe online

  • Published at 11:58 pm October 26th, 2020
digital security privacy
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Why multi-factor authentication (MFA) has become a necessity today

In the competitive global market, continuous advancement of smart devices and related activities has increased. Hence, people are giving up and sharing a lot of their personal and professional security details.

The traditional authentication systems work as a sender identifies himself/herself through a password-generated system, and the system thus validates his/her identity whilst making sure s/he is the legitimate owner of the system.

However, this traditional process is no longer appreciated because of the ongoing cyber-security risks, and that a single password can no longer be used as the only validation the user can depend on from an information technology perspective.

Primarily, single-factor authentication (SFA) was mostly adopted due to its simplicity and user-friendliness, where the user can simply log in to his/her accounts by providing a password (PIN) against his/her user ID. Though it was simple in managing, this was considered to be one of the weakest levels of authentication.

To increase the security base, later two-factor authentication (2FA) was adopted as a rescuer to deal with the risks that SFA could not provide. With 2FA, after receiving a username and password, the site then sends the user a unique one-time passcode (OTP) via text messaging or automatically calling and verbally delivering the 2FA code to the user.

Later, multi-factor authentication (MFA) was introduced as a higher and advanced level of security measure. MFA is a trusted security method that requires verification from non-related credentials to authenticate user identity for login or transaction purposes.

MFA incorporates several independent credentials: Password, security token, and biometric verification. Before logging in, the users are required to access MFA codes (one-time passwords (OTP)) sent via email or text and then a biometric verification such as a face ID or fingerprint scan. MFA is used to create a layered defense for disabling a cyber perpetrator to access a software target such as its computing device, database, and network.

Why MFA is needed in today’s competitive world

  • Identifies who’s who: It helps to ensure that everyone who accesses the device/product is really who they claim they are, helping to reduce the risk of account and product compromise.
  • Security through multiple authentication: If a cyber threat actor attempts to authenticate an account with MFA enabled, the targeted user will receive a second authentication factor. This user should immediately recognize the compromise and take corrective measures to address such an attempt.
  • Firewalls the firewalls: Anti-virus and advanced firewalls are only as strong as their user authentication procedures. MFA security measures bolster this existing security perimeter. MFA considerably beefs up the credential strength. It also makes stolen passwords less fruitful for hackers. In the era of cyber theft, MFA prevents password theft and hacking attempts such as phishing, keylogging, and pharming.
  • Added layer of security: It provides an added layer of security for biometric login and authentication which is light years more secure than other authentication factors. It provides increased data security and protection to important transactions and portal logins and prevents unauthorized access to sensitive data. In other words, MFA makes identity theft harder for perpetrators.
  • Prevents ‘foothold’ compromise: Without MFA’s extra layer of protection, a cyber thief can compromise a poorly-protected software application and exploit the associated email account to gain access to additional user information.

MFA prevents the “foothold” compromise that provides the superusers with access and privileges to the entire system environment. If implemented correctly, it can prevent most threat actors from easily gaining an initial foothold into software products, even if credentials and license keys are compromised.

  • Protect high-profile accounts: MFA can be used for protecting executive accounts of high-ranking employees, organizations, software, and privileged user accounts which are frequent targets for hackers.
  • Prevent malicious cyber activities: With MFA, an organization can prevent attackers from stealing and destroying data, changing software programs, and using the targeted accounts to transmit propaganda, spam, or malicious code.
  • Effective for small businesses: MFA measures are not only effective for enterprise-class software and organizations but also for small businesses and SMEs which are more prone to cyber-attacks. MFA provides simple, relatively easy, and cost-efficient measures for these small organizations.

MFA is now being ubiquitously used in banking, gaming, social media, and related transactions and communications. While many users are concerned about their biometrics, if the biometrics are properly implemented, it will not only save personal and professional privacy but also will make sure that this crucial information does not end up in the wrong hands.

Sumaiya Noor is a development sector research professional. Her areas of interests include RMG Automation, Energy & Environment, Green Finance, and Sustainable Development. She can be reached at [email protected]

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