Whether you’re doing something as simple as logging into your email from a new location or logging into your Microsoft account, you’ve likely encountered multi-factor or two-factor authentication (also known as MFA vs. 2FA).
So, to put it simply, what does MFA stand for and what does it mean?
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a form of identity confirmation that requires more than two forms of authentication. In contrast, two-factor authentication (2FA) only requires two forms of authentication. Therefore, all 2FAs are an MFA, but not vice versa.
In this article, you’ll learn the core differences between 2FA vs. MFA, why MFA is important, how to create an effective multi-factor authentication policy (known more commonly by its MFA acronym). You’ll also learn how working with a proven partner on MFA deployment can help improve workflow security.
(And, let’s be honest, if you’re in IT, you’ve probably encountered an error stating “strong authentication is required” sometime during your workday.)
FAQ: What does MFA mean?
MFA stands for multi-factor authentication, and is a multi-stepped security authentication process.
Comparing MFA vs. 2FA
What are the differences between MFA and 2FA?
First, let’s take a look at single-factor authentication: If you’ve ever used a password to log in to your email account, you’ve used single-factor authentication!
While that might have been sufficient protection years ago, an evolving threat landscape and bad actors have made it imperative to add new layers of protection to your security. Compared to single-factor authentication, 2FA, also known as two-step verification, requires you to provide two sets of verification for gaining access to an account.
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MFA, on the other hand, requires two or more forms of authentication—providing additional security in access management. In most cases, there are three types of authentication you’ll likely encounter:
- Knowledge: This is something you should know, like the answer to a question or your password.
- Possession: This is likely something you have, like a security token—for example, a device that allows you to use 2FA. Many organizations use the Google Authenticator app or Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone to manage access to your accounts.
- Inherence: This is something unique about you—like a fingerprint, that can be read as a biometric.
Though MFA has benefits similar to those of 2FA, each offers different levels of security. As for MFA vs. 2FA—is one more secure than the other? The answer is, it depends. It depends on what factors are chosen for authentication by your security team. Biometric offers significantly more security than just a password, for example.
Why is MFA Important?
Other than the self-evident bonuses to security, the benefits of multi-factor authentication extend into the information it protects, such as user identity. MFA is also compliant with regulations. For example, MFA is required in Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) regulation, to help prevent unauthorized access to vulnerable systems.
MFA reduces the risk of a security breach as bad actors have a hard time working around biometric credential requirements. MFA, as a form of user authentication, is easy to implement, and is easy to use, even for those unfamiliar with authentication methods.
You’ve also likely had to deal with stolen passwords, at home or work. 52% of people use the same password across multiple accounts, and that greatly increases your security risk. The next step to reduce risk is to create a multi-factor authentication policy.
How to Create a Multi-Factor Authentication Policy
When planning your MFA authentication policy, you should consider how many layers of credentials are necessary for your business. For example, if your organization needs to be HIPAA compliant, having an MFA system is required.
When you create an MFA authentication policy, there are some things to consider. Do you need additional protection for:
- All new accounts
- Third-party applications
- Remote network access
- Administrative access
- Enterprise assets
After considering this list, you should also implement user-assigned responsibilities—company security is only as good as the team using it, after all. You should be aware and require users to:
- Immediately report if their credentials have become compromised or lost
- Report if they lost an MFA device
Other than user responsibilities, you should consider if there are tools or software your business needs access to that fall outside of your multi-factor identification policy. One example of an MFA policy used across college and business campuses requires users to enroll a device, such as a cell phone or authenticator app, as a secondary authentication method.
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