How to Enhance Your Security Through Multi-Factor Authentication
Every organization is concerned about the security of its information technology (IT) environment. Hackers are constantly developing creative ways of gaining access to business systems and data resources, making it hard for companies to maintain adequate security. A single lapse in security can cripple a business and put sensitive data at risk.
The complications of securing access to a company’s valuable IT systems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the expansion of the mobile workforce. Remote workers are increasingly being targeted by hackers attempting to gain access to an organization’s network. Each mobile device or remote workstation presents hackers with a new attack surface. Once access has been gained, cybercriminals can plant ransomware and other types of malware.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security technique that can help mitigate the risks of unauthorized network or system access. Let’s look at why traditional methods are no longer enough to secure an IT environment and how MFA can greatly improve an organization’s security standing.
The Problem with Traditional Security Methods
Compromising login credentials is a common method hackers use to break into a company’s IT systems. Credentials are usually comprised of an ID and password. Traditional security methods rely on this password to protect IT resources. Unfortunately, passwords alone are not enough to protect an IT environment against modern cybercriminals.
The problems of relying on passwords include:
- Weak passwords – Many users employ weak passwords that can easily be guessed or cracked with a brute-force attack.
- Unsecured passwords – Users may store passwords in unprotected files or use personal information to construct them, reducing their effectiveness.
- Password confidentiality – Sharing passwords eliminates their usefulness as a security measure by allowing multiple users to avoid accountability when performing sensitive activities.
- Reused passwords – Reusing passwords on multiple sites may allow hackers to use a compromised password to access many sites.
- Stolen passwords – Passwords can be stolen through phishing attacks or embedded malware, giving hackers access to business-critical systems and data.
A security strategy based primarily on passwords is dangerous in today’s IT landscape. Additional measures are required to fully protect an organization’s infrastructure.
Adding MFA to an IT Security Strategy
Multi-factor authentication is a strategy that complements the use of passwords to strengthen security and make it harder for malicious actors to gain unauthorized access. MFA requires a user to satisfy two or more conditions to verify their identity before allowing them to access a system or device. MFA is often configured as two-factor authentication where users provide two identifying pieces of information.
True MFA requires the use of two different forms of identity verification. Typing in an answer to a security question is essentially only supplying a second password. If the channel is compromised, both items can be obtained by a hacker or malware.
Effective MFA should include the combination of two or more of the following identity checks that speak to something:
- A user knows, like a PIN;
- A user has, such as a phone or smart card;
- A biometric identifier like a fingerprint;
- An action like a gesture;
- A location from which access is authorized at a given time.
Biometric identifiers are the most secure because they cannot be falsified but users may be reluctant to have this type of data stored for the purpose of enacting MFA.
Risks and Limitations of MFA
Implementing an MFA approach improves security but is not foolproof. The following risks can negate the effectiveness of an MFA strategy.
- Mismanaged mobile devices – A lost or misplaced mobile device or phone may display a one-time access code that can be used to complete MFA and enable unauthorized access to IT resources.
- Intercepted text messages – Hackers can use a variety of techniques to intercept text messages containing access codes.
- Social engineering – Using various methods, hackers can trick users into divulging both passwords and MFA access information.
- Faulty implementation – Incorrectly implemented MFA may allow the hackers to bypass the second verification step.
MFA can also cause loss of access if a user loses or misplaces their mobile device. Users can become frustrated with using MFA and may try to find ways to subvert it. These frustrations can be minimized by effectively and selectively implementing MFA.
Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication Effectively
MFA offers organizations an additional layer of security to protect valuable IT assets. Taking into consideration the possibility of lost access and the annoyance of fulfilling multiple authentication procedures, companies need to use MFA when appropriate to complement current security measures.
The following factors should be considered when implementing MFA in a computing environment. They will help strengthen your overall IT security.
- Use MFA selectively. The most effective use of MFA is to guard cloud resources and internal systems accessed from public networks. It can also be used to protect sensitive internal systems and data. Refrain from implementing MFA on systems that don’t require additional security.
- Continue to use other techniques like firewalls, antivirus programs, and intrusion detection software to bolster security. Keep systems patched with the latest updates to address newly discovered security vulnerabilities.
- Implement mobile device management policies to protect against the security risks posed by a remote workforce.
- Use identity and access management (IAM) methodology to restrict users from sensitive resources. Consider a zero trust security policy where permission to access systems is only granted to users when necessary to do their jobs.
- Perform comprehensive monitoring to identify who is accessing systems and uncover anomalies that may indicate an attack is underway. Analyzing traffic patterns can help find unauthorized users who have infiltrated the environment.
Helping Businesses Secure Their IT Environments
The expert security professionals at Prescient Solutions have extensive experience implementing MFA in customer environments. They can help your business by assessing your current security policies and procedures and developing a plan to provide additional protection to your valuable IT resources where it makes the most sense.
Prescient will help you implement MFA intelligently so it improves security without becoming an annoyance. Properly implemented MFA offers companies an important tool to enhance IT security that they should use to their advantage.