Why Your Business Needs Two-Factor Authentication

Cybersecurity has become a hot topic in recent years, due in part to some high-profile data breaches and in part to the increasing digitization of the workforce. Now, with remote work becoming more prevalent, security is even more of a concern.

While there’s no way to completely inoculate your business or your employees from malicious cyber attacks or bad cybersecurity habits, two-factor authentication is a good place to start. It’s easy to implement, minimally obtrusive, and can prevent many of the data breaches and insecure practices that cause enormous damage to organizations and their customers.

What Is Two-Factor Authentication?

Single-factor authentication is the process of logging into an account with one point of contact, typically a username and password. Two-factor authentication (sometimes shortened to 2FA) adds another layer of security to your login by requiring an additional step to login. There are several forms of 2FA, which we’ll go into below, but the general idea is to add a step to the login process that only the rightful owner of the account would be able to access.

How Does Two-Factor Authentication Work?

2FA protects your accounts by making it more difficult for an attacker to gain access to the required credentials. Even if they managed to find out your username and password, as through a large-scale password breach like we’ve seen recently, they’re unlikely to have access to the second factor.

When 2FA is enabled, a user will login as usual with their username and password, at which point they’ll be asked for another piece of information from another source. That piece of information is usually a short code like a PIN, an answer to a security question, or a randomly generated code sent to an email address or phone number. In more advanced applications, the second factor might be a biometric marker like a fingerprint, voice signature, or face scan.

If you implement two-factor authentication, each account-holder will need to set up their account with the right factors. This might involve answering security questions, setting up a secondary form of contact, or registering biometric data.

Why Is Two-Factor Authentication Important?

One of the most important effects of implementing two-factor authentication is that your team won’t be able to share accounts anymore. Many companies share logins for expensive enterprise-level software like the Adobe suite or SEMRush, but two-factor authentication won’t allow this without also sharing access to an email account or phone number.

Another significant advantage of 2FA is for remote work, which is skyrocketing in popularity since the coronavirus pandemic. When everyone is working in the same office, you can restrict important logins and network access to certain locations or IP addresses.

When everyone’s out of the office, you can’t flag particular IP addresses or control the security of their individual devices, so two-factor authentication adds a layer of security that will protect your company’s data.
2FA is also an effective barrier against sophisticated phishing and other social engineering attacks. If someone is tricked into entering their username and password into a spoofed version of a trusted website and two-factor authentication isn’t enabled, that account has now been compromised. If the account also requires an authenticator app or fingerprint, the credentials remain secure.

Types of Two-Factor Authentication

There are several different forms of authentication that your organization can implement. In some cases, you won’t have a choice — many major SaaS companies and apps have their open system of 2FA that you’ll have to use if you want to enable it for that account. If you’re setting up your own, there are a few common choices:

  • Text messaging: once you enter your username and password, a code will be sent to a phone number of your choosing so you can complete the form and enter securely. SMS-based 2FA isn’t the most secure option, since a sophisticated hacker might also be able to gain access to your text messages or physical device.
  • Authentication apps: apps like Google Authenticator and Authy work similarly to an SMS code. Rather than receiving a code in the form of a text message, you open the app and type in a randomly generated code that resets as often as every 60 seconds. Given the time-sensitivity of the code, this option is extremely secure — unless the hacker has control of your phone (and the password to the authenticator app) at the exact moment of the attempted login.
  • Biometric authentication: biometric authentication requires a physical attribute like a fingerprint, facial scan, or voice signature to confirm the user’s identity. While this option has become more popular on mobile devices, there are limitations to a biometric approach — if your users don’t have biometric-equipped devices, you’ll have to ensure that the right hardware is in place.
  • Hardware tokens: a hardware token might be as simple as a small keychain fob that produces a new code every 30 seconds. While it might be expensive to purchase enough hardware tokens to supply your entire organization, the level of security is high — someone would have to steal the physical device to gain access to the account.
  • Software tokens: a software token is similar to a hardware token in that it generates a time-sensitive code, but it generates that code on a third-party application on the user’s computer. Unless a hacker was physically sitting at the computer, they’d be unable to access the software token.

Talk to Madison Taylor Technology

Deciding which accounts need to be protected, how best to implement them, and how to train your employees to start using two-factor authentication isn’t easy, but we can help. With years of experience, we can quickly examine the software stack that your company uses and advise you on the best way to implement better security across the board. If you’re ready to start taking technology security seriously, get in touch with Madison Taylor Technology today!

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