What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and How Does It Work?

Technology has evolved over the years, and so too are the hackers. Traditional security measures, i.e. username and passwords, are no longer enough to secure your personal information from cybercriminals. Not only does using a password mean changing it regularly, but one misstep, such as using a public computer terminal, can leave your information open to hacking. Also, you will have to come up with multiple passwords for your different social media accounts. Imagine the lengths that you have to go through just to remember your passwords!

You can already imagine how big a problem it will be when your account has been hacked. For starters, you will be locked out of your personal account. If your account is linked to your bank, then cybercriminals can easily access it. With this kind of vulnerability associated with traditional authentication methods, you will need something stronger to protect your personal data. This is where two-factor authentication (2FA) comes in.

What is Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication is becoming widely used as its two-part verification process adding another layer of protection against possible hackers from getting into your accounts or your business’ system. It is a higher level of security measure that protects both the user and resource from unwanted access.

Unlike single-factor authentication (SFA) which uses just a passcode or password, 2FA requires the user to provide two authentication methods: a passcode or password and a different authentication factor. Among these are biometrics like facial or thumb scan, a security token that needs to be scanned prior to entry, or a one-time PIN generated using a mobile application just to name a few.

This security measure prevents hackers from accessing a user’s personal account easily even when they have their passcode. They will need to pass the second layer of authentication in order to gain control of the account.

Two-factor authentication is commonly used in areas where sensitive information is being handled. Companies that have an online presence utilize 2FA not only to protect their clients’ data but also their assets from being breached.

Authentication Factors Used

There are different methods by which a person can be authenticated. The most common factor used is the knowledge factor which is using traditional passwords in accounts. However, in two-factor authentication, inherence or possession factor is added to enhance security measures. Below is a list of authentication factors that can be used when adopting this system.

Something that only the user knows.

This is where the password, passcode, PIN, or even an answer to a security question falls in. The user needs to provide this information after entering their username in order to be given access to the account. It is important that the detail matches what was previously enrolled in the system before access is allowed. This falls under the knowledge authentication factor.

Something owned by the user.

Also referred to as the possession factor, this method of authentication is owned or given to the user. For example, an ID card, a security token, or a one-time password produced by a hardware authenticator. The user is required to bring any of these items with them at all times to fulfill the two-factor authentication to gain access to the system or entry to the premises.

Something that the user is.

The third type of authentication factor is referred to as the inherence factor or something that the user has. It is a biometric factor wherein the user needs to provide either a facial or fingerprint scan. Advanced biometrics can also use voice authentication or reading the person’s gait in order to authenticate their account.

Somewhere the user is.

A location factor can also be implemented by limiting authentication devices to a specific location only. Companies that employ this method can use GPS tracking to determine the area where their system is being accessed and to deny it if it is beyond the location they specified.

Time Factor.

This authentication factor restricts authentication from the user within a specific time. The second authentication must be entered before the time runs out.

Most of the 2FAs being utilized involve the first three in the list, but organizations that handle sensitive information are more likely to implement multiple-factor authorization. This requires several three or more authentication factors before the account or system is used.

How Does Two-Factor Authentication Work?

The two-factor authentication process will vary depending on the vendor or application used. However, there are similarities in the process.

  • When you sign in to your account, you will need to provide your username and password or passcode. The server will authenticate it based on analyzing the data of the user stored in their database.
  • In case a password is not used, the vendor or system will generate its own unique code for the user that needs to be entered for the first authentication stage. This code will be stored in their system.
  • The second authentication log-in takes place. This can take the form of an ID, biometrics, or other forms of authentication that only the user will have in his or her possession.
  • The user may need to enter a one-time code to verify their second authentication.
  • After both authentication steps are completed and verified by the system, the user will be given access to their accounts or to the building.
Keep in mind that two-factor authentication requires two different forms of authentication. If you use two authentication methods that fall in the same factor, like password and secret question, it is still considered as SFA.

The use of passwords and passcodes is not secure these days. There are plenty of possibilities for anyone to gain access to your account especially when you leave your login credentials around the office or when you spoke about it to a friend or co-worker. Additionally, hackers can easily hack into your account through brute-force or other hacking methods when they have enough time.

A two-factor authentication method gives you that added protection against possible attempts in hacking since it requires another authentication factor.

Is Two-Factor Authentication Worth Implementing?

Implementing a two-factor authentication can be a hassle, true, but the opposite effect can be much worse. For example, with companies starting to open their offices for in-person work while the pandemic is ongoing, traditional methods of checking employees entering the premises are no longer useful. Manual login and temperature checks not only take time but also pose a health risk to everyone.

Implementing a system that requires two-factor authentication, such as our Thermal Scanning Solutions, not only verifies the individual through password and biometrics but their temperature will be recorded as well. This way, you are not only streamlining entrances and exits, but you are also eliminating the risk of exposing other workers to those who are sick. What’s more, the system also records employees who were present at work for easy monitoring by the HR department. As you can see, it is convenient and efficient, plus it ensures that everyone in the building is safe from health risks.

It is true that setting up this new system will take time. This is especially true when you are implementing it across all of your online accounts that have this security measure in place. But once you are done, the only thing that is left for you to do is to receive a security code or one-time pin to verify the information you have given. Once done, you will have access to your account and that’s it.

Are There Any Vulnerabilities?

Two-factor authentication may be more secure compared to single-factor authentication, but there are vulnerabilities to it as well. The first one is the human element. Hackers can gain access to a user’s account through phishing wherein they trick them to share personal information. The second is by being able to hack into the authenticator hardware or bypass biometrics and such.

This may be challenging to cybercriminals but it is possible to get around these two layers of security. The best way to prevent this is to add other layers of security systems that can stop unwanted attacks.

Stepping up the security measures used in your online accounts or in the workplace is the best course to take to protect valuable information. Companies are implementing this method to give their clients and employees their guarantee that their personal data will be safe and secure with them. Though incorporating this security method into your place of business requires time and money, the protection and security it brings can give you peace of mind.

At Artificial Intelligence Technology Solutions (AITS), we believe in providing companies with smart solutions to their business needs. From two-factor authentication entry points to various business solutions, we are geared towards enabling companies to have a more streamlined system that is customized to their current needs.

If you want to know more, you can reach out to us at sales@aitssg.com. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

BMS, Smart Building Solution