Two-factor authentication provides an extra security layer to an online account. This technology is supposed to protect sensitive data by making hacking attempts useless. In this article, we will explore in detail the advantages and disadvantages of 2FA.
A common example of 2FA is using a one-time password (OTP) sent by SMS to your mobile phone when you're trying to log into a service online. It is essentially a unique code delivered to your SMS inbox within your native messaging app, which you could also be alerted to immediately via a push notification. This code is supposed to be used in combination with your regular ID-password pair.
In the modern age, 2FA can be considered the most optimal method of authentication due to the perfectly balanced degrees of security and user-friendliness it provides.
2FA systems can make use of various types of authentication factors. These can include codes, passwords, tokens, and certificates. The use of multifactor authentication increases system security for your online accounts. However, the more security stages used, the more time-consuming and complicated the authentication method becomes.
Why has 2FA become so relevant?
Traditionally, authentication and verification were done using passwords or usernames with authorized users. This worked perfectly when very few Internet users were available.
The advancements in the World Wide Web have greatly intensified the scale and complexity of user authentication risks that organizations face today. Problems such as weak passwords are targeted by attackers that exploit cybersecurity to breach privacy.
With digital security being a major talking point, guarding your organization's knowledge and sensitive data is integral to most businesses. In recent years, 2FA and MFA methods such as SMS verification services and authenticator apps have become more prevalent as a way of protecting against cyberthreats.
Here are the benefits and downsides of implementing 2FA.
The pros of two-factor authentication methods
The extra layer of security is the most significant benefit of two-factor authentication since it's the primary purpose of adopting this security mechanism. While passwords have been the modus operandi for pretty much as long as resources have needed to be kept private in the digital world, a password only offers one layer of security. If a password is exposed even once, consider the security for that service breached.
Strong passwords have been recommended by security experts since day one. Practices such as using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters are encouraged. But the fact remains that it will still remain only one form of protection. Even other more secure authentication methods, such as voice recognition systems, are also still only a singular breach away from illegal access.
A significant improvement in security levels is only achievable if you use a second authentication factor that is a different factor type from the first one.
For example, a regular password entered with a username is considered a knowledge factor, i.e., something you know. If you add another PIN on top, it would still be a knowledge factor. To achieve true two-factor authentication, you should use another type of factor on top of the knowledge factor. This could be a biometric factor, such as a fingerprint, or maybe a possession factor, such as a hardware token.
Two-factor authentication systems are generally not very expensive. If you decide to introduce retinal scanning or voice recognition as a second step, then naturally, the price is going to increase. But advancements in these techniques mean that you can also employ these types of complex 2FA and MFA systems at relatively affordable prices these days.
The cons of two-factor authentication methods
For some methods, the two-factor authentication process takes barely any time, but for other methods, it can get very time-consuming. You need to measure the impact of 2FA methods in terms of individual and collective time spent on them.
Some two-factor authentication systems, such as SMS, are obviously quicker than others to implement, so proper research is recommended if time is a concern for you. Regardless of your choice of 2FA method, a two-step process will always take more time for that second step than if you had a single-factor system. Maybe for data or accounts that aren't important, you could skip two-step authentication and only make it mandatory for the more important resources.
Another thing to consider is the time component affecting one-time passwords. These codes or PINs "expire" if they are not used quickly enough. If you are experiencing a dodgy signal on your mobile phone, you might be waiting around a while for the verification code to arrive just in time for you to be able to log into your account. You might even have to wait 15 seconds or more every time you need to request another code. Furthermore, with flash or push notifications, you may miss or accidentally dismiss the access code, leading to further time wasted in its resending or regeneration.
There is no security system in the world that is 100% foolproof. Such is the nature of the digital landscape right now. Two-factor authentication processes are certainly more effective than single-factor systems—that much is evident. But determined hackers can still implement any number of devious schemes and malware threats to breach your system. They keep developing increasingly sophisticated hardware and software to steal sensitive data, gain access to secure resources, and invade privacy.
While it's not impossible, it's also not that easy to achieve. The ways in which two-factor authentication systems can be circumvented depend on several factors, such as the kind of authentication systems that you actually use, as some can be more effective and secure than others. While a password, for example, can be inadvertently shared, the same cannot be said of biometric recognition.
A two-factor authentication system will involve some extra cost, and for smaller organizations, that can be restrictive. But there are so many options out there these days that the cost increases can be minimized. You need not give up entirely on adopting one of these 2FA systems. The cost of losing key personal or corporate data and user accounts is often far higher than 2FA or MFA systems will ever cost.
How well a 2FA system performs depends on the type of system you implement, but the more complicated your security protocol is, the greater the possibility there is for malfunctions to occur. Each step that restricts a user from freely entering into a service or account could run into an error at any time, possibly ending up in significant wasted time and lost productivity in case of a major breakdown.
While there are some risks associated with two-factor authentication, it is the only way to gain as much security as you can from unwanted users.
In this digital age, the impact of the numerous advantages of 2FA far outweighs its downsides, given how common cyber-attacks and crimes are, so you must make sure your devices are protected. The common ownership of mobile phones means 2FA is easy to implement. While time-consuming, its methods are cost-effective and guarantee the extra protection your accounts need.