MFA vs. 2FA – What’s the Difference?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) vs. Two-factor authentication (2FA). You may be asking what they are or what’s the difference between the two? With cyber-attacks on the rise, these security measures are becoming a necessity for individuals and businesses to safeguard their information. Online accounts and apps that we use daily such as banking, medical, social media, email, etc., give users the option to set up these authentications, and in some cases, even require them for security purposes. In this article, we’ll explain what they are, the differences, and perks of using them.

MFA vs. 2FA

MFA uses two or more factors to verify the person’s identity with the end goal of increasing security for users. 2FA, or Two-Step Verification, only uses two factors to verify a person’s identity. All 2FA is considered an MFA, but not all MFA is a 2FA. You may be thinking, well if MFA uses more factors, then it’s automatically more secure, right? Well, not necessarily.  

Although MFA does use multiple factors to authenticate, it all depends on what authentication methods are being used. If a program, for instance, uses a password, one-time password, and Face ID, these are all more secure than just simply using a password alone, but passwords and one-time passwords are weak security measures. Although there are three factors to authenticate in this case, two of the authentication methods are weak, therefore, making the overall MFA for the program a weak security measure.

On the other end of the spectrum, a 2FA account using two authentication methods such as a trusted location and a mobile push (security key) would be considered very strong security measures, as these are the some of the methods most difficult for hackers to crack. For this reason, all multi-factor authentications are only as strong as the methods used.

Added Security = More Friction?

We all know that it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. While in some cases, this may not be a bad thing, when it comes to securing your information, it’s a big no-no. When using any form of MFA, there will be two or more authentication methods, which can lead to issues when logging in. There may be the temptation to use a single-factor method, such as only using a password, out of convenience, but don’t give in! According to Incognia, in 2018, less than 10% of Google users had activated optional 2FA, which shows that users will often choose convenience over security.

So, the big question here is, how do we get people to still choose enhanced security, without experiencing all the technology hiccups? An authentication method called recognition signals uses sensors from user’s mobile devices that recognizes anomalies in user and device behavior, such as location behavior that is not typical for the user.

Data shows that location is the strongest trust signal for mobile devices. 90% of logins and 95% of sensitive transactions made on financial services apps happen from trusted locations (locations often frequented by users), according to Incognia’s data. Certain websites offer a type of “zero-factor authentication” that uses user behavior to identify them as trusted. If there are any anomalies in behavior, MFA can be used.

To sum things up, neither MFA nor 2FA is necessarily better than the other—they can both be secure methods to protect your information. The key is having multiple strong authentication methods, no matter which one is being used. Don’t take any shortcuts when it comes to security and protecting your information. It may seem like a pain, or inconvenience to take additional security measures, but in the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

If you have any questions regarding 2FA, MFA, or other types of authentication methods, you can contact Entre Technology Services—we’d love to hear from you!

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