What’s the Difference Between 2FA vs. MFA?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is exactly two layers of security. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is two or more layers. In this sense, 2FA is always MFA but MFA isn’t always 2FA. While this is the primary difference between MFA vs. 2FA, there are other ways to compare them.

Both forms of authentication provide extra security to protect the user from password leaks. If your password is stolen, these authentication methods make it more difficult for the thief to access your account. MFA requires users to meet other criteria besides the password.

This article will explore both options. You can use this information to help yourself build a strong multi-factor authentication policy for your business.

MFA vs. 2FA

What Does MFA Mean?

MFA means that there are several steps involved in verifying user identity. As mentioned, 2FA is a type of MFA. It would ask for one additional step alongside the user’s main credentials. Other forms of MFA may ask for three or four additional layers of verification.

 

What Does MFA Stand For?

The MFA acronym stands for multi-factor authentication. This is in contrast to single-factor authentication (SFA) that only requires one credential. An example of SFA would be an account that only asks for a username and password. MFA would ask for additional credentials other than the username or password.

 

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Why is MFA Important?

MFA’s benefit is higher security. Its aim is to ensure unauthorized users do not gain access to the account even if they have a stolen password. Historically, MFA was only used for high-stakes accounts that house sensitive information. Now, it’s increasingly common for all accounts to use MFA.

This trend makes sense. In 2022, 721.5 million stolen passwords were posted on the dark web. Additionally, hackers can use information collected from one account to infiltrate others. For example, a hacker may use data from a hacked social media account to gather information that they can use to hack that owner’s bank account.

For this reason, strong authentication is required for any account that connects to the internet.

 

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How is 2FA Different Than MFA?

2FA is MFA. Any authentication method that requires more than one level of verification is MFA. One example of 2FA would be a user answering an identifying question after they correctly enter their username and password.

 

When Should You Only Use 2FA?

2FA is easier to manage than MFA with three or more layers. You may opt for it for users with limited technology access. For instance, if you can’t assume your users own mobile devices, you may want to avoid MFA that requires authentication from an additional device.

Bear in mind that this comes at the expense of security. While 2FA is more convenient, it’s not advised for any account that holds high-stakes data. Hackers can steal personal information that could be used to infiltrate one of your authentication layers. Having more than one layer decreases the likelihood of this.

 

Type of Authentication

Whether 2FA or more, there are a few types of authentication methods. Here are some examples. The right MFA solution(s) for you depends on your organization and users.

  • Knowledge-based authentication: identifying questions about a user’s personal details, usually automatically prompted after correctly entered credentials.
  • One-time password (OTP): an auto-generated single-use password that is sent to another one of the user’s accounts.
  • Mobile push notifications: users verify their identity with a push notification on their mobile device after correctly entering their credentials.
  • Mobile time-based OTP: regularly rotating codes found on a mobile device, they could be from an app or sent via text message.
  • Credential-based passwordless access: verifies identity without the use of passcodes or questions, usually this is done with fingerprint, facial, or voice recognition technology.
  • Push + mutual authentication: a notification is sent to the user’s mobile device, and both the user and the server who sent the notification confirm the other’s identity.
  • FIDO2 key: physical keys like USBs that verify user identity after they’re plugged into the device.
  • Smart cards: a physical card embedded with a microchip is scanned by a card reader before they are granted access. In this case, the smart card usually acts as the first layer of authentication while the typical username and password is the additional layer.

 

You Need More Than Multi-Factor Authentication to Stay Secure

 

Still Undecided? Talk to a Cybersecurity Consultant

It’s important to establish the right multi-factor authentication policy for your business needs. This involves finding the right balance between security and accessibility. Consider your users, their ability to respond to your access management standards, and the sensitivity of your data.

It’s also important to keep the user experience in mind while you craft your policy. Overwhelming your users with too many MFA layers causes fatigue and increases human error. This makes them less careful and more likely to accept a suspicious notification.

If you need advice, Outsource Solutions Group can help. Our expert consultants are well-equipped to offer advice on your IT strategy.

We know cybersecurity, project management, and business acumen. This is the perfect combination for helping you create an informed authentication strategy.

Contact us to get started with our knowledgeable IT consultants.

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