How multifactor authentication works
Multifactor authentication utilizes two or more factors to allow the user to sign into an account. Generally, these will consist of something the user knows, like a password or PIN, along with one or both of the following:
- Something the user has. This can include a phone, key fob or smartcard.
- Something the user is. This can include an iris or fingerprint scan, or voice or facial recognition.
Accounts that use MFA will not allow the user to sign into their account unless both factors are verified.
Why multifactor authentication is crucial for protecting sensitive information
While passwords can provide some protection against hackers, they’ve proven to be an abysmally weak barrier against hackers. A recent study by Digital Shadows, a digital risk protection company, found evidence of approximately 15 billion passwords and logins floating around the darkweb as a result of 100,000 data breaches. These passwords are up for sale to other cybercriminals, potentially providing them with access to the victims’ financial accounts, credit card information, Social Security data and more.
In addition to opening up the door to sensitive information, a single password can give the hacker entry into a victim’s private life. For example, by hacking into a victim’s Google password, the cybercriminal now has access to their email history, which can include important correspondence and other information; calendar, which can provide a complete picture of the victim’s upcoming events and meetings; YouTube account, which unlocks the victim’s viewing history and uploads, and any other apps that allow users to sign in with a Google account, such as Asana and Mint.
Unfortunately, passwords can be cracked by amateur hackers, even without a data breach. Many consumers make it even easier for hackers to break into their accounts by using weak, ineffective passwords that are simple to guess, and by using the same password across multiple accounts. For these reasons, using MFA when available — especially for accounts that store highly sensitive information — is crucial for ongoing security and protection. This way, in the event of a data breach or hack providing a criminal with your password or login credentials, your information will still be protected. Without access to your account’s second factor for authentication, the hacker has no way to gain entry into your account.
Where you may encounter MFA
In general, the more sensitive the data an account stores, the stronger security measures the company hosting or providing the account will use. Consequently, you’re most likely to encounter MFA on banking apps and accounts, money management apps, investment apps and the like. Depending on your line of work, you may also need to use MFA to sign into your personal workplace account. Finally, some retailers may offer clients the option of using MFA to sign into their accounts.
Under each of these and similar circumstances, using MFA means a login time that’s a bit longer and more complicated than just inputting a password or PIN. However, measuring this inconvenience against the time, stress and money it will take to recover from a potential data breach makes it more than worth the extra few minutes.
Your Turn: Which means of MFA is your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.
Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.
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