The 3 Factors of Authentication
No matter what kind of software we’re talking about, the need for security should go without saying. It doesn’t matter if it handles emails or functions as your online shopping cart, the unfortunate truth is that we live in a world where hackers are everywhere looking to take advantage of any and every opportunity. Some want money; others are perfectly happy to just cause mischief. Sometimes, it’s the latter that’s actually more destructive than the former.
While there are all kinds of measures your company can take to keep these cyber attackers at bay, at the end of the day, without reliable passwords, all your efforts will be for naught.
The Problem with Most Passwords
Simply put, most passwords these days are awful. They’re the equivalent of protecting your home by putting something heavy in front of the door. This might dissuade some criminals from expending the extra effort, but if a malicious party really wants in, it’s not going to stop them.
For one thing, most passwords just aren’t that hard to guess. In fact, both “123456” and “password” remain very common. If you have a company of at least 100 employees, it’s extremely likely that at least one of them is using one of those passwords.
Many employees will see little problem with sharing their passwords as well. This only increases the chance that it will end up in the wrong hands.
Enter: Multi-Factor Authentication
To be fair, most of your employees are probably doing their best. They have at least a half-dozen passwords to remember and each is supposed to be over six digits and a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. It can’t be something obvious, either, like a version of their last name (e.g. J0hnson!).
So what exactly is Multi-factor authentication? It is a way of verifying a person's identity by using at least two of the following factors:
- Something you know
- Something you have
- Something you are
While a hacker may be able to reproduce one of these, doing so for two would be nearly impossible. Let’s look at each credential a bit closer.
Something You Know
This is the conventional approach to password protection. An employee has a password or pin number they must put in where prompted.
Something You Have
This additional factor makes it so that a password could be printed on the side of your building and still be useless. In order to gain access, a hacker would need at least one other identity factor. Many companies rely on keyfobs for this. They’re a small device about the size of a typical key. Lacking the keyfob, the hacker will also lack access. Even if the hacker was somehow able to access your office and get a look at the password, without this keyfob to produce a unique one time pin, the password is useless.
Something You Are
Another credential that is growing in popularity is a biometric feature, like an employee’s fingerprint or even their iris, which can be scanned. This type of element comes with a number of advantages. For one, you’re not going to lose track of your fingerprints or forget where you put your iris. There is no chance you won’t be able to use a biometric feature for getting past security.
No one is going to be stealing a biometric trait either. Despite some Hollywood interpretations, copying someone’s fingerprint for the sake of tricking a scanner is nearly impossible.
While hackers around the world are constantly upping their game, the security community has been equally busy. Perhaps the best example of their hard work is multi-factor authentication. It makes it impossible for a hacker to break through security using a single password. It also greatly reduces the likelihood that your own staff will become part of the problem. No amount of phishing scams or other social engineering tricks will be able to procure two or three credentials like the kind we’ve laid out above.