Cloud Security

What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is a security measure that requires users to provide multiple forms of identity verification in order to gain access to their account. MFA is used commonly to keep companies’ cloud account secure and to prevent brute force hackers.

MFA requires that a user validates their identity with another vector in addition to providing the correct username and password. However, as cyber attackers have grown increasingly sophisticated, multi-factor authentication is no longer enough to prevent malicious intrusions.

Why Does MFA Matter?

The most important aspect to MFA is boosting authentication security.

The main benefit of MFA is that it will enhance your organization's security by requiring your users to identify themselves by more than a username and password. While important, usernames and passwords are vulnerable to brute force attacks and can be shared or stolen by third parties.

Implementing MFA in an enterprise's identity and access management (IAM) with something like a thumbprint or physical hardware key means increased confidence that your organization will stay safe from cyber criminals.

What are the three main factor categories of MFA?

MFA is commonly based on three core authentication factor categories:

  • Knowledge factors – Knowledge based authentication (KBA) typically require the user to provide a secret information only they know, such as:
  • ~Answers to personal security questions
  • ~Password
  • ~PIN codes
  • ~One-time passwords (OTPs)
  • Possession factors - Something specific that the user owns as a requirement for login, such as:
  • ~App generated OTPs
  • ~OTPs received via text or email
  • ~Access badges, USB devices, smart cards or fobs or security keys
  • ~Software tokens and certificates
  • Inherence factors - factors inherent to the user, usually in the form of biometric data. This includes:
  • ~Retina scans
  • ~Fingerprints
  • ~Hand geometry
  • ~Facial recognition
  • ~Earlobe geometry
  • ~Voice recognition
  • ~Behavioral recognition such as typing speed or mouse movement

What are the different types of MFA implementations?

There are primarily two different types of authentication implementations today: Adaptive and passwordless.

Adaptive MFA is configured based on an evaluation of the users’ risk behavior. Depending on the users’ risk assessment, MFA is deployed to select the right authentication factors that are adapted to fit the situation.

Passwordless MFA occurs when password credentials are replaced with a more secure form of authentication, such as a fingerprint, PIN code, voice recognition, or signing in through a cell phone.

What are the advantages of MFA?

  • Keeps sensitive data safe from opportunistic cyber threats: For some networks, MFA provides enough security to keep its users’ safe from brute force hackers and credential compromisations. MFA can protect data from these types of brute force and credential hackers and attacks.
  • Allows for a less extensive sign in process for high security networks: Implementing multi-factor authentication can make the sign in process less intensive and allows your cybersecurity team to weed out failed login attempts.
  • Helps organizations meet security compliance requirements: Under certain circumstances, some organizations are required to implement MFA to meet compliance regulations.

What are the disadvantages of MFA?

  • Does not protect against account takeovers: Cyberattackers can now bypass MFA by smartly tricking account owners into downloading a software, clicking a sinister link, and more. This allows hijackers to hack the account and gain access.
  • There are many ways to bypass MFA directly through implementation faults: Hackers have found multiple ways to bypass MFA, rendering it useless as a preventative measure.
  • Time-consuming Logins: MFA often increases the time and effort required to login to a network.

Common Questions

Is MFA effective?

Multi-Factor Authentication is highly effective in stopping opportunistic actors from gaining unauthorized access to private and company resources.

What are the risks of not using MFA?

Not using multi-factor authentication makes accounts more susceptible to cybersecurity threats such password spraying

The reality is, if you're not using MFA your organization is more at risk for attacks. A huge security threat today is the risk of compromised credentials. However, there are still ways to bypass MFA that must be taken into account, such as phishing and account hijacking.

What kind of threats does MFA prevent?

As a key aspect to identity and access management (IAM) policy, MFA can thwart some of the most common cybersecurity threats such as:

  • Keyloggers
  • Credential stuffing
  • Brute force and reverse brute force attacks
  • Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks

How does MFA combat common cyberattacks?

MFA prevents cyberattackers from maliciously obtaining accounts by requiring secondary credentials and information from the user. Attackers can potentially obtain a user’s password, but it’s harder to obtain their biometrics or the answer to a personal security question.

Vectra AI: When MFA is Not Enough

While multi-factor authentication (MFA) was once the single best technique to reduce the possibility of a breach, breaches in cloud networks, like Microsoft Office 365, continue to occur. MFA security measures are no longer enough to deter malicious and insidious attacks. Of those attacks, account takeover breaches are the fastest growing and most prevalent, adversely impacting organizations’ reputations and incurring financial consequences.

The importance of keeping a watchful eye on the misuse of user access cannot be overstated given its prevalence in real-world attacks. In the current cybersecurity landscape, security measures like multi-factor authentication are no longer enough to deter attackers.

SaaS platforms like Office 365 are a safe haven for attacker lateral movement, making it paramount to focus on user access to accounts and services. When security teams have solid information and expectations about SaaS platforms such as Office 365, malicious behaviors and privilege abuse are much easier to quickly identify and mitigate.

Deployed in minutes without agents, Vectra Cognito Detect for Office 365 gives you visibility of your Office 365 attack surface and allows you to:

  • Detect suspicious account activity, such as multiple failed login attempts followed by success, and which accounts were used in both scenarios.  
  • Be aware of the creation of Power Automate flows, addition of new accounts, and installation of malicious applications  
  • Discover privilege escalation, including adding users to groups

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