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Implementing and Integrating A Second Layer of Security for Your IT Systems

A significant number of data breaches are—unfortunately—completely avoidable. The culprit behind these breaches is often far more mundane than what the layperson would consider a “hack,” and is simply compromised authentication—a compromised password.

The fact of the matter is that passwords frequently aren’t enough with complex phishing attacks and software designed to crack what are often basic, repeated phrases and strings of characters. A strong password is only so strong, after all.

That’s where multi-factor authentication comes into play.

What is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Chances are you’ve probably encountered multi-factor authentication before. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security feature that provides a second layer of protection when logging in, requiring users to input a one-time code or other piece of information after entering their username and password.

That second level of security can be a fingerprint scan, a private security question, or, as mentioned, a one-time code or PIN sent to a user when they try to login.

Why is Multi-Factor Authentication Important?

MFA is important because it provides a catch in case a user’s login credentials are compromised. Even if a hacker has access to a private password and username, when prompted to login, the code or PIN will still be sent to the actual user’s device, not the hacker.

Not only does this keep the hacker from accessing the system, but it also informs users that someone else is trying to access their account. They can then reset their password and inform an IT administrator of this threat, making it possible to detect threats quickly and step up security measures.

Implementing MFA Solutions

There are several ways to implement MFA solutions for your organization. The method you choose depends on what will work best for your situation; for example, Microsoft Azure MFA can be deployed for a variety of applications, including server protection, cloud infrastructure, and Office 365.

Beyond choosing what systems you’d like to deploy MFA on, though, you’ll also have to settle on an MFA setting from one of several options:

  • Time-based one-time passwords (TOTP): Time-based one-time passwords are generated from a shared secret key and a timestamp using a specific cryptographic function. MFA, in this case, involves a login with a username and password; if these are valid, a shared key is requested, and a token is shown to the user. They simply click on the token to authenticate and login.
  • Short message service (SMS): This is arguably one of the most popular forms of MFA and involves an SMS message being sent to the user when they provide a valid username and password. Gmail and Google accounts typically use SMS to provide a one-time authentication code. Basically, the server texts users a code to let them log in.
  • Email: Like SMS, email authentication operates on the same principle, but the code is sent from the server to the user’s email address. From there, they can then authenticate and log in.
  • Push Notifications: Push notifications are most common on authentication applications and rely on similar mechanisms to the above systems.

Regardless of the MFA solution you choose, there are a number of benefits for your organization, some more readily apparent than others.

Improved Security

Improved security is by far the most obvious and clear benefit to deploying MFA. As mentioned earlier, MFA doesn’t just add another level of protection, it also gives you an indirect method of detecting unauthorized access. MFA can help your IT team spot and address potential gaps in security.

Even if your IT system has a robust security solution and firewall in place, the nature of cyberattacks has changed. Gone are the fast-paced, high-profile attacks; hackers now focus more on covert attacks that can slip under the radar, only becoming apparent when it’s too late to take action.

MFA provides an additional layer of security in the event a phishing attack is successful, helping prevent these covert attacks.

Ease of Deployment

MFA is remarkably easy to deploy and implement. There are any number of SaaS MFA solutions on the market that can help, or you can work with an experienced IT consultancy to find a customized approach that works for your organization.

In fact, one of the greater hurdles to deployment is simply getting users on board and familiarizing themselves with the system.

Minimal Investment

There are several high-profile MFA solutions out there, some more expensive than others. If you’re already using a system like Office 365 or Azure, though, chances are the cost of adding reliable MFA is minimal.

Barring that, if cost is a serious concern for your organization, there are free, reliable authenticators that you can adapt to your systems, such as Google Authenticator.

Basically, implementing MFA is not only easier than you think, but it’s also probably cheaper than you think—a small price to pay for peace of mind and security.