National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Turn On Your MFA

In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Jean-Luc Picard famously said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” This applies to many things, including passwords: Even if you follow all the established best practices for password hygiene, your credentials can still be compromised if your network is breached, if an organization you deal with is breached, or through social engineering.

But despite Picard’s reassurances, where your network is concerned, this is a weakness. The market for stolen credentials is huge and growing, and it’s estimated that almost half of breaches in 2022 began with stolen credentials. Fortunately, this weakness is one that can be largely mitigated through the implementation of multifactor authentication (MFA).

What is Multifactor Authentication?

Multifactor authentication creates a higher threshold for identity verification. The name comes from the fact that users are required to provide multiple pieces of evidence, or “factors,” that they are who they say they are before being given access to an account.

These factors can be sorted into three categories, from least secure to most secure:

  • Something you know: A password, passcode or PIN
  • Something you have: An email, a confirmation text on your phone or an alert from your authentication app
  • Something you are: A facial recognition scan, retina scan, fingerprint or other biometric marker

While multifactor authentication asks for at least two of these, standard authentication only asks for first-category verification, generally a username and password. But these are by far the easiest for threat actors to steal, purchase or brute-force. By requiring another layer of security more specific to the user, multifactor authentication can stop the overwhelming majority of attacks.

Despite its effectiveness, however, a recent survey found that over half of small- to medium-sized businesses haven’t implemented multifactor authentication for their business. Worse, only 28% of SMBs require MFA to be set up.

Are You Ready to Take the Next Step?

Multifactor authentication is a valuable tool in helping keep your accounts — and your network — safe. But how effectively it does this depends on how well it’s implemented. While CISA and others have released more in-depth guidance for moving to MFA, there are some best practices that can help ensure your MFA journey is as smooth as possible.

  1. Make MFA a must for your entire organization. Mandating MFA to protect top executives, R&D or finance alone won’t do much good if someone in marketing, customer service or HR falls for a phish.
  2. Choose an authenticator app over receiving codes via text where possible. SIM-jacking is uncommon, but it does happen. Plus, this will cover you in cases where your cellular signal is weak or nonexistent.
  3. Be flexible about the implementation method. Allowing verification via authentication app, email or SMS messaging, based on whatever is most convenient to the end user, will help encourage uptake. While some authentication methods are safer than others, any MFA is better than no MFA.
  4. Check the web services you log into frequently. A growing list of services, such as Gmail, Facebook and others, offer MFA as an option.
  5. Many of the popular password managers also include MFA (in case you needed yet another reason to start using a password manager.)
  6. Set up passwords/passcodes on your laptop and mobile devices (if you haven’t already). Multifactor authentication can help prevent the vast majority of breaches, but you shouldn’t depend on it as a guarantee: Unless you’ve set up a biometric factor, it can’t do much if someone gains possession of your devices, particularly if your browser or operating system stores your usernames and passwords.

It’s important to note, however, that while multifactor authentication can go a long way toward ensuring your accounts (and your network) remain safe, it does share a few weaknesses with standard authentication methods. One of these is phishing: In next week’s blog, we’ll build upon our recent School of Phish Master Class to offer valuable tips on how to avoid falling for a phishing attempt.