What is 2FA and why is two-factor-authentication important?

During Cyber Security Awareness Month, our cyber security experts answered the most frequently searched questions on securing digital communications, working safely from home and eliminating the biggest cyber risks. In video and written format. 

Today (answered by Zivver Principle Strategy, Olivier Paling): What is 2FA and why is two-factor-authentication important?

What is 2FA? 

The abbreviation 2FA stands for two-factor authentication (but is also called multi factor authentication, second factor authentication). Two-factor-authentication is a method to access an online account. Basically, the user has to provide two different types of information to prove that the user is exactly who he is.

A ‘factor’ in this context basically means that the user provides a piece of information for which the computer can evaluate if this user is who he says he is. Basically giving him access to the data. 

So, there's also 1fa (or SFA)? 

Yes! The most common authentication factor of today is still the use of a ‘username’ and ‘password’. And since most online accounts only use a username and password, this is referred to as a ‘single factor authentication’ (sfa). Some refer to that as 1fa. 

With ‘second-factor-authentication’ (2FA), you basically need an extra factor on top of the username and password to gain access to the data. It's the second factor.

Using three different additional factors for data security

There are three different kinds of factors. What I just mentioned, was the username and password, this is something you know and should remember.

Another one is something you have, like a mobile device or a token that you can use. Think of an SMS with an access code or the use of an authenticator app such as Okta.

And the third type is biometrics, such as facial recognition or a fingerprint. This is the newest type, but already widely adopted. The method is becoming more and more common. When the face mask was introduced to fight the coronavirus, social media were flooded with messages from people who suddenly could no longer unlock their mobile phones without biometric authentication. The set facial recognition was no longer usable as an authentication factor because of the face mask. 

2FA is becoming the standard in data security

As passwords have become less and less secure, due to data breaches or misuse, regulators are paying increasing attention to the use of second-factor authentication (2FA). All to ensure that privacy-sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands. You can also see that this is supported by various software suppliers, who provide these possibilities to use this second factor in secure communications.

Now that you know what two-factor authentication is, it makes sense to start using the second factor on all online accounts, also for daily use. This way, your data and communication will not fall into the wrong hands.

Download the 'Safeguard sensitive information while working from home' e-book, to prevent data breaches from happening. 

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Written by

Kevin Lamers

Originally published on October 13, 2020

Last update on July 27, 2021