The Ultimate Guide to Two-Factor Authentication Methods

Two-factor authentication or 2FA is an advanced and stronger security solution to keep our login-protected system, application and data secured and protected from intrusion and data breaches. With the soaring incidents of cyber-attacks and data breaches, two-factor authentication has become imperative for each different organization. Let’s gain a brief understanding of 2FA, before exploring the different and viable two-factor authentication methods.

What is Two-factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication solution is used to deliver an additional layer of authentication or security check over password-based authentication. An additional and stronger layer of token-based authorization is added to existing user-credential (password) based authentication layer, where password-based authentication is followed by token-based user-authentication.

An authorized user having security tokens will easily pass the two-factor authentication. While, a malicious user, even knowing the user-credential but in the non-availability of security tokens will find it impossible to authenticate the user identity. You can read more about the 2Fa in our related blog two-factor authentication for web apps.

With the brief & a clear understanding of 2FA, we can now go ahead with the two-factor authentication methods.

What are the different authentication methods to perform user-authentication in 2FA?

Two-factor authentication solution is devised on the principle of “something that user knows” and “something that user has”, where the combination of both the elements is used to verify and validate the login-authenticity.

Something that user knows is a constant element i.e. username and password (user credential). This constant element can’t get replaced with some other element. Password(user-credential) is used for the primary authentication check for the login. On successfully passing the password-based authentication, the user is directed to second-factor authentication check.

Something that user has represents the dynamic element i.e. use of multiple and different security tokens for authentication. Here, we have used the term ‘dynamic’ as a user may opt any of the authentication modes for each different login attempt.

Now, let’s explore the viable authentication options that can be used in second-factor authentication check.

  • Software Token

Soft tokens or software tokens are the unique & ephemeral security codes that are generated on your smartphones. A user may choose the software token option during second-factor authentication check and can receive security code on their phones to authenticate their login.

  • Hardware Token

Unlike software token, hardware token involves the use of hardware or plug-in devices that are specifically built for generating or receiving or delivering security code during 2FA check. Seamoon device and YUBI key are some of the popular and widely use hardware tokens.

  • PUSH Notification

PUSH is a web-generated request which is received at authorized user’s registered number and mobile device. PUSH notification asks the authorized user to approve genuine and valid login authentication request or to decline authentication on detecting it as malicious.

  • SMS

OTP or one-time password received via SMS on mobile devices is also one of the viable but less preferred options for authenticating user-identity during second-factor authentication check.

  • IVRS

Interactive Voice Response System or IVRS is an automated voice call, meant for receiving or feeding the security code for authentication purpose.

  • Email

Like SMS, OTPs can also be received on registered email IDs of a user.

  • Bypass code

Bypass code or recovery code is the last resort for the users. In the event of non-availability of soft or hardware tokens or any of the above-said options, bypass code could be used for the authentication. Bypass code is a recovery code provided by the 2FA solution. This code is kept by the user to overcome the failure of other available authentication modes (if any).

Lastly, it is pertinent to state that the above-defined options are just some of the 2FA authentication methods. 2FA solution providers are consistently trying to improve & enhance user-experience with the addition of more useful, easy and convenient options for authentication. Thus, in near future, 2FA users may find themselves armed with some more viable and handy two-factor authentication options

Shift to Adaptive Authentication

You all must have heard the terms two-factor authentication and multi-factor authentication used for improving security and protecting web login and accounts from malicious attack and data breaches. However, organizations are seeking something better to ensure higher user-satisfaction rate along with the stronger security for their web assets. Adaptive authentication is an advanced and excellent methodology for authenticating users based on machine-learning and data analytics to deliver greater user-experience in addition to reliable security.

What is Adaptive Authentication?

As briefed above, adaptive authentication is a machine learning based security solution which is driven by certain parameters to benefit users with easy, engaging simplified and yet stronger security authentication.

Adaptive authentication is not a separate solution or application rather it’s an integrated part of 2FA or any other Multi-factor authentication solution. During adaptive authentication, different parameters and user-attributes are being taken into consideration to identify the risk and the credibility of the login. Positive results during adaptive authentication grants, direct access to users without letting them undergo through token based second-factor authentication. However, if the login found to be suspicious based on multiple risk-identifying factors, then that login is further subjected to second-factor authentication where the user needs to present hardware or software token.

What are the parameters considered during adaptive authentication?

Below given, are some of the most used parameters and user-attributes to authenticate the veracity of user’s login. Based on the following factors, a user may be granted direct access or may be subjected to 2nd-factor authentication check.

  • User-Behaviour
  • Login Time
  • Device and other software and hardware resources used for access.
  • IP address of login.
  • Geographical location of user’s login

The above-mentioned attributes with the aid of machine learning tools and algorithms are being used to evaluate and assess the credibility of the login. Some more and unique parameters and attributes could also be added to the list to ensure a stronger authentication check

Why Adaptive authentication is getting popular?

The primary and maybe the single-most reason behind adaptive authentication hype is the ease of authentication that user is finding pretty useful and engaging. Although second-factor authentication proven to deliver stronger security, at the same time, users were finding authentication procedure very tiresome and frustrating as they need to authenticate themselves repeatedly in the second-factor authentication check, each time they want to login throughout the day.

Adaptive authentication is a very useful mechanism that lets genuine and authorized user to gain direct access without getting introduced to 2nd-factor authentication window, unless and until he/she tries to log in from some unusual location, IP address, using unconventional software or hardware devices or in odd timings.

Thus, Adaptive authentication not only ensures productive machine learning based security check, but also increases and maintain user-interest, and thereby delivers higher satisfaction rate.

At present, very few of the network security solution providers are delivering adaptive authentication features with their 2FA or MFA solution like REVE Secure. To ensure high-level of security, but not at the cost of their user’s interest and experience, organizations need & must implement machine learning based adaptive authentication.