Multi-Factor Authentication Vs Two-Factor Authentication

The present information technology era has been perceiving rising and severe cyber-attacks, especially security and data breaches. Weak and stolen credentials and passwords may be seen as one of the prime reasons behind most of the intrusions and data breaches. Thus, came the need for either replacing or making password-based authentication stronger and more reliable. In the world of web and computer security, we all must have heard the terms multi-factor authentication (MFA) and two-factor authentication (2FA) that are required to improve existing password-based security. However, most of the users find themselves confused over the differences between 2FA and MFA, like what’s the difference between them, which one to choose, and many similar types of queries.

What is Two-Factor Authentication or 2FA?

As the name suggests, two-factor authentication defines the mechanism for verifying and validating a user’s login credibility via two different authentication layers. The first layer of authentication involves user’s credential, i.e. username and password, verification. On successfully passing the password-based authentication, the user is directed to the second layer of authentication, where he/she needs to enter the security token to be authenticated. And finally, the authorized user gets the access.

2FA Working

Two-Factor authentication checks and validates the login based on following attributes:

Something a user knows: This may include registered credentials like username and password or pin. A user knowing correct or incorrect password may or may not get authenticated in the first security check, respectively.

Something a user has: This generally, refers to security codes or OTPs as hardware or software tokens, which are received or generated on their mobile or any other registered hardware devices. During this authentication, a user needs to provide the security token or code to verify his/her credibility in the final authentication check to gain access.

Learn some tips about 2FA in our blog- Tips for Using Two Factor Authentication Method.

What is Multi-Factor Authentication or MFA?

You may interpret the meaning of MFA through its name itself “multi-factor authentication”, i.e. authentication check involving multiple factors. In layman’s language, multi-factor authentication could be seen as the process of authenticating the user’s login veracity through multiple authentication layers, where each layer consists of different and unique parameters to verify and validate the user’s authenticity.

MFA working

In MFA, basically, a user is made to go through a defined sequence of authentication checks, starting from initial authentication check based on the password to more stringent authentications. These multiple and strict authentications comprise different factors to verify and validate the user’s identity.

  • Something user knows– password
  • Something user have– security tokens
  • Something user is– biometric scan
  • Location of the user– geographical location or coordinates
  • …….
  • …….
  • and so on

difference between mfa and 2fa

What’s the difference between MFA and 2FA?

The difference between MFA and 2FA is very minute in terms of authentication layers and factors used, which may be considered negligible. Basically, 2FA is a subset of MFA but vice-versa is not true. Authentications involving more than one authentication layers/parameters fall under the category of MFA. As such, 2FA, 3FA, 4FA,…… are nothing but the sub-categories of MFA.

In short, every 2FA is a multi-factor authentication, but all multi-factor authentications are not necessarily 2FA.

In the light of the above discussion, it may be stated that the selection between 2FA and MFA (2FA and above) should be based on the scope, boundary, data sensitivity, need of securing small, medium or large-sized infrastructure and many similar factors. It should be noted that more the authentication checks we have, better will be the security, but at the same time the user should not feel tiresome/difficult in getting authenticated.

2FA solutions like REVE Secure guarantees stronger and uncompromising security with their powerful two-factor authentication. Visit REVE Secure, to learn more.