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.

What to Choose: Multi-Factor Authentication or Single Sign-on?

Rising incidents of security and data breach, owing to heavy reliance on single-factor authentication, i.e. password-based authentication only, led organizations to think about and enhance the security of their valuable assets using better and stronger security solutions. When it comes to improving and upgrading the security of systems and applications, the two names that instantly pop-up in our mind are Multi-factor authentication(MFA) and Single sign-on (SSO). Which of these would be better to provide guaranteed and reliable security, is what we will be discussing here.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication refers to integrated multiple authentication layers to verify and validate the user’s authenticity, multiple times during a login attempt. A user needs to go through multiple authentications to prove his/her credibility. Each authentication layer would have different elements and attributes to evaluate the credibility of a user.

Initial authentication usually involves checking of user’s registered credentials, i.e. username/email-id and password. Password-based authentication signifies “something a user knows”.
Initial authentication may be followed by the second layer of authentication by verifying a hardware or software token unique to the user. This authentication layer imparts “something a user has”. The complete process may be termed as two-factor authentication.

Second layer authentication check could be followed by the third level of authentication check (three-factor authentication), where a user needs to authenticate him/herself through inherence factors or biological traits, i.e. “something a user is”, e.g. the fingerprint, voice, or retina scan. Similarly, more authentication layers may be implemented using different elements and attributes, resulting in stronger security.

In layman’s language, it may be stated that in multi-factor authentication, solely password would not be the only factor of authentication. A user needs to provide some more inputs besides password to validate his/her identity. Thus, multi-factor authentication has proven to be a security solution that helps in restricting and blocking unauthorized and illegal access from malicious users. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one of the easiest, simplest, and widely used multi-factor authentication methods, which most organizations are implementing or willing to adopt.

Single Sign-On

As the name suggests, single sign-on (SSO) requires the user to sign-in only once and gain access to multiple applications and services. Single sign-on leverages users to perform a master sign-in, authenticate the user’s credentials, and store it to perform logins later on the user’s behalf to other inter-connected yet independent application & systems, within a certain domain or network boundary.

SSO solution internally stores the user’s credential and uses it in a different manner to log in and access other applications, at each login. This avoids and saves user efforts in authenticating each time before accessing multiple system and applications. Similar to single sign-on, a single sign-out logs-out the user and terminates access to all interconnected applications and systems.

The greatest and may be the only advantage of using Single Sign-on from a security perspective is that it avoids and reduces the risk involved in accessing a third-party website, where user’s credential needs to be used or managed externally.

From the above discussion, it may be inferred that the SSO is a more user-friendly but less security-centered authentication solution whereas MFA ensures fullest protection with multiple & unique authentication layers. A better approach would be the usage of both SSO & MFA (or 2FA), to deliver guaranteed security and better user-experience, simultaneously.