Improving your organization’s cybersecurity posture can be a daunting task, especially for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that don’t have staff or resources dedicated to staying on top of the constantly evolving cyber threat landscape.
But what if we told you there was something you could (and should!) do to immediately make your organization more secure, whether you’re an SMB or large enterprise?
A must-have cybersecurity layer, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a simple and highly effective way to keep cybercriminals out of your network—and one of the most important things you can do to prevent a cyberattack.
If you haven’t enabled MFA yet, now is the time.
What is multi-factor authentication?
Also commonly known as two-factor authentication, MFA requires users to provide multiple forms of verification to access an application, account, or even a corporate network. For example, after entering your password, you may then be prompted to enter a one-time code sent via text message or verify your sign-in attempt through an authentication app on your mobile device.
Authentication options typically fall into three categories: something you know, (e.g., a PIN or security question); something you possess (e.g., your smartphone or a physical security token); or something you are (e.g., fingerprint or other biometric recognition).
By requiring additional forms of verification, MFA layers an additional security measure on top of the traditional username and password, forcing an application to double-check the identity of the user before granting access.
Why is MFA so essential?
As the cybersecurity landscape changes and the threat of malware, phishing, and other attack vectors increases, passwords have become a notoriously ineffectual security measure for several reasons:
- Without a strong password policy in place, end-users often generate weak or obvious passwords that are easy for cybercriminals to guess.
- Passwords are commonly re-used across different accounts. According to Microsoft, up to 73% of passwords in use are duplicates.
- Credentials are frequently stolen in data breaches and then sold to the highest bidder on the dark web.
In short, passwords are a problem that can leave organizations highly vulnerable to a breach, with more than 80% of hacking-related security breaches involving stolen credentials per the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.
And as businesses increasingly move toward cloud-based and SaaS solutions and tools such as single sign-on (SSO), compromised credentials pose an even greater threat, as a single password can be exploited to gain access to all applications and systems within an organization’s cloud-hosted environment.
Amid this changing landscape, MFA has emerged as an effective, user-friendly, and easy-to-integrate solution to the password problem. The additional forms of authentication required can stop hackers in their tracks, preventing them from exploiting weak or compromised end-user credentials to access your network. In fact, when implemented correctly, MFA blocks more than 99% of unauthorized login attempts, even if a hacker has a copy of a user’s current password.
How should businesses implement MFA?
Our rule of thumb is that MFA should be enabled for all internet-facing applications. This can be accomplished natively within an individual application or more comprehensively via a third-party application. For an organization-wide solution, we recommend that businesses implement third-party MFA.
Built-in MFA vs. third-party MFA
If you take a closer look into the security settings of the applications your organization uses, you will find that most offer built-in MFA or two-factor authentication (2FA) capabilities. This is common in the consumer space (e.g., online banking) as well as across business applications such as email clients, enterprise resource planning systems, and professional services automation platforms, and more.
And while it’s true that using any form of multi-factor authentication is better than relying on usernames and passwords alone, managing MFA for your business through numerous disparate applications isn’t the most dependable way of safeguarding your users and your network.
Instead, we recommend deploying MFA through a third-party application, which provides greater security at the organization level. With third-party MFA, you can manage all of your organization’s users, applications, and devices through one central platform. Additionally, third-party MFA applications are developed by providers whose core business is security, rather than by a vendor for which security is an add-on.
Keys to Success with Multi-factor Authentication
For any cybersecurity initiative or solution to be effective, end-user awareness, education, and adoption are key.
Are your employees aware of common cyber threats they may encounter anytime they access the internet? Are they aware of the tools your organization deploys to mitigate these threats and why those tools are so important? Your people can be your strongest line of defense or your biggest vulnerability, as it takes only a single click on a phishing link to unwittingly grant a cybercriminal access to your entire network.
Employees should receive regular education and training on cybersecurity basics and best practices, including how to identify phishing emails and other common cyber scams intended to trick them into giving up their passwords or downloading malicious files. They should also be trained on how to use your MFA solution and other cybersecurity tools to protect their accounts and your organization’s network.
Your cybersecurity toolkit will not be effective if it’s not being used, so these tools need to be easily adopted into your users’ everyday interactions. With MFA, having to comply with a different authentication method for each application can be frustrating for employees and disruptive to their workday. We’ve found that using a single third-party MFA application gives end-users a more streamlined experience—and one that becomes a predictable part of their workday. For example, if they know to expect an alert or message from the third-party MFA application (also known as a push notification) when accessing cloud-based applications, that reliable experience reduces friction and can help your end-users develop good cybersecurity habits.
A Must-Have Layer in Your Security Approach
And remember, while MFA is a must-have security solution, it should not be the only tool in your cybersecurity approach. No single tool can guarantee your network’s security, which is why it’s so important to take a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity. With layered security, each component of your cybersecurity plan has a backup to counter any flaws or gaps a cybercriminal might try to exploit to breach your network.
If you're still relying on usernames and passwords, your network security is at risk. But MFA offers a simple, highly effective security layer that is easy to integrate within your technology environment. Our team of security specialists can help you immediately improve your cyber posture with a solution that meets the needs of your users and your IT requirements.