In our digital world, passwords are as much a part of our lives as Netflix and Amazon. Keeping information online can make it easier to manage your finances, order new jeans, or schedule a dentist appointment. Unfortunately, though, passwords can be easy for scammers to hack, opening the door for identity theft, credit card fraud, and more. Here’s where multifactor authentication (MFA) comes into play. As a means of securing your information, MFA provides an extra layer of protection for your accounts and sensitive data.
Here’s all you need to know about MFA and why it’s an important step in protecting your information.
How multifactor authentication works
Multifactor authentication uses two or more factors to allow the user to sign in to an account. Generally, these will consist of something the user knows, like a password, with one or both of the following:
- Something the user has. This can include a phone, key fob, or smart card.
- Something the user is. This can include an iris or fingerprint scan, or voice or facial recognition.
Accounts that use MFA will not allow the user to sign in to their account unless both factors are verified.
Why multifactor authentication is crucial for protecting sensitive information
While passwords can provide some protection against hackers, they’ve proven to be an abysmally weak barrier against hackers. A recent study by Digital Shadows, a digital risk protection company, found evidence of approximately 15 billion passwords and logins floating around the dark web as a result of 100,000 data breaches. These passwords are for sale to cybercriminals, providing them access to victims’ financial accounts, Social Security data, and more.
In addition to accessing sensitive information, a single password can give the hacker entry into a victim’s private life. For example, by hacking into a victim’s Google account, the cybercriminal now has access to their email history, which can include important correspondence and other information; calendar, which can provide a complete picture of the victim’s upcoming events and meetings; YouTube account, which unlocks the victim’s viewing history and uploads, and any other apps that allow users to sign in with a Google account, such as Asana and Mint.
Unfortunately, passwords can be cracked by amateur hackers, even without a data breach. Many consumers make it even easier for hackers to break into their accounts by using weak, ineffective passwords that are simple to guess, and by using the same password across multiple accounts. For these reasons, using MFA when available — especially for accounts that store highly sensitive information — is crucial for ongoing security and protection. This way, in the event of a data breach or hack providing a criminal with your password or login credentials, your information will still be protected. Without access to your account’s second factor for authentication, the hacker has no way to gain entry into your account.
Where you may encounter MFA
The more sensitive the data stored in an account, the stronger security measures the company hosting the account will use. Consequently, you’re most likely to encounter MFA on banking apps and accounts, money management apps, investment apps, and the like. Depending on your line of work, you may need to use MFA to sign in to your workplace account. Finally, some retailers may offer clients the option of using MFA to sign in to their accounts.
Under each of these and similar circumstances, using MFA means a login time that’s a bit longer and more complicated than just inputting a password or PIN. However, measuring this inconvenience against the time, stress, and money it will take to recover from a potential data breach makes it more than worth the extra few minutes.
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