Two-Factor Authentication: Double your Defense Against Hackers

Enterprise IT, Security
Hacker break digital lock

With the ever aggressive advancement of digital crime from cyber-thieves, and the increase of Internet fraud, companies now fully recognize the importance of high level security. Many businesses know they can’t completely protect their workers’ usernames, passwords and logins through traditional, largely manual means. The companies that really get this use two-factor authentication (2FA) as a defense against hackers trying to gain access to online accounts and company servers.

Traditionally, business security procedures often only required a simple combination of a username and a single password to gain PC, network and application access. Unfortunately online criminals find it rather easy to obtain passwords through malware, social engineering, brute force attacks, or myriad other methods.

How Two-Factor Authentication Works

Often referred to as 2FA, two-factor authentication is a verification process that adds one more layer of credential confirmation to a login process. Also recognized as a multi-factor authentication, 2FA requires the input of the standard password/username combination, as well as, a second piece of information that can only be provided by the authorized individual. With the incorporation of 2FA, cyber-hackers find it far more challenging to access account to steal an identity or obtain crucial confidential information.

In the cyber world, 2FA is now used on a variety of large websites including Yahoo, MSN, Google, and Twitter along with a plethora of banking institutions. By incorporating two-factor authentication into the login process, businesses can dramatically lower the rate of identity theft. It also helps avoid phishing expeditions through email accounts, because the cyber-criminal will need to purloin more than just the standard username and password combination to gain access to accounts and data.

The Process

The process of two-factor authentication is based on establishing an identity using two credentials instead of just one. There are three different ways to establish an identity using an extra layer of authentication:

  • What an Individual Knows – Most of us that do online banking or other web apps know this approach well. Here in addition to the traditional username with an associated password, you answer a question such as your mother’s maiden name or your first pet.
  • What an Individual has –This is usually performed through a smart card, audio port token, USB thumb drive, or other way of verifying the identity of person attempting to gain access. Many companies provide encryption tokens that will display a pin code that randomly changes.
  • What an Individual Is – The second layer of verification can also be acquired through something that the individual is. To gain access online or into a company server, the credentials can be verified through biometrics such as a thumb scan, voice pattern, handwriting style, or a retina pattern of an individual’s eye.

Even if the hacker has the ability to obtain the first level of defense (username/password combination) it is nearly impossible to penetrate the system without the second input from additional factors such as a fingerprint or token.It is difficult to impersonate another individual while attempting to gain unauthorized access to accounts, computers and other resources.

Gaining Access Remotely

When the business world began offering work from home option to workers, a problem quickly arose. Because employees were attempting to gain access into the company server from a remote location it was even more important to ensure they could easily verify their credentials. Using remote logins, was placing the company’s crucial data at risk from outside forces while transmitting data across an unsecured environment (the internet).

Anytime a company has the ability to use a second layer of verification, it is important to take full advantage of the security it provides.

2FA Buyer’s Guide

When implemented correctly and using a quality solution, 2FA will not only keep your digital infrastructure safe, it will do so without inconveniencing your employees. In fact, in most organizations, it doesn’t take long after implementation for staff to fall right back into their old routines. Which is fine, of course, because those old routines are now much safer.

You may want to use 2FA in conjunction with Single Sign On (SSO) to make it easier for employees to sign into your company’s system. SSO allows a user to have direct access to all of the platforms they use, but they only need one credential to access them. It’s like having a single, very secure key to access 100 different doors with 100 individual locks.

SSO is definitely something you’ll want to look for when considering your options for a 2FA vendor. However, remember that just offering SSO isn’t good enough – you need to do a deep dive to understand any 2FA vendor you are evaluating.

Check out our 2FA Buyers Guide for more information.

Originally posted on

Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.
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