The present information technology era has been perceiving rising and severe cyber-attacks, especially security and data breaches. Weak and stolen credentials & passwords may be seen as one of the prime reasons behind most of the intrusion and data breaches. Thus, it generated the need of either replacing or making the passwords based authentication more stronger and 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 suggest, two-Factor authentication defines the mechanism of verifying and validating the user’s login credibility via two different authentication layers. First layer of authentication check involves user’s credential check i.e. username and password. On successfully passing the password based authentication, the user is directed to second layer of authentication check, where he/she needs to enter the security hardware or software tokens to get themselves authenticated. and finally, the authorized user gets the access.
Two-Factor authentication check and validates the login based on following attributes:
Something that 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 him/herself authenticated in the first security check.
Something that 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 check, a user need to provide the security token or code to verify his/her credibility in the final authentication check and accordingly gets 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 & unique parameters to verify and validate the user authenticity.
Basically, in MFA, a user is made to go through defined sequence of authentication checks, starting from initial authentication check based on password to more stringent authentications. These multiple & stringent authentication checks comprise of different factors to verify and validate the user authorization.
- 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
So, What’s the difference between MFA and 2FA?
Nothing. 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. Authentication checks involving more than one authentication layers/parameters falls 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 him/herself authenticated.
2FA solutions like REVE Secure guarantees stronger and uncompromising security with their powerful two-factor authentication. Visit REVE Secure, to learn more.