Solutions
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication is the easiest and most effective way to make sure that people who access the application are who they claim to be.

Two-Factor Authentication as a first step
to Zero Trust and Passwordless

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How Does 2FA Work?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a type of multi-factor authentication (MFA). It strengthens user access security by requiring two methods (or two factors) to verify the user’s identity. One of these factors could be something known by the user (like a login name and password), whereas the second one could be something owned by the user (like an authentication app or a smartphone).

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a great way to protect users against phishing scams, social engineering, and brute-force attacks on passwords. It secures the login process against attacks that exploit weak or stolen credentials.

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What Is so Special about 2FA?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one of the core fundamentals of the zero-trust security model. 2FA works in a simple way: anyone who wants to access the protected application first needs to confirm their identity with not one but two different factors. This additional factor makes 2FA a much more effective way to protect against security threats, such as phishing attacks, brute-force attacks, or credential exploits.

For example, let us assume that a person uses their username and password to complete the standard authentication process. This person’s credentials are sent to the app over the internet. The user is then prompted to provide the second authentication factor. In this case, it is a simple push notification sent to the user’s phone over the mobile network. Sending two different factors through two different channels is called out-of-band authentication.

Why is using out-of-band authentication so important?

Because even if the person we used in our example was unlucky and got their computer hijacked online, the cybercriminal will not be able to accept the push notification and gain access. The attacker would need to physically obtain the victim’s phone to complete the authentication process. That is why two-factor authentication that utilizes a physical device is so effective and should be used to secure corporate networks, cloud storage services, and sensitive information stored in applications.

Securing access to all applications with two-factor authentication prevents attackers from infiltrating the company since they would need to obtain the victim’s device to succeed.

Easy 2FA Integration with any Application

One of the best ways an organization can protect its employees against phishing and credential theft is strong two-factor authentication (2FA). However, the process of adopting 2FA may be challenging. It is expensive, time-consuming, and in the case of complex legacy systems, even impossible.

Secfense solves this problem with User Access Security Broker. Secfense broker makes 2FA adoption easy, efficient, and affordable. With Secfense User Access Authentication Broker, every security admin can introduce any 2FA method available on the market on any web application. And there is no need for software development. The whole deployment takes minutes and is easily scalable to all the applications in the company.

Secfense User Access Authentication Broker is deployed as a virtual appliance, and it only requires a security admin to push traffic through reverse-proxy and then apply learning mechanisms. Secfense broker then tracks, monitors, and learns traffic patterns. Next, it uses this data to trigger the 2FA method assigned by the security administrator.

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Full Independence on 2FA Method

Secfense User Access Security Broker is a 2FA agnostic tool. This means it can be used to deploy any 2FA method available on the market. Secfense recommends using FIDO2 since this web authentication standard is the only method that provides full protection against phishing, and at the same time, it is convenient for the users.

We are ready to accommodate customers’ special requests when it comes to choosing their method. We can deploy methods that are based on generating one-time passcodes (SMS OTP) or time-based one-time passcodes (TOTP). Other methods, such as legacy tokens, voice, and face biometric authentication, can also be enabled on the Secfense User Access Security Broker platform.

2FA for Small and Big Businesses

We have built Secfense User Access Security Broker in order to make 2FA accessible and affordable for any organization. Regardless of how many applications you want to protect and whether you are a small organization with a handful of apps or a global enterprise with thousands of applications and tens of thousands of employees, the deployment process is the same. Minimum complexity, maximum scalability.

The biggest and most noticeable benefits of Secfense User Access Security Broker can be seen in large organizations with numerous legacy applications. That is because the software does not create a vendor lock-in effect. Moreover, since the deployment process is the same for any web application, it can be easily repeated regardless of the number of apps.

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What is ‘the Factor’ in Two-Factor Authentication?

Put simply, “Factor” is something that helps users verify their identity. Two-Factor Authentication belongs to many Multi-Factor Authentication methods. 2FA uses two factors to authenticate users, whereas Multi-Factor Authentication uses three or even more factors. There are five types of factors that a person can use to confirm their identity.

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Inherence Factor

The inherence factor is based on things characteristics of a person, or in other words, their specific features. In this sense, a persons’ inherence factor can be an attribute true only to that person. Fingerprint recognition or iris recognition (eye scanning with infrared cameras) are the most popular means of authorization based on inherence factors used today.

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Knowledge Factor

The knowledge factor is a piece of information that can be known only to a specific person. What we mean by that are passwords and passcodes. These security measures should only ever be known to their owners, and under no circumstances must they be shared with other people.

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Location Factor

This factor confirms the identity of a person based on their current location. Methods employing location factors use IP address tracking. Suppose a user usually logs in from one country, but one day there is a login attempt on their account from an entirely different part of the world. This unusual behavior triggers the request for a location factor: the user is asked to confirm it is really them who tried to log in.

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Time Factor

This factor is based on the premise that a person should log in to a given online resource only within a specified timeframe. For example, office employees usually access their company resources between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If someone tries to log in in the middle of the night, they will be asked to confirm their identity.

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Possession Factor

The possession factor can also be described as: “something owned by a person.” It verifies the identity of the person in the authentication process by proving that they are indeed the owner. This factor often comes in the form of a token – a physical device that generates a one-time passcode (known as OTP). This token should be carried by the person at all times and used whenever they need to open an application and authenticate.

User Access Security Broker from Secfense supports all existing possession factors. It can link them to any application easily and in a couple of minutes. This feature is extremely useful due to the abundance of 2FA solutions available on the market, each of them potentially appealing for its different features and functionalities.

Secfense broker eliminates the dangers of committing to a single technology. Suppose a company decides it is better to switch to a different 2FA method. In that case, the transition can be done smoothly and does not require any software development, nor does it affect the work of protected applications. The change is almost effortless and can be completed by a security admin without inconveniencing other employees.

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What Problems Does Strong 2FA Solve?

An increasing number of companies realize how crucial it is to implement strong two-factor authentication mechanisms. This is a general trend that is not limited to a specific industry or big companies. Even smaller businesses need to take precautionary measures since companies are not targeted based on their size but rather on how easy it is to comprise their data. If the risk is considerable and the potential consequences are severe, the company should act to eliminate them.

Organizations start to find passwords alone insufficient to protect against cybercriminals.

Strong 2FA can protect an organization against various cyberthreats, but the most common and serious among them are:

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Compromised Passwords

As mentioned earlier, passwords are one of many factors used for authentication. While being the least secure and the easiest to compromise, this method is still the most commonly used one. There are various ways that can lead to passwords being compromised: from simply sharing them via emails and writing them down on sticky notes to storing them in unprotected databases.

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Phishing Attempts

Cybercriminals will usually send an email with links to malicious websites that either infect a person’s computer or convince them to share their passwords. Once the password is obtained, the criminal can use it to steal data and compromise the entire organization. Two-factor authentication fights phishing by adding a second layer of authentication, which is triggered once the password has been provided.

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Social Engineering

Social engineering is one of the most commonly used phishing techniques. It is based on tricking people into believing that handing over their password to a person or a service that requests it is the correct thing to do. Criminals often pose as employees working at the same company as the victim. They pretend to be an IT professional, a VP assistant, or even a CEO. They will do what it takes to earn the victim’s trust and get their login credentials. Two-factor authentication is an excellent way to protect a person or an organization against this type of malicious manipulation, as it requires a second verification factor apart from the password.

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Brute-Force Attack

In this type of attack, cybercriminals generate random strings of characters in order to guess the right password for a given workstation eventually. Again, two-factor authentication is a remedy for such an attack because it requires the login attempt to be validated first.

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Key Logging

Cybercriminals can use malicious software to steal passwords as they are being typed in. Each keystroke is recorded covertly by the software, which means cybercriminals will learn the password once it has been used by the user. The second layer of two-factor authentication helps to ensure that cybercriminals will not be able to log in, even when they obtain the password.

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What are the Types of 2FA?

User Access Security Broker from Secfense makes it possible to deploy and scale all types of 2FA available on the market. Full flexibility of choice lies at the core of this solution, which means the security administrator is free to choose the preferred method and assign it to a specific user group.

Secfense always helps its customers find the strongest authentication method that is currently available. However, we are also flexible and ready to introduce any other 2FA solution of your choice.

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SMS

SMS-based two-factor authentication verifies the person’s identity by sending a text message with a special code to that person’s mobile device. The person needs to then type in the received code into the website or application in order to authenticate and access them.

Pros

  • Simplicity. SMS 2FA is one of the oldest and most commonly known 2FA methods. It simply sends a code to a person's mobile phone. The code is entered and the access to the information is gained.
  • Speed. If something suspicious takes place, SMS-based 2FA sends a one-time password (OTP) to a person's device, so only the person that physically has this device in his or her hands can log in and authenticate. SMS-based two-factor authentication is a fast way to verify the identity of a person.
  • Universality. SMS-based 2FA is the oldest form of two-factor authentication, so it has become a commonly used security tool.

Cons

  • Connectivity requirement. SMS-based 2FA requires a smartphone with a reception.
  • Can be compromised. Since phone numbers aren’t tied to physical devices, it’s possible for hackers to outsmart this authentication method without accessing a person's smartphone.
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Time-Based One-Time Password

The Time-Based One-Time Passcode (TOTP) 2FA method generates a code on the device. The security key usually has the form of a QR code that the person can scan with their mobile device to generate a short code. Next, the person types the code into the website or application and gains access. The short codes generated by the authenticator usually expire within a couple of minutes or even seconds. If the code has expired, a new one will be generated right away. The user needs to type in the right code within a specific time limit (hence “Time-Based” in the name).

Pros

  • Flexibility. This type of Two-Factor Authentication is more convenient than SMS-based 2FA because it can be used across multiple devices and platforms. SMS-based 2FA is restricted to devices that can receive the message from the operator.
  • Easy Access. Mobile authenticators do not require a person to be connected to the network. They remember which accounts a person is trying to access and can generate a new one-time password at any time, even if they are not connected to the internet.

Cons

  • Dependent on devices. TOTP based 2FA requires the person to have a device that can read the QR code to verify their identity. If a device is lost, runs out of battery, or gets “desync-ed” from the service, a person will lose access to information forever.
  • Can be compromised. It’s possible for a cybercriminal to clone the secret key and generate his or her own secret codes.
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Push-Based 2FA

Push-based 2FA is a slightly improved version of SMS and TOTP-based 2FAs. It provides additional security layers by adding authentication factors that were unavailable in previous methods.

Pros

  • Increased Phishing Protection. The previous two types of two-factor authentication are susceptible to phishing attacks, however push-based 2FA replaces text codes with push notifications which adds an extra layer of security and helps prevent phishing attacks. When a person attempts to access his or her data, a push notification is sent to that person’s mobile phone. The push notification includes various information including location, time, and IP address of the machine on which the login attempt took place. The person needs to physically confirm on his or her mobile device that the info is correct and therefore verify the authentication attempt.
  • Simplicity. Push-based 2FA speeds up the authentication process because there are no extra codes that users need to receive and type in. If users recognize information sent with push notification as correct, they simply accept that login attempt and push a button to confirm. Access is then granted.

Cons

  • Connectivity requirement. Similar to SMS-based 2FA in a Push-based 2FA data network is still necessary because the push is sent to a mobile device through a network. Therefore a person needs to be connected to the internet in order to use this 2FA functionality.
  • Security Awareness. The person that receives Push-based notification needs to be security-aware to be able to recognize if the login pattern looks suspicious or not. When the person doesn’t pay attention to the received message he or she can approve the malicious request and confirm the false IP address or login location.
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Universal 2nd Factor (U2F)

U2F security keys use a physical USB port to verify the location and identity of the person who attempts to access a specific website or application. The user can insert the U2F key into their device and push a button on the U2F device. Once the key is activated, the user needs to enter the PIN code, which will then successfully authenticate them on the website or the app.

Pros

  • Phishing protection. Since there is an actual physical intervention required (a person needs to press, insert, and enter a code into the token), the U2F key protects a person's device from being phished.
  • Backup devices and codes. U2F keys can and should be backed up across multiple devices. This allows a person to replace his or her token whenever the other one is lost or broken.
  • Simplicity. You simply need to connect a U2F key to a USB port and push a button at a specific moment. No technical knowledge or skills are required.

Cons

  • Physical object. As a physical key, the U2F based 2FA is susceptible to being lost or damaged. If a key is lost and there’s no backup U2F key, then the access to the website or application is lost.
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FIDO2 or WebAuthn

Developed by the FIDO Alliance (Fast IDentity Online) and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the Web Authentication API (also known as FIDO2) is a specification that enables strong, public-key cryptography registration and authentication. WebAuthn makes it possible to take laptops and smartphones with built-in biometric technology and use them as local authenticators in an online authentication process.

Pros

  • Convenient. Any website, application, or browser that supports the FIDO2 standard together with a built-in biometric authenticator like TouchID can be used to enable a strong authentication mechanism. The FIDO2 standard is globally used by hundreds of technology brands including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and many more.
  • Phishing resistant. FIDO2 is one of the safest Two-Factor Authentication methods available on the market. FIDO2 allows websites and online applications to trust biometric authentication as a credential that is specific only to that service — this means no more shared secret and therefore they can’t be stolen and exploited.

Cons

  • Biometric requirement. FIDO2 requires biometric verification; therefore, the user will need a device equipped with a biometric reader. Otherwise, they will be forced to use an additional USB-based security key with all the drawbacks this entails.
  • Complex account recovery. FIDO2 based 2FA makes the recovery process more complicated compared to previous 2FA methods. In SMS, TOTP, and Push-based 2FA there’s some form of the account recovery process that a security admin within the company can initiate. In the case of FIDO2 based 2FA, this process is way more difficult because it is always tied to the identity of a specific person. That’s why it is recommended to combine FIDO2 authenticators and for example, use laptop or smartphone biometric authentication but also keep some registered FIDO2 security keys in a safe in case the main device will get stolen or will break.
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Which Industries Use 2FA?

Strong two-factor authentication is becoming more popular across many industries. The type of business niche is not really important. As long as there is a user accessing a website or an application that stores valuable data, there is the necessity to protect credentials and secure the authentication process. User Access Security Broker from Secfense addresses cybersecurity risks primarily in big and medium-sized companies. However, all industries can benefit from Secfense broker, provided they use web applications with restricted login access.

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Healthcare

Unlike the financial and e-commerce industry, the healthcare sector has a somewhat limited cybersecurity budget. This inevitably leads to lower safety levels and an increased probability of cyberattacks.

Additionally, healthcare employees are among the least security aware when it comes to cyber risks. That makes them more prone to fall victim to phishing attacks and social engineering. Therefore, implementing effective security policies is crucial as it can reduce the risk of a data breach. One of the most effective ways to improve cybersecurity across the board is adding microauthorizations.

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Financial Services

The financial services industry was one of the pioneers of two-factor authentication due to a much bigger risk of hacking attempts in this particular sector. There are various local and international regulations that require banks to use strong 2FA in order to protect their customers and employees. Some examples of these regulations are the PSD2 directive (Payment Service Direct 2) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Microauthorizations developed by Secfense make the user journey for the employees of the financial industry much more secure and as convenient as ever. Microauthorizations add additional authorization requirements within the application wherever it is needed.

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Government

As the digitalization trend increases, government institutions are expected to introduce changes to their infrastructure and slowly shift to cloud and mobile solutions. Strong two-factor authentication is an indispensable part of digital transformation and the bedrock of modern cybersecurity. Due to the importance of the government sector, new security measures, including the zero-trust approach for government officials and clients, need to be both effective and user-friendly.

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Retail & E-commerce

Numerous binding security regulations and directives may be the main characteristic of the e-commerce sector. One of these directives, PSD2, is designed to create fair competition between the banking industry and modern payment service providers (PayPal, Google Wallet, Wepay, etc.), which includes introducing two-factor authentication for online purchases. Another regulation, GDPR, introduces significant fines that can be issued whenever an e-commerce company fails to maintain its security policy and falls victim to a data breach.

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Education

Private schools and universities have become popular targets of phishing attacks and social engineering. What is more, it is increasingly common for cybercriminals to attack such organizations from the inside. One known case concerns an IT worker who was employed at a school for many years before committing a data theft at that facility.

These types of inside theft can be avoided with microauthorizations from Secfense. This functionality makes it possible to stop users when they try to access specific resources or perform specific actions in the protected application. Schools manage a large amount of sensitive user data, such as financial status, health situation, etc. This data makes teaching institutions a likely target of cyberattacks, especially since (similarly to the healthcare industry) the security budget in this sector is usually very limited. Schools and universities tend to choose strong two-factor authentication when they want to secure mobile devices and workstations for students and teachers. Protecting these devices with strong authentication mechanisms is usually the first step to maintaining data security at educational institutions.

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Utilities

The energy sector is essential to maintaining national safety; therefore, it needs to secure sensitive data on a global scale. Strong two-factor authentication technology helps energy sector companies in all operations by protecting endpoint devices for all the workforce.

Ensuring endpoint security is the key element to keep projects on schedule without risking security breaches. Strong two-factor authentication also helps the energy industry protect the devices of third-party contractors who often need remote access to the organization’s infrastructure when operating beyond the scope of traditional firewalls.