2FA and MFA: What’s the difference?

2FA and MFA: What’s the difference?

Weak passwords and stolen credentials are among the most common causes of data breaches. So if your password is “password,” “123456,” or “qwerty,” then it may be time for a change. Using a hard-to-guess password is a strong first step, but this alone can’t guarantee protection from cyberattacks.

Additional layers of security make it more difficult for cybercriminals to access your accounts and sensitive data. Fortunately, two-factor authentication (2FA) and multifactor authentication (MFA) offer such by requiring you to verify your identity using a combination of different factors before granting you access. These factors can be:

  • Knowledge factors – something you know (e.g., password or personal identification number)
  • Possession factors – something you have (e.g., unique code sent to your mobile phone number)
  • Inherence factors – something you are (e.g., fingerprint, voice recognition, or retina scans)
  • Location factors – somewhere you are (e.g., IP or MAC address)
  • Behavior factors – something you do (e.g., recreating a specific pattern or picture password)

2FA and MFA are often used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two as well as certain advantages to using one over the other.

What is the difference between 2FA and MFA?

Strictly speaking, 2FA uses two authentication factors and MFA uses at least three. 2FA is commonly used when someone misspells or forgets their password or when they log in from a new device. Meanwhile, MFA may be triggered by a failed two-step authentication process or a requirement to secure highly sensitive accounts, information, or data.

Aside from requiring a different number of authentication factors, these methods vary in terms of security level and ease of use.

Level of security

It can be easy for an attacker to obtain your login credentials, but it’s unlikely that they could also get a hold of your mobile phone to get past an additional SMS authentication. Still, push notifications and phone numbers as identifiers are not 100% secure.

This is why adding a third authentication factor, like your biometrics, provides an extra layer of protection to your sensitive information. Inherence factors are especially hard to steal or hack, and that makes them highly valuable authentication factors.

Knowing this, it's safe to say that MFA is certainly more secure than 2FA. However, there’s another aspect to consider before deciding to implement multiple authentication methods.

Ease of use

Verifying your identity several times to access a single account can be cumbersome and time-consuming. If verification prevents you from getting work done, you may start looking for ways to speed up the process, like using easy-to-remember passwords or passcodes for multiple accounts. Doing so undermines the effectiveness of multiple authentication factors, making 2FA a more reasonable option.

And since 2FA requires only two authentication factors, you can steer clear of the sometimes unreliable and inconvenient process of biometrics verification. For instance, the lack of proper lighting can affect the appearance of your face and make it hard for a facial recognition system to confirm your identity. Similarly, a fingerprint scanner will sometimes only recognize your fingerprint if you place your finger in a specific position or angle.

That’s why it’s important to consider the combination of authentication factors you will use to make sure it strikes the right balance between security and convenience. Doing so will ensure that the authentication process is secure without being a hassle.

Which authentication method is better?

MFA makes it harder for attackers to bypass the additional layers of security, but 2FA is easier and more cost-effective to implement, especially for a greater number of users. It all boils down to how important your accounts and data are, and just how much time and effort you’re willing to dedicate to protect them.

We at WDIT can help your Connecticut business create and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to protect against the latest cyberthreats. Call us today to get started.

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