We are living in a digital world now - at least most of us are. While we cannot say that everybody is living in a digital world, most youths of urban areas sure are. They get their education from the internet, they get their news from the internet, they get their entertainment from the internet and most of the urban youths are employed on the internet.
If this is not living in a digital world, then what is? That being said, the digital world is dangerous. Since virtually everybody is hidden behind a screen, there is no way to tell who is who. Due to this, it is rather easy to pretend to be somebody to steal someone's information. Thankfully two-factor authentication is here.
For those who are unaware of what a two-factor authentication, 2FA for short, is - it is a verification method for accessing accounts that uses more than one factor. Yes, this is a security method used during the login process. If you didn't know, your account contains a lot of your personal information. Things like your email id, location, and payment details are all included in your online accounts. And if someone with malicious intent gets access to your account data, they can easily ruin your life.
The best that could happen is to use your data to send you annoying ads. The worst-case scenario is blackmailing you potentially leading to your death, or using your identity to frame you and your close ones.
While it is scary to think about this, it is a real risk that you should be aware of. And two-factor authentication is one of many methods used to prevent this from happening. Curious about what this method is and how it works?
let's get started then shall we?
What is a Two-factor authentication method(2FA) method?
The simple definition of 2FA is a method of cyber security used while accessing an online account that uses more than one method of identity verification.
The first method of authentication in 2FA is email and password. But as you may know, emails and passwords can easily be stolen and used to access information. But if there is a two-factor authentication method implemented in a forum where you have your account, you will need to verify yourself even after entering your username/ email and password.
While this may seem strange, 2FA is common. Do you remember how google sends you those annoying emails on your phone whenever you try to change your password? Well, this is an example of a two-factor authentication method. Not only is google checking your email but also confirming your phone number as well. If you don't have your phone, then you will be asked to answer some questions or check the inbox of your secondary email.
All three of these are two-factor authentication. As long as you require more than one method to verify that the one accessing the account is you, it is a two-factor verification.
By now you should know what it is and the basic gist of what a 2FA is and are probably curious about how this thing works. So let's talk about it.
How do Two-factor Authentication 2FA works?
The basic concept of how this method of cyber security work is rather simple. The site or app with your account asks for your user ID or email along with your password as the first factor of authentication. Then depending on the application or the website, they will use a separate medium, usually your device or biometrics as a second factor for authentication.
The second factor will differ depending on the application or the website you are trying to access. This is where the workings of 2FA vary. Although the first factor of authentication can still differ, for the most part, it is your user ID or email along with your password.
The second factor is also where the types of two-factor authentication are separated. So let's look at some of the types of two-factor authentication.
1) Hardware tokens
This is one of the simplest types of two-factor authentication. In this type of two-factor authentication method, an application or a website generates a string of random numbers every 30 seconds. When the user accesses their account in a platform with this type of cyber security, the platform displays these codes on a device. The users then look at these codes and access their accounts.
As you have guessed this method needs a separate device to generate the randomized code. Since each authorized user has a small device that generates a code, it is also one of the most secure 2FA methods out there.
But there are a few drawbacks to this two-factor authentication method though. Firstly, the additional requirement of a device that is specified to generate the 2FA code makes this method one of the most expensive methods for average people. On top of this, since the devices that generate these randomized strings of numbers are small, they can easily get lost.
2) SMS toText Message and Voice-based two-factor authentication method
We include these two methods in a single point because both of these 2FA methods are quite similar. Let's talk about the SMS-text message two-factor authentication method first.
SMS to text message 2FA
This is one of the most common methods used for two-factor authentication. You probably have used this method and multiple times at that as well. Remember our example about google sending you messages each time you try to change your password, well this is it.
This method for 2FA uses your phone number and uses it to verify your authenticity. When you try to access the account of the platform with this form of cyber security, you will be sent a code or a string of words as an SMS to your sim card. This is called One-time passcode and it is unique every time.
Once you receive this method, you can then enter the passcode to verify your identity. Now while these passcodes can be pure numbers, they can also be a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
Voice-Based Two Factor Authentication
The process behind this 2FA is the same as Sms to text Message. The only difference between these two is that instead of sending you an SMS on your sim number, you will instead receive a call. Once you pick up the call, a machine will tell you our time passcode. The call will end after that.
Once this call has ended, you are required to enter the OTP (One-time passcode) that you just heard to authenticate yourself. Should you fail to enter the correct passcode, you will be required to ask for another one.
As you may have noticed, this method of 2FA is heavily reliant on your cell service. So this method won't work if you are having issues with your SIM card or networks. At the same time, should your SIM ever be stolen, your account will come at a risk.
At the same time, if you somehow fail to get all the digits/ characters of OTP correct in a voice-based 2FA of this type, it can get quite annoying. However, it is safe for the most part and can be used even when your internet service is disturbed.
3) Software Token Two factor authentication method
This is one of the most popular 2FA methods out there, at least when it comes to businesses and official organizations. In this method of two-factor authentication, the user must download a separate application on their smartphone.
This app will then generate random codes at a specified time interval which the user can enter along with their email/ user ID and password to gain access to their account. In a lot of ways, this method is the hard token 2FA but without the hardware. The only difference is that this method uses software instead of hardware.
While this method is not foolproof by any means, it is still the next best thing after the Hard token two-factor authentication. There are a few drawbacks to this method of 2FA though. Firstly it is heavily reliant on the internet. If you need to access your account in a place without internet, then this method won't work.
Its second drawback is that it heavily relies on the device with the application as well. If you don't have that device close at hand and need to access your account, then you won't be able to do it - unless you ask for permission to install the application in your current device which presets its own set of challenges.
4) Push to Notifications two-factor authentication
This is a rather new and different approach for two-factor authentication and one of the most advanced from as well. In this method of two-factor authentication, the application or platform registers the device. Whenever the user logs in to the application/ website, it sends a notification to the device.
The user can then accept or deny the login notification with a single click of touch. As you may have guessed, one can easily set up a supporting application that automatically enables the said notification to be approved to gain instant access. And this form of two-factor authentication is not fully automatic, it is very close to being one.
But as one can guess this method is heavily reliant on the internet. If the intent gets disconnected mid-way or the device somehow malfunctions, the user won't be able to access their account. At the same time, since all one needs to do is click a button or touch a notification, should there be any breach in the device itself, the risk for a data breach is rather huge.
5) Other Types of two-factor authentication
Besides the mentioned types of two-factor authentication, there have been some more developments on a few new types as well. These factors include two-factor authentication through biometrics, sound, and behavioral patterns.
That being said, the only successful method among these is Two-factor authentication related to biometrics. For those who don't know what biometrics is, it is the information given by your body. This includes things like a fingerprint, retinal pattern, facial features, and voice. So any authentication that requires your fingerprint, voice, facial features, or retina scan can be considered as a biometric two-factor verification method.
Some of the examples of this are fingerprint scanners, voice locks, and facial lock features. That being said, since we have not been able to develop any of these technologies extensively besides the fingerprint scanner, there is still a huge margin of error in this method of two-factor verification.
How secure is it?
In general, two-factor verification methods are quite secure. The leading causes of security breaches still are stolen, reused, or weak passwords. But once an account gets an added security of two-factor verification, the security significantly increases.
However, most of the two-factor verification still relies on an additional device or an application. Should the device or the application be compromised in any way or form, the security given by two-factor verification can be breached.
For instance, if you do not block your SIM card as soon as you lose it, any person why gets hold of it can use it to access your google account or any other forms of account that rely on SMS Text to Message and or Voice-Based Two-factor authentication.
Or if a person manages to hack their way through to the code generator of the soft token verification method, any and every account that uses that application can get compromised. The most secure two-factor verification so far is the ones that use biometrics. This is because while not impossible, biometrics are quite hard to forge and duplicate. The only issue with this method is that devices that use biometrics as a primary source of two-factor verification are not adequately advanced enough for them to work seamlessly.
In the end, regardless of the flaws within 2FA or the annoyances you feel, it is still better than the simple email/ user Id and password verification method. All one needs to do is know one of these and the rest can be guessed with a little bit of personal information and some skills with programs.
Is two-factor verification 100% secure? No, it isn't but it is secure enough for the average person to use. Did you this interesting and helpful? If yes, why not check out some of our other articles linked below. And if you have any queries regarding cyber security and web development, you can give us a nudge by following this link here.
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