What Is Multi Factor Authentication And How Does It Work?

Multi Factor authentication (MFA) is a layered method for accessing secured websites, online resources, and mobile apps by proofing your identity before gaining access.

Multi Factor Authentication
Multi Factor Authentication | Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The goal of MFA is to help you gain access to your online account or a website or probably a program you want to log into by requesting two or more identification credentials. Multifactor authentication provides a layer of defense to keep hackers or unauthorized persons from accessing your location, computer, or network database.

Types of MFA Methods

The use of authentification factors can make hackers’ jobs more difficult. For MFA, an additional layer of security is meant to increase assurance that someone who wants to access a system is who it claims to be.

The three most common categories, or authentication factors, are often described as

  • Knowledge Factor – something only the user knows
  • Possession Factor – something only the user has
  • Inherence Factor – something only the user is.

MFA works best when any two of these factors above are combined as credentials.

Knowledge Factor

This is when the user is asked to answer personal security questions. These knowledge factor authentications are typical passwords, one-time passwords (OTPs), and personal identification numbers (PINs)

Possession Factor

This method needs the user to have a unique login possession. A smartphone token or sim card provides an ideal possession factor authentication with an OTP application.

Inheritance Factor

This method uses biological traits to help the user confirm and log in to his account. The technologies in inherent factors include voiceprints, recognition fingerprints, scans, and the very popular sci-fi iris and retina scans.

The most popular form of multifactor authentication is two-factor authentication (2FA) which is used by online services like Gmail and yahoo.

Multi factor authentication vs. two-factor authentication

The reason authentication strategies were introduced, the intention was to add extra security to access management options and keep it as simple as possible for users to log into their accounts. By then, two forms of security level were enough to give a user access to a system, and these authentication forms were 2FA which typically are username and password or bank card and ATM pin.

Unfortunately, these forms of authentication became easy for hackers to crack. This led to companies investing more time and funds into user authentications so as to look for a more robust form of user authentication that will include extra security factors for verification.

Pros and cons of MFA

The main objective of MFA is to strengthen users’ identities and ensure that secure access to their systems and applications is not compromised. However, while multifactor authentication seems to be catching up in this digital age, people still find it a bit frustrated because they often forget the answers to personal questions that authenticate or validate their identity.

Here are some more benefits and disadvantages of using multifactor authentication.


  • It adds a new level of security at the personal, hardware, and software identification levels.
  • Random generated OTP’s sent to phones in real-time are pretty tricky for hackers to crack.
  • MFA is safer to use than passwords alone. Its believed to reduce security breaches by up to 99.9%.
  • MFA is easy to configure
  • It helps companies to restrict access to certain activities based on time, day, or location.
  • It is scalable – they are highly sophisticated MFA tools and more affordable for small business owners.


  • Requires the use of a phone to receive text code messages.
  • Hardware tokens can get damaged, stolen, or misplaced.
  • Phone can be stolen or lost.
  • The biometric fingerprint data calculated by multifactor authentication MFA is not always correct – it sometimes generates false positives.
  • MFA is not reliable if there is no fast internet connection or there is a power outage.
  • MFA techniques need to be continuously updated to stop hackers work endlessly to crack the authentications.

One reasonably valid concern about biometric information is that so much secured data gets compromised daily. This is why many people are still objecting to having their biometric information tracked and stored in a database.

Why is multifactor authentication necessary?

One downside to using traditional usernames and password login is that passwords can easily be cracked and compromised, which can be very costly for organizations. Brute force logins are also real threats from cybercriminals who can automate password cracking tools to suggest user ID and password combinations until a correct sequence is discovered.

While auto-locking an account after many incorrect login attempts is one security level, hackers continue to look for more sophisticated methods to gain access to the system.

This is the reason multifactor authentication  MFA is considered very vital to reduce online security breaches.

Why Some People don’t Use Multifactor Authentication

Here are few reasons why some people are not using the MFA yet.

  • Some services don’t support it yet.
  • Some people share accounts with their better half or a business partner, so they can’t both use the same phones simultaneously.
  • Some people just plain can’t be asked to add another step to their login process.

However, if you care about keeping your data from being stolen by online hackers, then the message is clear – use multi factor authentication to keep data thieves at bay. It is worth all the effort.

So, if your service doesn’t support it, maybe you should find one that does. And if you share an email account with your significant other or business partner, get your own personal email – they aren’t exactly expensive.

But if you simply don’t care about someone hacking into your account, then I think you’re underestimating what hackers with access to your accounts can do to you.

In conclusion

It’s much harder to hack somebody’s account when there are multiple authentication forms in place. It is also extremely vital to make people be aware of multi factor authentication and how it can deter potential hackers from gaining access to private data. Multifactor authentication is an excellent way to help keep you, your data, and everything else about your business secured.


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