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What is Multifactor Authentication?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Multifactor authentication is an online security provision that employs several different forms of verification before allowing access to secured information. The function of multifactor authentication is very much like single factor authentication, but with one very important difference. Single factor authentication usually involves nothing more than entering a valid User ID and related password. Multifactor authentication will include the use of both these forms of identification, but also require additional credentials.

One of the more common forms of multifactor authentication is referred to as two-factor authentication. With this application, the end user will begin the access process by entering the usual User ID and a password. Rather than gaining immediate access to the application, the user will then be prompted to enter or affirm some other type of data in order to verify identity. This second level of security could be as simple as entering what is known as a passmark, often affirming that an image associated with the user is being displayed. In some cases, the passmark may be in the form of a security question that was established when the login credentials were first created.

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Multifactor authentication or MFA can also function in offline environments as well. For example, access to a secured building may be obtained by first entering a numeric passcode, then submitting to some form of biometric verification. The verification could involve using a sensor to scan the fingerprints of the individual attempting to enter the space. If the fingerprints match the image on file and associated with the passcode, entrance is granted. Along with finger scanning, biometric verification may be conducted using voice recognition, a scan of the eye, or even a facial scan.

The need for multifactor authentication has become increasingly necessary as more people conduct transactions online, and as crime rates have made it prudent to secure office buildings so that only authorized personnel may enter. While some people may become impatient with the extra steps before being able to access bank accounts or enter the office space, using a security system like multifactor authentication goes a long way in the fight to prevent identity theft and keep people safe.

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