Multi-Factor Authentication

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What Does Multi-Factor Authentication Mean?

Multifactor authentication (MFA) is a security mechanism in which access to a digital or physical resource requires more than one validation procedure.

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MFA plays an important role in zero trust, a data-centric cybersecurity strategy that assumes no end-user, computing device, web service, or network connection is free from pretense — even when an access request originates from within the organization’s own network perimeter.

End users will know when a provider uses MFA because they will be prompted for at least two pieces of identification when logging into services or applications. For example, the user may first be asked for a user name and password — and then be required to enter a randomly generated, time-sensitive PIN sent in a text message or provided by a mobile authentication application.

Techopedia Explains Multi-Factor Authentication

MFA makes it more difficult for attackers to access a computing system with login credentials obtained by brute force, dictionary attacks or phishing.

A layered approach to authentication requires approval for two or more distinct authentication factors. Commonly used authentication factors are something you know, something you have and something you are. Some approaches to MFA also include location awareness.

MFA authentication supports physical, logical and biometric security.

  • Physical security — Validates and authenticates a user based on their location and possession of an authorized security token.
  • Logical security: Validates and authenticates a user based on their knowledge of a authorized password or personal identification number (PIN).
  • Biometric security: Validates and authenticates based on a the user’s physical characteristics, including their faceprint, fingerprints, retinal scan and voice.
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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.