zero trust and passwordless mfa

How Passwordless and Unphishable MFA Underpins Zero Trust Initiatives

There has been an increase in interest and attention on moving to zero trust security strategies recently. This is a result of the recent uptick in cyberattacks over the past several years. Hackers have been a thorn in the side of IT and security departments for decades, the number of attacks has increased dramatically in the past couple of years due to a sharp rise in remote work. 

Consider these statistics:

  • Check Point Research found the number of weekly attacks the average corporate network experienced rose 50% in 2021 over the previous year. 
  • The Identity Theft Resource Center found that the number of data compromises in 2021 was up an alarming 68% over 2020, and set a new record.
  • Our own research found that 70% of customers stopped using a service because of a publicized breach, highlighting the potential cost to organizations’ bottom lines if they don’t take cybersecurity seriously.

The pandemic only accelerated the shift towards remote work, using protocols and applications susceptible to hacks and breaches. Developers have been quick to patch these issues as they’re discovered, and many organizations are at least making some effort to improve their defenses. However, hackers are usually one step ahead.

Self-service hacking tools, like Ransomware-as-a-Service, make attacks easier than ever to launch, even with little coding experience. The information hackers obtain fetches ever higher ransoms and are increasingly valuable on the dark web. Organizations must take steps now to secure their networks. What’s the best way to do it?

The answer is implementing zero trust security, built upon passwordless and unphishable multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Zero trust basics

Zero trust turns the traditional “castle and moat” cybersecurity mentality, where all the security protections are found at the perimeter of your network, on its head. In traditional cybersecurity, you trust the user by verifying their identity, typically through the username and password, and sometimes using MFA (with additional factors like one-time passwords or SMS text messages).

With zero trust, you never trust (hence the name) and always verify, and consider every action on your network as a potential threat. MFA plays a central role in zero trust, sometimes using factors like cryptographic tokens tied to a particular device and user. During a session, the user only has access to what they need to complete the task. 

Behind the scenes, the session is monitored for suspicious behavior, automatically increasing the number of factors to ensure a request is legitimate. But even with these additional security measures, hackers still get in through password exploits and inherent issues with traditional MFA.

Where most MFA is now

Password-based MFA has long been the gold standard for organizations to implement better cybersecurity. But at its core, legacy MFA still relies on a degree of trust that doesn’t align true with zero trust security. 

Passwords, which are hacked all the time, are still a factor, as well as other easily compromised factors like push notifications, texts, or magic links. All of these factors are insecure and don't provide the security MFA is supposed to – because these codes are easily interceptable and phishable, and it happens more than you think. Also, mone of these factors can assure you the person logging in is who they say they are, and thus won't help you achieve zero trust security. 

We believe it's time to move past the texts, codes, push notifications, and yes, even the password. And we’re not the only ones pushing for better MFA either.

How passwordless and unphishable MFA  help achieve zero trust

Passwordless and unphishable MFA got a huge boost earlier this year when the Biden Administration issued its long-awaited zero trust guidance for the Federal Government. In its ambitious strategy, the government hopes to transition all digital government infrastructure to zero trust by September 2024.

Here’s how passwordless and unphishable MFA differs from legacy MFA solutions:

  • Passwordless: The password is eliminated. Users must identify themselves via an authentication token assigned to the user and device, preventing access from unauthorized devices or credential theft.
  • Unphishable: MFA codes and challenges sent through insecure methods like security questions, texts, push notifications, and e-mail can be easily intercepted. However, biometrics and hardware and software-based keys are much more difficult to crack.

Removing the password eliminates the risk of password-based attacks, the single biggest cause of data breaches. However, strengthening MFA to make it less prone to phishing brings the risk of attack down to nearly zero. Adding in continuous behind-the-scenes monitoring, organizations truly can meet the zero trust requirement that you “never trust, always verify.”

Passwordless and unphishable MFA is the only way to truly achieve zero trust:

  • It is the only solution that provides certainty of identity. Password-based MFA cannot, as there is still a level of trust that the passcodes make it to the legitimate user.
  • With most legacy MFAs, you authenticate only once. With passwordless and unphishable MFA, the user is continuously authenticated, while also adjusting access based on risk. 
  • Legacy MFA is a horrible user experience. Implementing zero trust measures won’t matter if users don’t adopt. Passwordless MFA removes that friction.

However, it’s not merely good enough to be passwordless and unphishable. At Beyond Identity, we believe it should be invisible, too.

How Beyond Identity can help

Long before the Federal Government ordered its agencies to transition to unphishable MFA, Beyond Identity worked on and provided clients the means to transition away from perimeter-based security to a zero trust architecture. From the beginning, we’ve made effortless yet secure authentication the cornerstone of the product, something we call “invisible MFA.”

Our cloud-native platform is not only passwordless and unphishable but frictionless as well. After a simple registration process, users are issued an immutable cryptographic credential tied to the device and user. Logging in after registration is as simple as a click.

Our Secure Work platform integrates easily with just a few lines of code, with support for SSO solutions such as Okta, Ping, Forgerock, and Microsoft ADFS. All MFA factors are invisible to the user and are baked into the process. And Secure Work doesn’t just protect you at login: best-in-class monitoring and risk-based access protect your data during the user session.

The risk of password-based attacks is eliminated, and thanks to continuous monitoring, the risk and scope of any insider attacks are drastically reduced.

Ready to ditch passwords once and for all and learn more about passwordless MFA? Let us show you how Beyond Identity’s invisible MFA will revolutionize how both you and your users think about modern secure authentication. It’s zero trust in its purest form. Ask for a free demo today.