How Secure is Two-Factor Authentication?

Beyond Identity Blog

Let’s be blunt: two-factor authentication isn't very secure.

It’s a common misconception that two-factor authentication is the most secure way to protect your accounts from malicious threat actors or vulnerabilities. Two-factor authentication, also known as 2FA, is the most primitive form of multi-factor authentication, and while newer solutions are far safer, many organizations still take the traditional route to multi-factor authentication. 

2FA gives a sense of security, but not necessarily a practical means of keeping hackers at bay. Let’s discuss how and why two-factor authentication isn’t as secure as you may think.

How 2FA Works 

As one of the most common methods of verifying identity, 2FA is often touted as a secure authentication solution (despite lukewarm adoption), but it leaves open many opportunities for hackers to infiltrate your most mission-critical applications and systems, putting your login credentials at risk. 2FA uses two different factors to authenticate a login attempt, and these factors fall into three categories—either something you know, something you have, or something you are.

Something you know is one of the most familiar forms of 2FA, utilizing information such as personal identifying questions, or even as simple as a username and password. Something you have could be any number of things, but among the most common include a verification text message code, a security key, or an authenticator app. Finally, the last and most secure category of the three, something you are—this includes any biometric from your fingerprint, to a scan of your retina, to facial recognition software.

Although these 2FA authentication methods sound secure, they largely just help to give the individual a false sense of security. There are newer solutions that are far safer and more secure than 2FA. 

How 2FA Can Be Compromised

While 2FA does add an extra layer of protection to your accounts, there are still many ways in which 2FA can be hacked, including utilizing social engineering, information theft, and other methods. For example, if you are baited to visit a fake or counterfeit website, a malicious threat actor could easily get you to verify the text message or authentication app code you received. Once the hacker has that information, they can use your credentials to access the site you originally intended to, leaving your account vulnerable to attack. This type of attack is known as phishing.

Another example of how 2FA can be compromised is due to force of habit. A user that is distracted may simply hit “approve” without thinking when they receive an email, text message, or other alert asking the user to confirm their identity. Many users simply approve these notifications or verify the application out of habit, without looking into where the request is coming from. This gives the hacker easy access to your account just by knocking on the door, and because you were inattentive, you’ve let them inside your home and given them a key. MFA can be costly to an organization, for more reason than one, and is almost never worth it.

An example of a more strategic 2FA hacking attempt could be a SIM swap, where attackers take control of a victim's phone number by persuading a mobile phone provider account representative to allow the switch, then hijack their personal information, social media accounts, and more. This most notably happened in 2019 to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey after he admitted to “falling behind” on some of his security protocols, and numerous highly offensive Tweets were sent from his account. As a result, Twitter was forced to issue numerous apologies and there was a large public backlash from the incident. Successful hacks don’t just leave your personal information at risk, but also affect public opinion and often result in a loss of consumer trust. Learn more about how MFA can be hacked in our blog post here

How Passwordless Authentication Is More Secure

Now that we know multi-factor authentication, and more specifically two-factor authentication, is not as secure as many believe, Beyond Identity is here to help you keep all your applications and resources safe and secure. 

Unlike traditional MFA, which is subject to many forms of credential-based attacks, Beyond Identity eliminates passwords leaving no credentials for hackers to attack in the first place. Beyond Identity verifies users and identities the same cryptography tools that TLS uses to secure trillions of dollars of transactions daily. Organizations of all industries and sizes reduce risk by eliminating all passwords-based attacks.

Going passwordless may seem like a daunting task, but Beyond Identity makes it easy. Beyond Identity provides secure authentication without adding friction for users.

Request a demo today with Beyond Identity