What is Two-factor Authentication (2FA)? How does it work? | Fortinet (2024)

Different Types of Two-Factor Authentication

There are several types of 2FA that can be used to further confirm that a user is who they claim to be. Some of the simpler examples include answering security questions and providing one-time codes. Others use various types of tokens and smartphone applications. Common 2FA types include the following:

1. Hardware tokens for 2FA

Hardware tokens are one of the original types of 2FA formats. They are typically small key-fob devices that generate a unique numerical code every 30 seconds. When a user submits their first authentication request, they can head over to the key fob and issue the code it is displaying. Other forms of hardware tokens include universal serial bus (USB) devices that, when inserted into a computer, automatically transfer an authentication code.

An example of this is YubiKey, which is short for ubiquitous key, a security key that enables users to add a second factor of authentication to services like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. The USB device is used when users log in to a service that supports one-time passwords (OTPs), such as GitHub, Gmail, or WordPress. The user plugs the YubiKey into their USB port, enters their password, clicks the YubiKey field, and touches a button on the device. It generates a 44-character OTP and automatically enters it on the user’s device to verify them with a possession 2FA factor.

Hardware token devices are generally expensive for organizations to distribute. Furthermore, they are easily lost by users and can themselves be cracked by hackers, making them an insecure authentication option.

2. Text message and SMS 2FA

Short message service (SMS) and text message 2FA factors are generated when a user attempts to log in to an application or service. An SMS message will be sent to their mobile device containing a unique code that the user then enters into the application or service. This 2FA factor type has been used by banks and financial services to verify purchases or changes that customers made to their online banking accounts. However, they are generally moving away from this option, given the ease with which text messages can be intercepted.

Similar to the SMS factor is voice call 2FA. When a user enters their login credentials, they will receive a call to their mobile device that tells them the 2FA code they need to enter. This factor is used less frequently but is deployed by organizations in countries that have low smartphone usage levels.

3. Push notifications for 2FA

A more commonly used passwordless two-step authentication format is push notifications. Rather than receiving a code on their mobile device via SMS or voice, which can be hacked, users can instead be sent a push notification to a secure app on the device registered to the authentication system. The notification informs the user of the action that has been requested and alerts them that an authentication attempt has taken place. Then, they simply approve or deny the access request.

This authentication format creates a connection between the app or service the user is attempting to access, the 2FA service provider, the user themselves, and their device. It is user-friendly and reduces the possibility of security risks like phishing, man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, social engineering, and unauthorized access attempts.

This authentication format is more secure than SMS or voice calls but still carries risks. For example, it is easy for a user to accidentally confirm an authentication request that has been fraudulently requested by quickly tapping the approve button when the push notification appears.

4. 2FA for mobile devices

Smartphones offer a variety of possibilities for 2FA, enabling companies to use what works best for them. Some devices are capable of recognizing fingerprints. A built-in camera can be used for facial recognition or iris scanning, and the microphone can be used for voice recognition. Smartphones equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) can verify location as an additional factor. Voice or SMS may also be used as a channel forout-of-band authentication.

A trusted phone number can be used to receive verification codes by text message or automated phone call. A user has to verify at least one trusted phone number to enroll in 2FA.Apple iOS, Google Android, and Windows 10 all have applications that support 2FA, enabling the phone itself to serve as the physical device to satisfy the possession factor.

Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Duo Security, which was purchased by Cisco in 2018 for $2.35 billion, is a 2FA platform vendor whose product enables customers to use their trusted devices for 2FA. Duo's platform first establishes that a user is trusted before verifying that the mobile device can also be trusted for authenticating the user.

Authenticator applications replace the need to obtain a verification code via text, voice call, or email. For example, to access a website or web-based service that supports Google Authenticator, users type in their username and password—a knowledge factor. Users are then prompted to enter a six-digit number. Instead of having to wait a few seconds to receive a text message, an authenticator generates the number for them. These numbers change every 30 seconds and are different for every login. By entering the correct number, users complete the verification process and prove possession of the correct device—an ownership factor.

What is Two-factor Authentication (2FA)? How does it work? | Fortinet (1) Figure 1. Demonstarting SD WAN Use

What is Two-factor Authentication (2FA)? How does it work? | Fortinet (2024)


What is Two-factor Authentication (2FA)? How does it work? | Fortinet? ›

2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. First, a user will enter their username and a password. Then, instead of immediately gaining access, they will be required to provide another piece of information.

What is two-factor authentication 2FA and how does it work? ›

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an identity and access management security method that requires two forms of identification to access resources and data. 2FA gives businesses the ability to monitor and help safeguard their most vulnerable information and networks.

What is two-factor authentication Quizlet? ›

What is two-factor authentication? requires the user to provide two means of authentication, what the user knows (password) and what the user has (security token)

What is an example of two-factor authentication 2FA )? ›

Using two different factors like a password and a one-time passcode sent to a mobile phone via SMS is two-factor authentication.

How well does two-factor authentication work? ›

When Faced With the Question, Is 2-Step Verification Safe? The answer is a sure yes. However, it is not foolproof. There should be additional measures to further prevent hackers from infiltrating the user's accounts.

How does authentication work? ›

Authentication is used by a client when the client needs to know that the server is system it claims to be. In authentication, the user or computer has to prove its identity to the server or client. Usually, authentication by a server entails the use of a user name and password.

How do 2FA keys work? ›

Security keys are one of the most convenient 2FA methods, as well as biometric authentication. Unlike One-Time Passwords (OTP) or Time-based One-Time Passwords (TOTP), all a user needs to do to authenticate their identity with a security key is tap or insert their key into their device.

What does 2FA solve? ›

Two-factor authentication means that a user has to submit two authentication factors that prove they are who they say they are. It is used when a user logs in to an application or system, adding an extra layer of security to simply logging in with their username and password, which can easily be hacked or stolen.

What is an example of authentication? ›

Username and password combination is the most popular authentication mechanism, and it is also known as password authentication. A well-known example is accessing a user account on a website or a service provider such as Facebook or Gmail.

What is the two-step verification process quizlet? ›

A two step verification process is where a computer or mobile device use two separate methods one after the next to verify the identity of a user. Describe how companies use the following recognition, verification, or payment systems: fingerprint, face, hand, voice, signature, and iris.

How does 2FA protect your account? ›

Two-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security to the authentication process by making it harder for attackers to gain access to a person's devices or online accounts because, even if the victim's password is hacked, a password alone is not enough to pass the authentication check.

Why is 2FA bad? ›

Using two-factor authentication (2FA) to log in to your system is better than using a traditional password alone. But if your 2FA code is sent as a text, it could lead to a costly data breach. If you're currently using SMS for your 2FA, you better reconsider.

What is the 2-step verification process? ›

2-step verification adds an extra layer of security to your Google Account. In addition to your username and password, you'll enter a code that Google will send you via text or voice message upon signing in.

What are the disadvantages of 2FA? ›

Dependence on a second factor: E.g., if a smartphone is misplaced, the user will be blocked from their account. Flexibility: IT leads can choose which second factors to deploy. Resistance to change: If users are unfamiliar with 2FA, it could feel intrusive.

Is 2FA the same as 2 step verification? ›

Two-step verification (2SV) is similar to 2FA in that it requires users to provide two different forms of identification to access their accounts. However, 2SV typically uses two factors that belong to the same category, such as two forms of something the user knows (such as a password and a security question).

Do I need two-factor authentication? ›

Two factors are better than one

Even if a hacker knows your username and password, they can't log in to your account without the second credential or authentication factor.

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