MFA Vs. 2FA: Understanding the Key Technical Differences

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The Differences Between Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) Vs. Two-factor Authentication (2FA) Explained

To make your website difficult to breach, additional layers of security are needed, and identity authentication is here to save your day. Though two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are used interchangeably, they differ. To understand Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) vs. Two-factor Authentication (2FA), it is important to decode what is what and then see how they differ from each other.

So before we discuss Two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA), Let us start with 2FA.

What is 2-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security measure that requires a user to provide two forms of identification to enter a system or service. It combines two different factors of authentication together to prevent an attacker from getting hold of an account or resource.

The first factor is typically something the user knows, such as a password, and the second factor is something the user has, such as a token or an app on their mobile device.

For example, a user might be prompted to enter their password and a code generated by a token or an app on their phone.

2FA is widely used in online services, financial, healthcare and other sensitive applications, where security is paramount. The goal of 2FA is to ensure that only authorized users can use an account or a resource and to prevent fraud, hacking or any other security breaches. By adding an extra layer of security, 2FA makes it much harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access.

The way Two-factor authentication (2FA) is implemented can vary, but most commonly, it is done through an SMS message or an authentication app, like Google Authenticator or Authy, that generates the code.

2FA is commonly used in situations where a higher level of security is needed. It is often used in the financial services sector, in online banking and payment systems, and in other sensitive applications such as email, social media, and cloud storage.

Two-factor Authentication (2FA) can also be called a subset of multi-factor Authentication and is also commonly known as two-step verification.

 Clear about Two-factor authentication (2FA) ? Let us get started with multi-factor authentication (MFA) now.

What is Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)?

The mechanism of multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is just like 2FA. However, it requires multiple methods of authentication from separate categories of authentication methods. This helps to ensure that a person seeking access to a system or information is who they claim to be and makes it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access. Examples of authentication methods that can be used in MFA include user passwords, user security tokens, and fingerprints. By requiring more than one form of authentication, MFA provides an added layer of security.

There are generally three types of factors that can be used for an MFA:

  • Knowledge-based Factors: It can be a password or a personal identification number (PIN); only that the user has.
  • Possession-based Factors: A security token or a mobile phone makes up for a possession-based factor.
  • Inherence-based Factors: Inherence-based factors include fingerprint or facial recognition.

With multi-factor authentication (MFA), a user must provide at least two of these factors to gain access to the system or service. For example, a user might be prompted to enter their credentials, and then a code sent to their mobile phone via text message or generated by an app. The combination of the password and the code sent to the phone verifies the user’s identity, and compared to 2 FA, it is much harder for an attacker to obtain both the credentials and access to the phone.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is commonly used in corporate environments and situations where access to sensitive data is involved, such as government, health care, and various services like AWS. MFA can also be used for control, either for on-premise or cloud-based systems or for securing resources over the internet against unauthorized parties.

Now that we know what Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is let us go to the difference between Two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA).

What are the Key Differences Between Two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA)?

When we talk about the differences between MFA and 2FA, the number of authentication factors is an obvious difference. But, apart from that, it is important to consider that the MFA is used for three authentication factors, and both of them come with different security levels and convenience of implementation, and the different amounts of time demanded for the verification process.

Let us discuss some of the differentiating factors.

Is Two-factor Authentication (2FA) is more secure than MFA?

Thus, in terms of security, MFA is generally considered to provide a higher level of security than 2FA. This is because MFA makes it more difficult for an attacker to intercept a system or information, as they would need to have multiple forms of authentication rather than just two.

2FA requires two separate methods of authentication, typically their credentials and a security token or a code sent to their phone or email.

MFA, on the other hand, requires more than two methods of authentication. Apart from using the same methods as 2FA, it also uses additional methods like biometrics.

Ease of Application When It Comes to 2FA and multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is generally considered to be easier to implement and use than MFA as it involves only two methods of authentication. These methods are relatively simple and easy to use, and most people are already familiar with them.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA), on the other hand, requires more than two methods of authentication. It can use the same methods as 2FA, but sometimes it also involves additional methods like fingerprint, facial recognition, etc. These additional methods of authentication can be more complex and may require additional hardware or software to be implemented. Due to this, it becomes more difficult for users to set up and use.

Flexibility of 2FA vs. MFA Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) differ in terms of flexibility because MFA is more flexible than 2FA.

2FA typically requires two authentication methods, so it is relatively simple, but they may not provide enough flexibility to meet the needs of all organizations. MFA requires more than two authentication methods and can use a combination of different authentication methods. This allows for a wider range of security options, which can be customized to meet an organization’s specific needs. This allows for a wider range of security options.

Scalability Between multi-factor authentication (MFA) and Two-factor authentication (2FA)

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is generally more scalable than two-factor authentication (2FA). As 2FA typically demands two methods of authentication, they may not be able to handle a large number of users or a large number of applications. However, MFA requires more than two methods of authentication and can handle a larger number of users and a larger number of applications.

Cost Of These Authentications: 2FA and MFA

MFA may be more expensive than 2FA, as it may require additional hardware or software and ongoing maintenance costs. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is typically less expensive as it can be implemented using existing technologies without additional hardware or software.

In MFA, the use of hardware or software, such as biometric scanners, security tokens, or smart cards, can increase the cost. Apart from that, MFA requires ongoing maintenance and support costs and the cost of updating the system when new authentication methods become available. This makes MFA a costly technology to use.

So these are the basic difference of the 2-factor authentication vs. multi-factor authentication debacle.

Two-Factor Authentication Vs. Multi-Factor Authentication

As already discussed, 2FA uses 2 factors to verify a user’s identity, while MFA uses more than 2. The latter obviously tends to be more secure, but it also depends on the chosen methods and can be less convenient for users. However, depending on the implementation, 2FA can still be considered part of MFA. A more standard implementation of MFA includes 3FA, where 3 factors are required.

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.