In IT security, everybody wants the silver bullet. The one secret, technology or process that will keep their organization safe from security incidents. Sometimes, people think multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the right solution they need. Let’s unpack what MFA can do and the role it plays in a thriving IT security program.
From Magical Thinking to Effective Security: Setting Your Expectations
Instead of falling victim to magical thinking – that a single technology or process will solve your security problems – take a broader view. Think of IT security as your body’s immune system. There are multiple types of cells and other capabilities involved in keeping disease at bay. For example, if your body’s nutrition levels suffer, that will weaken your ability to fight off infection. Likewise, an IT security department that is starved of resources will not operate effectively.
Your IT security expectations need to be based on risk, rather than specific tools. In IT security, there are two components to risk: impact and probability. Impact is the level of damage or cost associated with a security event. Probability is an estimate of how likely a given event is to occur. So with these factors in mind, let’s look at how multi-factor authentication stacks up in improving your security. Let’s consider how impact and probability security factors relate to multi-factor authentication.
Reducing Security Impact With Multi-Factor Authentication
Picture a scenario where a hacker gains access to an executive’s access credentials. They could view sensitive customer data and steal customers. Worse, they could commit significant fraud like authorizing payments. Likewise, an unethical competitor may be motivated to take data from a traveling sales professional using their access credentials.
Multi-factor authentication reduces the impact of security impacts. By adding an additional authentication step to access, especially for sensitive systems containing financial and customer data, less sensitive data will be lost. In some cases, you may choose to use MFA hardware devices to make hacking attacks to reduce the impact.
Optimizing Security Incident Probability With Multi-Factor Authentication
Using MFA to reduce security incidents probability is straight forward. Instead of guessing a password and gaining immediate access, there is a second line of defense. As a result, fewer threat actors will have the capability to break more than one level of authentication.
The Path To Effective Multi-Factor Authentication
Now that you see the conceptual benefits of multi-factor authentication, how will you bring those to life in your company? As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. If you take a “set it and forget it” approach to multi-factor authentication, your security environment will not improve. Here are some of the processes you can use to fine-tune your MFA program.
- MFA Training. For the best results, your staff will become more productive by building MFA into your security training. At a minimum, add it to your new employee IT security training program. If you have recently adopted a new MFA solution, consider offering a specialized training to your IT support group.
- MFA Biometrics. While biometric authentication is still new for many of us, it is an excellent way to add an additional layer of security. Before you implement biometrics, make sure you understand biometric risks.
- MFA and Cloud Assessment. Review whether your use of cloud tools (e.g. software as a service, infrastructure as a service, platform as a service) is compatible with your MFA solution.
- MFA Monitoring. Develop metrics to check whether or not your MFA implementation is working. For example, you may find that employees do not use MFA while traveling because the login process is too time-consuming. You need to know about those system limitations so you can implement improvements.
- MFA Refresh Cycle. Like other technologies, your MFA approach needs to be updated periodically. As a starting point, we suggest reviewing your MFA program every two years. During those reviews, check end-user satisfaction and whether the implementation is keeping up with emerging security risks. Use a survey tool to gather insight on whether or not employees find the MFA solution easy to use.
Enhancing Multi-Factor Authentication With Related Processes
Improving your company’s IT security is a journey. To cover all of your risks, look for other tools and processes. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas to consider.
- Password Management. Most companies will find that multi-factor authentication is not a good fit for 100% of cases. In those situations, you need a strong password policy and the means to enforce it. Look into Password Management as a resource.
- Single Sign-On. Speaking of passwords, asking people to memorize dozens of passwords is a recipe for disaster! Users are likely to get frustrated and start writing down passwords in notebooks or scraps of paper. Instead of overloading users with passwords, use a single sign-on solution.
- IT Security Automation. Ultimately, your IT department can only handle so many requests per day. If they are always overwhelmed with administrative challenges, significant projects like optimizing multi-factor authentication will never happen. To ease the security burden without weakening your defenses. Use Apollo to deliver password policy-compliant service to employees around the clock.
By implementing the above tools, your IT security program will deliver stronger cyber defenses at a lower cost. What if you lack the software tools needed to do your work? In that situation, develop a business case to win the budget for those improvements. Use our article as a guide to get started: Get Your SSO Software Project Funded With a Business Case.
Where To Go From Here
You’ve learned that multi-factor authentication plays a valuable role in improving security. When you add in monitoring, training and periodic updates, it will progressively protect your organization better. As an IT security professional, you understand the nuances of what each security technology can deliver. Based on that knowledge, reach out to your business leaders to show how all of these software tools and processes fit together into a single strategy. When you present a holistic security strategy rather than fixating on single tools, you will be seen as a strategic contributor to the business.