Is There an Alternative to 2FA?

Written by Megan Anderson on March 1, 2020

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Two-factor authentication (2FA) can prevent network infiltration, but organizations may refrain from adopting it for reasons such as the integration work it would require, complications with requiring it on different operating systems, applications, network entry points, etc. But is there an alternative to 2FA that’s just as capable of securing a network?

The short answer is no. Though there may be supplementary tools to secure your network, none can reliably secure identities like requiring multiple factors for authentication. Read on to find out why.

Why Use 2FA?

Two-factor authentication was introduced as a way to keep IT resources like networks and accounts secure. It’s a combination of something you know (your credentials) with something you have (a randomized, numerical code retrieved from your device, or a USB key), or something you are (your facial features or fingerprint) for authentication. Adding an extra layer to authentication keeps IT resources secure by requiring more information to verify that the user attempting to gain entry to their resources is authentic.

Of course, there are other ways to secure IT resources, such as enforcing password policies. But no matter how complex a policy requires a password to be, a user’s credentials can still be stolen or otherwise compromised. Two-factor authentication can prevent threats from being introduced to a network in the first place.

Two-factor authentication ensures digital identity thieves can’t get further than the login screen without access to a user’s second form of authentication. This supplementary form of authentication can take the form of an SMS code sent to their smartphone, biometric data, TOTP tokens, or a USB key. Some versions are more secure than others, which we’ll get into later.

Life Without 2FA

2FA is critical in preventing account takeovers and data breaches. For example, in 2019, the data of 190,000 Docker users was exposed. Many employees expressed concern on social media and forums about the company’s reluctance to implement 2FA after the incident, causing speculation that the breach was due to a lack thereof.

Bad actors frequently acquire user credentials via phishing attempts or brute force techniques. Though 2FA doesn’t block bad actors from making these attempts, it prevents them from being able to access IT resources without a secondary form of authentication. Companies that leverage 2FA can save themselves up to $8.19 million per incident in damage control as a result.

Possible Weaknesses

Although 2FA is proven to protect organizations against credential threats, there are some disadvantages and weaknesses. One of the main disadvantages is that it impedes user authentication efficiency. Depending on the delivery method, a user may wait a few seconds or up to 10 minutes to receive their 2FA token.

In terms of security, not all 2FA methods are created equal. SMS 2FA is one of the least secure, as seen in the Reddit data breach of 2018. Bad actors were able to access Reddit user data and a 2007 database backup of salted and hashed passwords by intercepting a user’s SMS token.

Biometrics are considered to be more secure because they can’t be intercepted, but imitators can trick them using a variety of methods, including deepfakes –– where a person’s face is digitally transposed onto someone else. USB keys are some of the more secure 2FA methods, though like your house keys, they can easily be lost, stolen, or damaged.

TOTP tokens are perhaps the most secure, as their limited validity leaves only seconds for bad actors to exploit them. They may have a negative impact on the user experience, though,  because of how quickly the codes expire. Some users may be in the middle of typing their TOTP token, only to have it refresh and make them start again, for instance.

Despite these disadvantages, 2FA is one of the strongest tools for identity security. Requiring only one factor for identification makes that factor a major liability if stolen. Organizations should leverage ways to reduce the significance of any one authentication factor as a result.

Leverage 2FA with JumpCloud

JumpCloud, the world’s first cloud-based Directory-as-a-Service, partnered with Cisco Duo, so admins can require 2FA in the form of biometrics, SMS codes, TOTP tokens, or physical keys –– per their organization’s requirements. This comes along with many other identity and access management features admins can use to keep their organization secure. 

Want to know more about how to use JumpCloud for 2FA? Schedule a demo or register for a free account. For any questions, feel free to reach out to us.

Megan Anderson

Megan is a content writer at JumpCloud with a B.A. in English from MSU Denver. Colorado-born and raised, she enjoys hiking, skiing, and all manner of dogs.

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