Beginner’s Guide to Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Written by Molly Murphy on January 13, 2022

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We are living more of our lives online than ever before. Remote work, surges in social media popularity, and the advent of the Metaverse mean that today, our digital identities are just as important as our in-person identities. And keeping our online identities secure is just as critical. 

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an additional layer of security that adds a second layer of authentication during account login to ensure you’re the only one who can access your digital identities. And if you don’t have it, you’re taking a huge security risk. In this article, we’ll take you through what 2FA is, how it works, and why you need it. 

What Is Two-Factor Authentication & How Does It Work? 

Two-factor authentication is a type of account verification process that requires a second factor to prove your login credentials, beyond just a username and password. This second factor is designed to be something a cybercriminal can’t easily replicate, like a personal security question or a code sent to a secured device only you have access to. 

The steps of 2FA vary slightly depending on which authentication factor you choose, but you’re typically asked for the additional security prompt after entering your username and password. If the second factor is a security question, you may be asked your mother’s maiden name, or the name of the street you grew up on, as examples. Alternatively, you may have to enter into the login screen a temporary login code that’s sent to your mobile device. 

For the highest level of access management, most two-factor authentication prompts have to be answered at every login. 

Two-Factor Authentication Examples

While security questions or push codes may be popular examples of second factors, they’re far from your only identity verification options. In two-factor authentication, the second factor generally takes the form of something you have or something you are

The password users create typically takes the form of the factor they know, although it’s possible that security questions, e.g., your first pet’s name or the name of your middle school, can be used to enhance the security of authentication. Factors you have are typically associated with sending a code to a secure private device, like a personal mobile device.

Factors you are refer to biometrics: think of CLEAR retina scanners at airports, or using your fingerprint to unlock your phone. While all these options have their strengths and weaknesses, the correct fit will depend on your organization’s unique needs. 

2FA’s Role in Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management (IAM) is the overarching strategy you use to control who has access to which IT resources and devices, at which clearance levels. While utilizing multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be part of this strategy, 2FA alone is not a complete IAM security solution

Instead of seeing it as your IAM strategy, think of two-factor authentication as the final layer of security that complements a complete solution. Your IAM system should be complex and multi-layered, and there’s a lot of nuance to making it airtight. Check out our identity and access management guide for a more detailed overview. 

Should You Use 2FA?

Simply put, if you aren’t already using two-factor authentication to protect your business accounts, you’re leaving your organization highly vulnerable to account takeover, which can lead to extensive data breaches. 

Pros and Cons of Two-Factor Authentication

The benefits of using multi-factor authentication are obvious: your accounts become nearly impenetrable when nefarious hackers need more than just a password to access your organizational identities. In addition, using 2FA means that even if a data leak causes your company passwords to be compromised, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that your defenses are still secure. 

On the other hand, the added security comes at the cost of minor inconvenience for your staff. Depending on the secondary factor you choose, employees may not be able to access their account if they don’t have their cell phone handy, for example.

Since a security question is another answer to remember, your IT admins may see an increase in password lockout requests from employees who don’t remember their responses. While biometrics are the hardest authentication factor to fake, in order to work successfully, you must also equip all employees with biometric compatible devices or scanners, which means an additional cost to your organization. 

While two-factor authentication may add an extra minute to log in, it’s generally worth it for the increased security and peace of mind. 

How to Set Up Two-Factor Authentication 

How you set up 2FA will depend on which products you’re using. A lot of consumer-based applications (cloud-based or otherwise) can make it as easy as opting in, and setting up your second factor choice at first login. However, most B2B applications support the use of a second factor, but don’t often supply the means to enable it.

JumpCloud makes it easy to enable 2FA from both the end user and the admin perspective. Users will be prompted to set it up at first login, and should they choose to authenticate via Time-Based One-Time Password (TOTP) as their second factor, they can use JumpCloud Protect™ for seamless authentication. 

If they aren’t prompted to set up 2FA automatically or choose to enable it later, they can simply: 

  1. Log in to their JumpCloud User Portal
  2. Go to SECURITY, then Multi-factor Authentication. 
  3. Click SET UP TOTP. 

For full setup instructions, check out our support article. 

If you’re an administrator with billing role, you can enable 2FA for yourself and other admins. Simply login to the JumpCloud Administrator Portal, select “Administrators” under the green circle in the top right corner, and choose “Details” for the administrator who you want to enable 2FA for. Once “Enable MultiFactor Authentication for Admin Login” is selected and you hit “Save,” the admin will receive an email with steps on 2FA enablement. 

For full admin set up instructions, check out our support article. 

Get Ultimate Peace of Mind with 2FA and JumpCloud Protect 

Two-factor authentication is an important aspect of creating an airtight security strategy for your business, and JumpCloud Protect makes 2FA painless for your employees to adopt. 

Don’t take our word for it, though: evaluate JumpCloud free for yourself today. Your first 10 devices and 10 users enjoy full access to all our software until you’re ready to scale, and you’ll receive 10 days of premium 24/7 in-app support to help you get started. 

Molly Murphy

Molly Murphy is a Senior SEO Content Writer at JumpCloud. A self-professed nerd, she loves working on the cutting edge of the latest IT tech. When she's not in the [remote] office, Molly loves traveling, rescuing animals, and growing her all together unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter.

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