What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?

By Vince Lujan Posted April 1, 2019


Two-factor authentication (2FA) basically means that you need more than just your core username and password to authenticate and gain access to various IT resources. Rather, 2FA leverages your credentials in addition to a secure 2FA token, such as a numerical code sent to your smartphone or perhaps a physical security key for authentication purposes. By enabling 2FA, IT admins can dramatically increase security throughout their organization. Of course, the challenge is actually implementing 2FA in such a way that balances security with convenience.

Overview of Two-Factor Authentication

As IT security has become a major focus for modern organizations, IT admins are searching for the best ways to secure their networks. At the core of this challenge is identity and access management (IAM), which ensures that only the correct users can gain access to critical IT resources. Prior to the introduction of 2FA, the majority of IT organizations leveraged the core username and password to secure access to crucial resources such as systems and applications. However, as compromised user identities have become the primary attack vector in the modern era, IT admins have been forced to find another way to provide secure authentication and protect their organization from bad actors.

Two-factor authentication solutions emerged in response to the key challenge of secure authentication. At the highest level, 2FA products add an extra layer of security to the authentication process and can be enabled for a variety of IT resources that support 2FA. In essence, 2FA leverages something that you know, such as your core user password, and something that you have, such as your smartphone or physical security key. In doing so, the thought is that the authentication process is more secure because a bad actor would conceivably need to compromise your core user identity as well as gain access to your smartphone or security key.

How to Enable 2FA

Two-factor authentication solutions are typically used in conjunction with a core identity provider (IdP), which acts as the source of truth for authenticating user identities. Historically, the core IdP of choice has been the on-prem Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) platform. AD is a Windows® based directory services platform that is primarily used to manage Windows-based user identities, and securely connect them to Windows-based IT resources. And while AD has been effective at providing secure access to Windows-based IT resources such as systems, applications, files, and networks, it does not natively offer 2FA functionality. As a result, IT organizations are then required to purchase third-party 2FA software, the necessary hardware to support it, and then integrate the 2FA solution into their overall identity management infrastructure, if they wish to leverage the added security benefits of 2FA. Once that’s done, deploying 2FA is simply a matter of leveraging the IAM solution to determine which IT resources will have 2FA enabled.

However, the issue with the AD approach in the modern era is that IT organizations are no longer strictly on-prem networks of Windows-based IT resources. In fact, modern IT organizations routinely leverage cross-platform system environments (Windows, macOS®, Linux®), a mix of web and on-prem applications, traditional and virtual file storage alternatives, and networks spanning multiple locations—all of which are difficult (if not impossible) to manage directly in a pure AD environment—let alone enable 2FA. Consequently, the 2FA add-on then becomes only one of many patches required. Further, depending on the 2FA solution, it may not even support the complexity of modern networks. As a result, IT admins may end up needing multiple 2FA solutions to enable multi-factor authentication throughout their environment.

A Better Way to 2FA

2 factor authentication

The good news is that a next generation cloud identity provider has emerged that not only offers 2FA functionality at both the system and application layer, but also natively supports cross-platform system environments, web and on-prem applications, physical and virtual file storage solutions, and networks spanning multiple locations. The same solution delivers this comprehensive approach to directory services from the cloud, thus eliminating the need to maintain a complicated identity management infrastructure on-prem. Specifically, with respect to 2FA, IT admins can enable two-factor authentication with a few clicks and manage which users and IT resources have 2FA enabled from a single, centralized identity management platform. As a result, IT organizations can securely manage and connect their users to virtually any IT resource, while simultaneously enhancing security throughout their network via two-factor authentication. The solution is called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®, and it is the best thing to happen to directory services since Active Directory.

Learn More About 2FA with JumpCloud

Contact JumpCloud to learn more about 2FA, and to see how the Directory-as-a-Service platform can provide 2FA services throughout your organization. You can also browse our Knowledge Base or check out our YouTube page for supplemental information. Sign up for a JumpCloud account and enable 2FA in your organization free for up to 10 users. In fact, the full functionality of the JumpCloud platform is free for up to 10 users. So, don’t hesitate to check out everything that JumpCloud has to offer, risk free.

Vince Lujan

Vince is a writer and videographer at JumpCloud. Originally from a small village just outside of Albuquerque, he now calls Boulder home. When Vince is not developing content for JumpCloud, he can usually be found doing creek stuff.

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