What is multi-factor authentication and why is it so important?

Steve Newton

What role does multi-factor authentication play in effective cybersecurity and why should users of speech to text systems take advantage of its capabilities?

What is multi-factor authentication and why is it so important?
What is multi-factor authentication and why is it so important?

Recent research by the cybersecurity publication Cybernews (Most Common Passwords 2022 - Is Yours on the List? | CyberNews) revealed the top ten passwords most commonly used by people around the world and it makes for worrying reading as can be seen from the results below:

  1. 123456
  2. 123456789
  3. qwerty
  4. password
  5. 12345
  6. qwerty123
  7. 1q2w3e
  8. 12345678
  9. 111111
  10. 1234567890

With data breaches and cyberattacks becoming ever more common, the need for strong security measures has never been greater. A key part of this is authentication - proving to the IT system that you are who you say you are. Traditionally this has been done with a username and a password. However, usernames (which are often simply email addresses) can be easy to discover whilst, as we’ve seen above, people tend to pick easy passwords and even use these same passwords at many different sites.

What’s more, using stronger passwords offers no guarantees as they can be cracked, with hackers using what are referred to as automated password cracking tools to guess various combinations of usernames and passwords until they find the right sequence.

And once the hacker has been authenticated, they are automatically granted the same permissions (sometimes privileged access) as the legitimate user, meaning they can access a range of potentially sensitive financial and customer-related data online.

Such concerns have seen the emergence of multi-factor authentication (MFA). This is an authentication method that uses two or more distinct factors to validate a user’s identity, rather than relying on just a simple username and password combination.

Typically, these factors are:

  • Something you know, such as a password, or a memorised PIN.
  • Something you have – such as a smartphone, or a secure USB key.
  • Something you are – such as a fingerprint, or facial recognition.

The goal of MFA is to create a layered defence that makes it more difficult for an unauthorised person to gain access to an organisation’s systems, networks or databases. If one factor is compromised or broken, the attacker still has at least one or more barrier to breach before successfully breaking in.

Benefits of MFA

The effective use of multi-factor authentication can deliver a number of important benefits, in particular:

  • It can add layers of security at the hardware, software and personal ID levels.
  • It can significantly reduce the risk of an individual user’s identity being compromised – in fact Microsoft claims that requiring users to authenticate with at least two factors can reduce the risk of identity compromise by as much as 99.9% over passwords alone.
  • Protecting identities is vital to cybersecurity, particularly in terms of securing organisational and e-commerce resources and MFA can play a pivotal role in helping to keep online interactions and transactions secure.

MFA and speech to text users

Speech to text systems are now commonly available via the cloud. Whilst this approach undoubtedly offers significant benefits, it can also introduce a number of associated security threats unless processes are effectively managed. For instance, not only are documents produced using cloud-based software that the user has no direct control over, they are ultimately stored in the cloud as well.

These documents may contain a variety of sensitive information ranging from the private healthcare details of patients through to financial information about clients or sensitive corporate data that would be of interest to competitors.

So, at a number of levels it’s vital that the documents and audio files created using speech to text software are as secure as possible and MFA can provide a proven means for ensuring that this is the case.

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