Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is an authentication method in which a computer user is granted access only after successfully presenting two or more pieces of evidence (or factors) to an authentication mechanism: knowledge (something the user and only the user knows), possession (something the user and only the user has), and inherence (something the user and only the user is).
Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is a type, or subset, of multi-factor authentication. It is a method of confirming users' claimed identities by using a combination of two different factors: 1) something they know, 2) something they have, or 3) something they are.
A good example of two-factor authentication is the withdrawing of money from an ATM; only the correct combination of a bank card (something the user possesses) and a PIN (something the user knows) allows the transaction to be carried out.
Two other examples are to supplement a user-controlled password with a one-time password (OTP) or code generated or received by an authenticator (e.g. a security token or smartphone) that only the user possesses.
Two-step verification or two-step authentication is a method of confirming a user's claimed identity by utilizing something they know (password) and a second factor other than something they have or something they are. An example of a second step is the user repeating back something that was sent to them through an out-of-band mechanism. Or, the second step might be a six digit number generated by an app that is common to the user and the authentication system.
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F.A.Q. about Multi-factor authentication
What is MFA?
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) combines two or more independent authentication factors. For example, suppose your website required your clients to enter something only they would know upon login (password), something they have (like a one-time smartphone authentication token provided by special software), and a biometric identifier (like a thumbprint). It is pretty hard for a mortgage cyber-attacker to have all three of those items, especially the biometric identifier.
Why do I need MFA? What are the benefits?
Passwords are becoming increasingly easy to compromise. They can be stolen, “phished”, guessed, and hacked. New technology and hacking techniques combined with the limited pool of passwords most people use for multiple accounts increases vulnerability.
How does MFA work?
Multi-factor authentication throws a few roadblocks in the hacker's pathway. Location factors are one way for a security system to identify a person's identity. For example, work schedules and location can determine whether a user is who he says he is. Time is another example of a security layer. If a person uses his phone at a job in the US, it is physically impossible for him to use it again from Europe 15 minutes later. These are especially helpful in online bank fraud and, by extension, mortgage company fraud.