Multi-factor Authentication: What You Need to Know about It.

Multi-factor Authentication: What You Need to Know about It.

Have you ever tried to log into your email mailbox, say from another phone or another computer, and you then get a notice from your original device asking you to follow some commands to make sure that it is indeed you? Or have you ever tried to log into your account say on your school website and then the site asks you to provide an answer to a security question or sends you a verification code even after you have entered your password? Or if you ever wondered why when you put your card in the Automated Teller Machine, it still asks for your PIN. Then you know about multi-factor authentication.

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What is Multifactor Authentication?

Multifactor authentication therefore is the process that happens when a user tries to log into a computer resource, like a website, a network or an app. For security reasons most online resources require to provide the identity by which the user is known on that resource (For example if you are logging into Google or any Google apps/services your identity is your Gmail address and password). The user is also then required to present another proof that they are indeed the owner of that identity, i.e. that you are who you say you are and it is not a criminal trying to enter your inbox to read your mail.

Hence the resource may ask for another proof such as a PIN or password or a security question or maybe your biometrics such as your fingerprint or your iris. Once you are able to provide that information, the resource then lets you into your account.

Depending on how secure you want your information to be you can choose to require as many layers of authentication as possible, and to make all the authentication as specific and personal as possible, such that even if a would-be criminal has access to one factor of your authentication, like your password, they can’t have access to another one like your fingerprint.

Types of Multi-factor Authentication

There are several types of multifactor authentication elements but they are grouped under four types. They are:


Knowledge M-FA elements are based on names, words and what you know or should remember. Stuff like your password, your ATM card PIN, security questions that only you are supposed to know, OTP passwords, etc.


Those are things that you have possession of and which are built in your name such that access can only be granted with them. These are devices like your ATM card (which has your name on it), your USB security token, your specified key card and any other physical devices that are only keyed to you personally.


These are things that are part of your body, as different from devices. For example your fingerprint is an inherent m-fa device, as is your iris or your voice (in case the resource uses voice recognition software). Many devices also use dynamic keystrokes to authenticate users


Many online resources both web and mobile now who deal with data that is location specific or is highly restricted, such as schools, hospitals and military installations use location authentication. A case of this for example is what happens when government blocks a certain site such as a social media platform (like a year ago when the Nigerian government blocked twitter) and you have to use a Virtual Private Network to access the site, or how you can’t log into certain University websites or reach certain military installations until you are in certain areas.


Multifactor authentication has now become commonplace especially with the existence of mobile online resources, and it has proved valuable in protecting crucial security data. Most devices also allow you to add as many factors to your authentication as possible depending on the data that you are trying to protect. So the next time you are tempted to complain that Google is stressing you, know that it is for your own good.

Further it is important for you to know that MFA is not perfect so it is still your responsibility to protect yourself from cyber-attacks.

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