What is multi factor authentication vs 2 factor authentication?

Many times multi factor authentication (MFA) and two factor authentication (2FA) are used interchangeably. But they are actually different. Both authenticate that you are who you say you are, but 2fa requires specifically two forms of authentication while MFA requires two or more. So all 2FA is MFA but not all MFA is 2FA.
If you’re considering multi factor authentication vs 2fa, you are really considering how many forms of authentication you will require. Two is the minimum while more than three tends to get in the way of productivity.
Think of this in terms of your last log in. You were asked to provide a username and password. Those are both one factor of authentication. 2FA takes this a step further by asking for one more factor, such as answers to previously asked security questions. These all fall into the “something you know” category.

Most MFA requires that in addition to “something you know” you also provide either:

  • “Something you have.” Most commonly, this something is your cell phone. The system you are trying to access sends you a text or push notification and you enter that code to access the system. There are more robust methods, such as using an authenticator app or token device, but these all provide an additional layer of security over simply providing information.
  • “Something you are.” Biometrics like a fingerprint scan or face scan are the most common in this category.

It doesn’t matter as much whether you use the term multi factor authentication vs 2fa. What matters is that you are implementing more robust authentication methods to protect your business.

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