Should We Be Rethinking Multifactor Authentication?



  • Attacks exploiting multifactor authentication are on the rise.
  • Using MFA fatigue, attackers successfully breached Uber and Okta.
  • Security measures like authentication with biometrics and passwordless logins mitigate risk.

Power in Passwordless: Rethinking Multifactor Authentication After Increase in Attacks

It’s easy to imagine – your work email prompts a sign-in approval on your phone before you have access. It seems secure, right? One day, you get a prompt while off work and are not logged in to your email. You deny it. It comes up again and again. Each time, you’re careful to deny the request. Let’s say the notifications continue – relentlessly. In this attack, it’s common for users to become careless and accidentally give attackers an opening. The technique is called MFA fatigue or prompt bombing (Tech Target), and there’s been an influx of these attacks.

“Professionals are abuzz on one topic – the failure of multifactor authentication or MFA, as it is commonly known,” said Aaron Painter, CEO, Nametag. MFA has been a part of directives and advice in improving security for digital account access for the last few years. “Recent security breaches at a host of companies, most recently at Uber, have pointed to the rise of what’s known as MFA fatigue,” said Painter.

There are a handful of security measures available to mitigate these attacks. Consider a safety net that locks accounts with multiple attempts within a short time. This measure prevents users from experiencing fatigue. Alternatively, professionals suggest one-time passwords. This step is a higher assurance of factors. “It turns out that adding more factors of authentication to passwords isn’t the right answer. Perhaps the solution is that we need better factors,” said Painter.

Microsoft recommends passwordless solutions, which effectively defend against this and more advanced adversary-in-the-middle attacks (Bleeping Computer). Another source, TechTarget, also suggests adopting a passwordless solution. “Passwordless authentication removes passwords from the process, which can drastically reduce risk.” Other passwordless solutions use biometrics for authentication. Apple and Google’s Face ID exemplifies biometric confirmation. “Plus, passwordless authentication reduces friction and improves UX. It also increases the efficiency of IT and security operations, reducing the amount of time and effort spent handling password resets and account lockouts” (TechTarget).

“The recent Lapsis attack and other critical vulnerabilities like those of Print Nightmare have brought warnings even from the likes of the FBI regarding state-sponsored threat actors using exploits like multifactor authentication,” said Painter. Organizations of all sizes are vulnerable to these attacks, including Okta and Uber (CSO). Like most security measures, cyber attackers eventually find a way around them. Pivoting measures to the latest technology and tactics keeps your company safe and secure.


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