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Multi-factor authentication (MFA) has become a critical security requirement for every organization, regardless of size and industry. But not every MFA solution is created equal. Your investment in MFA should be well-thought out. Not only does your chosen MFA solution need to meet the requirements you have today, but it needs to enable and secure the future growth and evolution of your business. This evaluation guide will help you understand the key factors you need to consider when investing in MFA.
Workforce and customer authentication requirements
Most security journeys begin with meeting internal needs. The same is true for MFA. You start out looking for a solution that will enable your employees, and maybe even contractors, to securely authenticate to your internal applications. With your organization’s growth, your digital presence will expand to offer services to your customers that require authentication. It might be through a mobile app, website portal, or some other digital venue where customers will need to log in.
While many of the core aspects of identity and access management span the needs of both workforce users and customer users, each audience has some different needs due to differences in your relationship with each audience. Your MFA solution needs to be able to address those differences. For example, while having a frictionless MFA experience for your internal users is a “nice to have” feature, it’s a vital requirement to keep customers happy and engaged. If your chosen MFA solution adequately addresses the needs of your employees and partners, but falls short of customer needs, you will be hampered in your ability to expand your service offerings to your customers.
Another problem can arise when security and marketing teams fail to communicate. Your security team might be fully engaged in driving an MFA initiative to address compliance or data security needs, while marketing on its own decides to develop and release an app for customers without understanding the importance or need of incorporating MFA. That puts your customer data at risk, as well as potentially jeopardizing your corporate reputation and setting you up for future lawsuits. When your security team becomes aware of the customer app, they’ll shut it down until MFA can be incorporated into it.
If your existing MFA solution can’t adequately handle your customer authentication needs, you’re left with the choice of replacing that MFA solution or investing in a second MFA solution. While having two MFA solutions in place might seem like an okay solution, it usually causes ongoing problems and difficulties. First of all, maintaining two separate MFA solutions substantially increases your administrative efforts, helpdesk burden, and licensing costs. Second, it can lead to inconsistencies in MFA policies and capabilities that create gaps in your security posture. Often those gaps go on undetected until damage is done to your reputation and financial standing.
A worse scenario is when an organization simply decides it doesn’t need MFA for its customer users. With 81% of data breaches leveraging weak or stolen passwords, if you don’t have MFA for your customer experiences on day one, you’re putting your reputation at significant risk. You might even be opening the door to direct financial attacks, such as would be the case if your customer experience includes shopping cart accounts that are not MFA protected.
When evaluating MFA solutions, you need to think holistically. You need to plan with the future in mind. You need to choose a solution that fully addresses the authentication needs of your internal workforce and your external customers. Your MFA solution should be able to facilitate your ability to incorporate MFA into ad hoc projects created by marketing or other departments with speed to market as a priority and without placing a burden on your development teams. Your MFA solution also needs to present frictionless experiences for all your users, especially your external customers.
Multiple factors for flexibility, user experience, security, and cost savings
When evaluating MFA solutions, a top priority should be finding one that offers an extensive variety of factors. Since you have different type of users in your organization, you will need to be able to take advantage of different types of MFA factors. This is because your different types of users need different levels of security and identity assurance. Additionally, you need to be able to offer multiple options to ensure users have frictionless experiences.
Maybe you want your sales people to use Yubikey as their primary MFA factor. But what happens if one of them accidentally leaves their Yubikey at home while on the road. You can give them the option to use push verification, which is just as secure and is often easier to use. For your engineers and maybe even executives, you might want to require that they use either U2F or some form of biometrics to heighten the protection of their access to super sensitive information. You might also have some legacy system that requires you to support an out-dated or expensive hardware token that you don’t want the bulk of your users to use as their MFA factor.
Another reason for needing to be able choose from a wide array of MFA factors is that it can enable you to ensure your customers have positive, yet secure experiences with your apps and websites. For example, you might want to let your customers choose from factors such as push verifications or some third-party factor like Google Authenticator. But what if some of your customers don’t have smartphones or don’t want to install an app? In lower risk situations, you might choose to give them other options, such as voice call authentication, email, or perhaps SMS authentication with the warning that it’s not as secure.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to MFA factors. You want to choose an MFA solution that lets you meet the unique flexibility, security, and usability needs of your different users, as well as one that allows you to choose cost-effective factor options when appropriate.
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