Single Factor Authentication

Single-factor authentication (SFA) is the method of logging users into resources or presenting access when they present only one single way of verifying their identity. In today’s environment with two-factor (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA), not enough users or organizations are concerned about single-factor authentication especially as many devices and applications utilize SFA as their main security method.

Single Factor Authentication 

Single-factor Authentication is the simplest form of authentication methods. With SFA, a user matches one credentials to verify himself or herself online. The most popular example of this is the username and password combination, known as user credentials. However, the factors of authenticating users generally take the form of something you know, referring to the password, something you have, like a hardware token, or something you are, like biometrics. 

However, compared to biometrics and hardware tokens, passwords as the most common SFA method are also the least secure and most vulnerable even as more ‘best practices’ on password policies are recommended. Password authentication relies on storing decrypted information between the user and the login service, but threat actors utilize password stuffing, password spray attacks, and weaponize passwords from prior breaches or unprotected databases to compromise an organization.

Single Factor vs Multi-factor Example 

Comparing SFA and MFA/2FA relies on two things: user experience or convenience and security. On the surface, more authentication methods mean stronger security while a single authentication method means better user experience. However, this is not necessarily the case as modern authentication methods are more secure and have a better user experience than passwords. For example, biometric authentication is much more secure than a password and unlike a password, there is no need to remember your fingerprint, making the user experience better.

This leads to many IT administrators calling the password “dead” and are making the push toward a passwordless environment with biometrics.

Organizations and IT managers can apply this logic to multi-factor authentication, giving flexible options for their users that also increase security standards. For users who are not technologically savvy, they could use a user-generated password and their mobile phone. For users who are more advanced and want stronger security, a password and their fingerprint prove to be stronger and more efficient. The difference between SFA and MFA rely on the multiple factors, meaning more than one, and a combination of what you know, what you have, and what you are.  

The strongest form would be entering in a password into an account and then having to use your mobile phone to scan your palm, such as with BIO-key MobileAuth.

The reason why MFA is much more secure than single-factor authentication is a simple one: let’s say there is a 10% chance that a bad actor will be able to gain access to any single factor used in accessing a system, resulting in a 10% chance of unauthorized access. But there is only a 1% chance that a bad actor could gain access to both factors simultaneously (10% x 10% = 1%), increasing security by an order of magnitude. 

While many employees are not required to use MFA to access their corporate network or PC, it’s a commonly used concept by just about everyone. For example, when accessing an ATM, users are required to insert a card (the first factor) into the machine, followed by entering a PIN (the second factor). MFA is also widely used in various other access scenarios, such as airport security, which uses three factors (a boarding pass, personal identification and the passenger’s face) to enable access into the secure area of a terminal. 

Disadvantages of Single Factor Authentication 

There are plenty of disadvantages to single-factor authentication. The first being the risk associated with solely one form of authentication. Single-factor authentication has not enough protection and comes with limits. The major limit of single-factor authentication is that its security depends on the password, PIN, or single authentication method to keep your login secure. 

With only one password for example, threat actors can break into your accounts easier than if you had two factors. With a second factor, there is a safeguard for your accounts. However, this means that valuable accounts like financial and online banking are highly targeted as the threat actor only needs one password and through studying your online presence or password stuffing can figure it out faster than you think. Passwords are very vulnerable, and only having a password as a security measure means your serving your information on a silver platter. 

The State of Multi-factor Authentication 

Single-factor authentication is no longer recommended. With SFA, organizations are more vulnerable, relying on solely one method of authentication, and in most cases this is a simple username and password. Organizations in turn should be utilizing MFA. With multi-factor authentication being more common in many environments, more organizations are looking to implement MFA into their own environments to mitigate security risks. However, implementing MFA is easier said than done, and many organizations may have a hard time finding a solution that works for them. Therefore, we have developed an in-depth MFA survey that determines how organizations manage security, authentication, and see decision makers’ attitudes toward various authentication methods including Zero Trust, passwordless approaches, and biometrics.

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