07 February 2018
The Australian Signals Directorate lists multi-factor authentication as one of the eight essential security protection mechanisms that a user needs to implement to combat cyber-crime. But how do you turn it on for your personal online accounts such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail and iCloud? And how does turning it on for personal accounts protect the corporate environment?
To access most systems, people simply enter a username and a password. As usernames can be commonly known (such as an email address), the password is the only security credential that is known solely by the user.
This username/password combination is known as single factor authentication. Single factor authentication becomes problematic, however, when an attacker has your password. An attacker could obtain your password in any number of circumstances, for example:
Of course, once an attacker has your password, they can usually log into your account from anywhere in the world.
Multi-factor authentication (also known as two-step verification or two-factor authentication) is a simple and highly effective way of combatting the issue of stolen passwords. In contrast to single factor authentication, it refers to the use of two of more of the following credentials to allow access to your account:
In addition to helping thwart unauthorised access to your account, multi-factor authentication can warn you that someone is trying to log into your account. If a sudden code request is sent to your mobile phone, you are immediately alerted to the suspicious activity.
Most software platforms support multi-factor authentication. By way of an example, multi-factor authentication is now commonplace with online banking. When a new biller is added or a transaction is large, most banks will now send a code to your mobile phone to validate the transaction (the multiple factors being something you know – your online banking password – and something you have – the specific mobile phone the code was sent to).
The following table summarises how to set up multi-factor authentication on commonly used email and social media platforms (please note that the way you access these settings may be slightly different depending on whether you are doing it from a desktop/laptop or a mobile phone, and the mobile phone’s operating system. The simplest method(s) are provided).
[Mobile Phone - Apple iOS]
[Mobile Phone - Android]
(There are a number of different verification options including receiving SMS alerts, a Code Generator built into the mobile Facebook application and more)
[Mobile Phone – iOS and Android]
Gmail / Google
Microsoft / Outlook Mail
Apple / iCloud
[Mobile Phone – Apple iOS]
(It is highly recommended that you add a second phone number under Trusted Phone Numbers in the event that your mobile phone is lost and you need a code for the Find My iPhone application)
You can also configure the majority of the above platforms so they remember a particular device or browser, meaning you only have to set multi-factor authentication up once per device (when entering your password on a previously unknown device or browser, however, you will need to enter the code that is sent). To prevent being locked out of your account through a lost device, it is highly recommended that you print and secure any backup codes or add a second trusted mobile phone to receive a code. This is particularly important when travelling and mobile coverage may be limited.
Attackers often target personal accounts before launching attacks on business systems. If unauthorised access is gained to one of your personal accounts, an attacker can then send emails to people in your address book pretending to be you, and gather intelligence on the interests of friends and colleagues for social engineering attacks.
Actively encouraging your staff to turn on multi-factor authentication will help to protect your organisation.
Most of the successful phishing attacks we have seen at Corrs Cyber have targeted stolen credentials for Microsoft Office 365. Once the login password has been captured, attackers have access to email content, SharePoint data, OneDrive files and more. The use of multi-factor authentication on these user accounts would have prevented the attacks and the loss of sensitive corporate material. This is why we strongly recommend integrating multi-factor authentication into a business environment.
Keep in mind though, that whilst multi-factor authentication could thwart an external attacker, it may not always stop an internal threat. If, for example, you employ multi-factor authentication to protect access to a key database, it will be ineffective if a disgruntled employee has both the administrative password and the code. The employee could lock you out of the database. Therefore, it is important to ensure that no one individual has both the password and the generated code for multi-factor authentication in a corporate environment. Ideally, the separate factors should be kept with different people, in separate safes with limited access, or in escrow.
This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.