During the time of increased cyber threats, the importance of proper authentication methods is not to be overlooked. In this feature, we shed light on the importance of Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) and its implementation in the Middle East.
It is critical to ensure that your services and devices are using the best security available to keep data secure and out of the hands of unauthorized users. The importance of authentication is not to be overlooked to keep data safe. While using a password is the most common method of authentication, it is neither the only nor the most reliable. Having to get hold of one piece of information to hack into an entire system would be like a cakewalk for the hacker. MFA, which involves several pieces of information to authenticate, is a more reliable way to protect unauthorized access to data.
MFA isn’t bulletproof. It can be overcome by combining other shady tactics, such as social engineering thefts. But MFA has been shown to have significantly more protection than relying solely on a password. The concept is as simple as saying: the higher the number of authentication factors, the stronger the security.
“The gold standard is “something you know, something you have, something you are”, which is having a password of some kind (know), a physical token (have) and biometric authentication (are). For most applications, the first 2 factors are sufficient as it’s very difficult to circumvent physical tokens,” said Yossi Naar, chief visionary officer and co-founder at Cybereason.
With the rise of remote working, there is a higher acknowledgement of security crisis and the importance of proper authentication methods. Authentication is just the proof of identity to access data. This proof is basically in three forms: knowledge (commonly a password), possession (keys, tokens, cards etc) and inherence (biometrics). Depending on the location of the attacker, certain kinds of authentication methods are easier to get hold of as compared to others. For a remote hacker, knowledge is easier than possession and it might be the opposite for a local hacker.
With the use of MFA, it is easier to defend against multiple types of attackers. In this system, proofs from different factors are to be used to gain access. This kind of method is highly beneficial during a time of high cyber-attacks. According to a report from Trend Micro, in GCC alone there was a recorded case of over 55 million cyber-attacks (in 2020) since lockdown. This is one of the main reason for the increase in the cybersecurity market in GCC.
“Using multifactor authentication is nowadays as common as deploying a firewall. The concept is very well understood in the IT & Business Management circles today. In other words, neglecting the implementation of MFA is exposing companies and individuals to several threats,” says Peter Crasta, Senior Security Architect at Bespin Global.
Muhammad Haider, Community Manager Middle East, Turkey & Africa & Community Sales EMEA, Milestone Systems, supported this point and shed some light on the MFA market of the Middle East. He said that the Middle East is going through a massive digital transformation wave and more and more services are getting digital.
“MFA solutions are essential and play a crucial role in helping large organizations and service providers to validate and control access to critical information and personal data. With the current pandemic situation where many organizations have adapted to remote working setups, MFA plays an important role to ensure the critical digital assets of the organization are secured and are not at risk of being compromised. MFA is being deployed heavily in the Middle East as it provides a simple and effective way for businesses of all sizes to offer a secure experience to the users,” Haider addd.
Though there is an increase in the implementation in certain sectors, the age-old single-factor authentication methods are still the popular method. Unfortunately, most providers still do not employ any form of multi-factor authentication. When two-factor authentication is used, a text message code is usually sent to a pre-registered number. The sectors that have been actively leading the adoption of MFA are banks and financial institutions whose customers are key targets for phishing attempts.
“There is often a combination of various factors which holds companies back from implementing MFA. On one hand, they often don’t see the need as they do not understand the current cyber risks and the benefits of MFA for the overall protection level. On the other hand, IT budgets have been tight during the pandemic and any extra IT project is often postponed,” said Candid Wüest, VP of Cyber Protection Research, Acronis.
Incompatibility and complexity are the major reasons for the lack of implementation of MFA in many sectors. Naar at Cybereason said that MFA implementation can be complex and organizations typically have multiple systems that don’t necessarily talk to each other, making implementations harder. It also takes time to integrate, and some legacy systems simply cannot support MFA.
“The risk of deteriorating the authentication process user-experience by making it too cumbersome and difficult to execute can be a hurdle for wide-spread MFA adoption. Companies have to find the right balance between MFA and user experience based on just how sensitive the data that needs to be accessed is ― the higher the data sensitivity, the higher the levels of protection required. Therefore, defining the adequate levels of authentication become essential to ensure only the authorized users can access data,” said Giuseppe Brizio, CISO EMEA, Qualys.
In order to gain maximum visibility into your infrastructure, MFA solutions should be combined with ZeroTrust or User Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA). In addition, a cyber-protection strategy that is automated and integrated is required. The importance of daily training in order to raise awareness is crucial. Even if you invest in the best technologies available, you can still fall prey to negligence.
Morey Haber, CTO & CISO at BeyondTrust, said “The most critical step organizations should perform when trying to protect their data is to adopt a least privilege strategy for all access to sensitive data and supporting resources. As a part of privileged access management, least privilege ensures that only the appropriate privileges are given to data, systems, applications, and resources, on a need-to-know basis, to prevent excessive privileges from being used to compromise a sensitive resource. This prevents lateral movement and protects against inappropriate access by delegating access to only the owners of data and not employees or machine identities at large.”
“Prioritizing methods like real-time monitoring of accounts, alerts for abnormal login activity and contextual access restrictions is important. IT departments can easily set and enforce a customized access policy that protects against compromised network credentials to reduce the risk of both external attacks and internal security breaches.” Mohamed Abdallah, Regional Director for the Middle East, Turkey & Africa at SonicWall.
“Most importantly, select a solution that leverages on your existing investment and IT infrastructure and which can be seamlessly installed,” Abdallah added.
Because of the rise in cyber-attacks (250% increase in cyber attacks in 2020 in UAE alone), it is more important than ever to back up your files and have a way to restore them. It’s also critical to have solid preventive tools in place, as well as the ability to respond quickly to potential threats.