Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) vs Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Key Differences

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) vs Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Key Differences
Comparison With 2Fa And MFA

Organisations seek more robust Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems beyond a single-factor password authentication solution to enhance network security.

These systems protect customer data, network assets, and sensitive network resources from malicious cyber attackers and data breaches.

And two of the most important IAM solutions are:

  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

In this blog, we’ll see what 2FA and MFA exactly are, how they differ, and which is the best authentication solution for your organisation’s network security.

What is Authentication?

The term authentication refers to validating the identity of the users. Simply put, it verifies the end users before granting access to the network and system. One of the popular authentication mechanisms involves asking users to provide their credentials which are further compared with the credentials stored in the database by the system.

What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?

Two-Factor Authentication is an authentication system that uses two different authentication factors to verify a user’s identity.

Hence, Two-Factor Authentication means that users must present and pass through two authentication processes to access their account and network resources.

a: How 2FA works

As the name implies, 2FA employs two authentication mechanisms to offer account security. The general mechanism of 2FA breaks down into two parts; the first part is where users will enter their credentials, such as username and password.

And the second part is to verify the access by something in the user's possession, such as a verification code sent to a registered mobile number or a code to a registered email. However, it is not just restricted to physical devices; it can be anything that only the person knows; for instance, some users prefer security questions. The whole 2FA process offers layered security to users.

b: The security benefits of 2FA

Some of the prominent benefits of 2FA are listed below:

  • The security module provides secure access and prevents unauthorised attacks.
  • Further, 2FA provides the continuous monitoring of devices and also allows limiting access to particular devices.
  • Moreover, the system allows to create secure online relationships without worrying about identity theft.
  • Besides this, it enhances the flexibility where employees can access the company’s sensitive information from anywhere without compromising security.

What is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is an authentication process that requires users to present multiple pieces of authentication information to verify their identity and access the network application or device.

The main aim behind the Multi-Factor Authentication device is to add multiple security layers to increase network security.

The common authentication factors used in the MFA strategy include the following:

  • Knowledge: something the user knows, such as an answer to a question or password
  • Possession: something the user owns, such as a token or security key
  • Inherence: something the user is, such as their behavioural trait, unique biometric, or retina scan

Thus, 2FA is nothing but the subset of MFA, but the Multi-Factor authentication advantages overpower 2FA because of the added security layers. But is that the only difference between 2FA vs MFA? Let’s find out.

Types of MFA

To get a better understanding of MFA, you need to understand the factors associated with it. These are listed below:

  • Knowledge factor - As the name suggests, this is connected based on user knowledge. It can be anything like a PIN, lock pattern, password security question, etc., as long as the user remembers it.
  • Possession factor - The second factor in light is something that users possess or, in simple words, that users own. It can be any device, such as a token key, mobile phone, smart card etc. The user has to enter the security code sent to these devices to verify the access.
  • Inherence factor - The next on our list is the Inherence factor directly related to user identity. It can be a fingerprint, voice command, iris scan, etc. This type of biometric is not easy to breach since it requires direct access from the user.
  • Context factor - Lastly, we have a Context factor that can depend on the user's location. Simply put, an organisation's established internal network is considered secure. And outside of that network perimeter, users have to use credentials.

Two-Factor Authentication vs Multi-Factor Authentication: Understanding The Difference

The difference between 2FA and Muti-factor authentication is quite simple. While 2FA utilises two authentication factors, MFA uses more than two to verify the user’s identity and grant user access.

This makes MFA much stronger and more secure than Two-Step Authentication.

For instance, three to four authentication factors are much more secure than two authentication factors. And the chances of hackers or attackers getting access to the user’s behavioural traits, fingerprints, or other factors are minimal.

Here’s further how the two authentication factors differ from each other.

Use of MFA in PCI-DSS

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) has nearly replaced the Two-Factor Authentication processes with Multi-Factor Authentication solutions.

However, this does not indicate that there is no longer any need for 2FA, and only three authentication factors are essential for authentication and PCI Compliance.

Many organisations need only two authentication factors for PCI Compliance. However, the more, the better—and three authentication factors are highly acceptable and recommended as a security standard for organisations.

User experience

Employees and end users don’t appreciate a slow, unreliable, and cumbersome authentication solution.

Remembering passwords and managing three different authentication solutions can hinder users’ productivity. They might start finding ways to speed up authentication or set up easy-to-guess passwords, compromising the network security and allowing hackers to get into your network and system easily.

While using 2FA authentication might seem viable here instead of three authentication factors, it depends on finding the right solution and MFA provider that provides an easy-to-use interface and streamlines the user experience.

How to Choose the Correct Authentication Method For Your Company?

With so many security measures in place, it can become quite daunting for organisations to choose the measure that extends their security. However, it can be easily decided by doing some analysis, such as the authentication measures affecting the employee's work or if it is sufficient to protect the organisation's information.

The answer depends on the organisation's needs and usage. If the 2FA works fine for organisations, then there is no point in investing in MFA. However, if you feel the security measures are not in line and are exposed to cyber-attacks, then it is time to use the enhanced authentication method.

2FA and MFA Benefits for an Organization

It becomes tricky for big corporate houses with many employees to manage their employees. Even small business owners with limited employees face security threats occasionally. Further, the new remote working culture has also raised concerns among organisations.

Given the circumstances, it would ease user access if the organisation opts for MFA and 2FA authentication. Not only does it offer flexibility to employees without putting company confidentiality in jeopardy. But it also took some burden off security managers.


While MFA Authentication involves more than two authentication factors to validate a user’s identity, 2FA comprises only two authentication factors.

Your authentication method depends on your specific enterprise network needs and requirements. However, employing an MFA security solution is highly recommended.

If you want to deploy Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication, check out our InstaSafe solutions. We provide smart, secure, and authenticated SSO and MFA solutions to verify a user’s identity and ensure network security. Check our pricing or book a free demo today.

Frequently Asked Questions About 2FA And MFA

  1. Is Multi-Factor Authentication better than Two-Factor Authentication?

Yes! MFA offers more checkpoints than 2FA, so it is considered a secure authentication method. Microsoft reports that this authentication mechanism can restrict nearly any cyber attack.

2. Why is 2FA necessary?

The 2FA measure added an extra layer of security which helps in preventing password brute force, phishing and many more cyber attacks.

3. How does two-factor authentication protect?

By adding an extra layer of security to the usual login process, 2FA verifies the user's identity.

4. What is the MFA process used for in business?

The MFA process allows multiple checkpoints to business compared to 2FA. Users must go through a multi-login process after entering the login credentials to verify their identity.

5. How does MFA protect you?

MFA mechanisms reduce the chances of identity theft, unauthorised devices and more by offering enhanced security.

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