What is an MFA Fatigue Attack?

What is an MFA Fatigue Attack?
What is an MFA Fatigue Attack?

In this digital era, where business is happening online, the risk of cyber-attacks also prevails. The hackers, being crafty, found out the latest way to breach the company's confidential information.

One such attack that has become a concern among business, individuals, etc, are MFA fatigue attacks.

It is a modern and latest cyberattack where hackers try to gain access to organisation resources by sending them out multiple MFA prompt requests. MFA fatigue or abuse is a prevalent technique because of its high success rates and low complexity.

In this blog, we will discover what is an MFA fatigue attack, how it works, and ways to prevent it. But before jumping on that, let's first understand.

What Is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)?

MFA or Multi-Factor Authentication is a security measure employed to verify the user's identity by asking them to submit multiple verifications before accessing their account. Usually, when users want to enter the network, they only need to submit the credentials set by them.

However, the risk associated with such a method is high; for instance, if the user's credentials get stolen, there is no way to determine if the one accessing the resource is a legitimate user or attacker.

In MF authentication methods, only entering a password is no longer enough; users must authenticate their identity using different methods. It is a mechanism where multiple authentication is employed to verify identity. There are three main components of Multi-Factor authentication which are:

  • The very first component is something you know, which is username, password, pin, etc
  • The second component of MFA is something you have, like a security token, OTP, verification code, etc.
  • Lastly, ┬áthe third component is something you are, a biometric component such as fingerprint, iris scan, etc.

The working of Multi-Factor Authentication is that users have to enter the credentials at the login page. After submitting the credentials, they must undergo another authentication process before accessing the software or resources.

Either an OTP will be sent to their registered number, or they must identify themselves using biometric authentication. Once the second authentication is correct, only then access to the service will be granted.

What Is MFA Fatigue?

MFA fatigue, which is also known as MFA abuse, is the technique used by cybercriminals to target users whose credentials they have compromised by repeatedly sending out MFA authentication requests.

Usually, hackers, after accessing users' credentials, try to trick individuals into granting access to the account by sending multiple MFA requests.

The general thought behind this is if users receive multiple MFA requests, he will mistakenly grant them access.

The goal of an MFA attack is to annoy users to that extent so that they will be granted access to the software. This is the kind of modern attack that uses human perception and behaviours to gain access to resources.

How Are MFA Fatigue Attacks Executed?

MFA attack is a relatively new cyberattack that most people are unfamiliar with. To identify the MFA fatigue attack, users need to be proactive because this attack employs social engineering.

Hackers will breach the account, and users will have no clue.

To prevent such attacks, first, you need to understand how these attacks are executed. It has a step-by-step procedure.

  • The very first step from where the MFA fatigue attack begins is attackers already have the details of the user's account, like credentials, recovery address and all. Attackers from previous attacks or breaches might get all these details. There are wide networks on the dark web where personal information from attacks gets sold.
  • Now, in the next step, the attackers will try to access the user's account using stolen credentials. However, the account has multi-factor authentication, so on entering the password, the user will get the authentication request on their device. It is generally via push notification sent via text message, email, desktop notifications, etc.
  • In this step, the attacker aims to overwhelm users by bombarding them with push notifications. The only aim of the attackers is that the user will press yes mistakenly and grant access to them in the user's account.

Furthermore, if the MFA further verification is by sending OTP, the attacker might claim them as a customer support executive for getting OTP by calling the user. Suppose the user has fallen into the trap set by attackers. In that case, they can easily access resources and devices, leading to fraudulent transactions, planting malware or stealing confidential data.

How to Identify an MFA Fatigue Attack?

Now comes the question of how the user found out the MFA fatigue attack is happening. There are clear signs which are listed below:

  • The first sign of MFA fatigue attacks is receiving multiple authentication requests from the same device or account.
  • The second sign is if users receive an MFA request even when they haven't tried to log in to their account.
  • Another sign is if you receive an MFA request at odd times, such as when you are on vacation away from work or late at night.

Ways to Protect from an MFA Fatigue Attack

No matter how strong the authentication system is today, attackers find a way to breach it. Like any other cyber attack, MFA fatigue attacks can also be prevented.

Below are some of the best industry measures to protect yourself from an MFA fatigue attack.

  • Limit Authentication Attempts - The very first way to prevent MFA fatigue attacks from being carried out is by limiting the number of authentication attempts. This attack utilises social engineering to annoy users by sending out MFA attempt requests until they click on yes. However, by limiting the authentication attempts, the account will get locked. However, this might lock an account for a while, but it will save attacks from happening. To unlock the account, you can reach out to tech support later.
  • Use OTP-Based MFA - Another solid method for protecting yourself from an MFA attack is rather than using the Yes/No method, go with OTP-based MFA. Unlike the Yes/No approach, the OTP-based approach is tricky for hackers. They used to call you to get the OTP. If the user can't get the OTP, the attack will be a waste.
  • Use Conditional Access - Another way to prevent the attack is employing conditional access in which specific devices, locations, etc, can only be used to access the account. In this way, users have complete control over which device is accessing the account. If there is an attempt from any unauthorised device or location, the access will be denied right away.
  • Provide User Education - Social engineering is the foundation of the MFA fatigue attack. That's why raising awareness about such attacks is essential. Most users or employees are not even familiar with the MFA fatigue attack. So, by creating workshops and suggesting preventive measures, organisations can prevent the MFA attack from happening.
  • Enforce Least Privilege Access - Least privilege access is another crucial way to prevent MFA fatigue attacks from happening. In this approach, users can access the resources they need to do their job. Any other activity outside their job role would be restricted. It will make sure that only trusted users have access to sensitive data and information.
  • Improve Password Hygiene - Usually, the MFA breach happens because the attackers have access to the user's credentials. But if you maintain password hygiene, you can stop the attack in the beginning itself. Users can mitigate the attacks by changing the password at regular intervals and creating strong passwords. Education about creating strong passwords is also essential.

Conclusion

The cases of MFA fatigue attacks are prevailing, and they can damage the business's reputation by disclosing sensitive information. However, the leading cause of MFA attacks is human negligence, so by being proactive, it can be prevented.

Further, by having strong security measures, these cyberattacks can be avoided. By employing adaptive MFA systems that take into account the context of the login attempt, organisations can prevent cyber attacks.

InstaSafe's solution uses the Zero Trust model with secure single sign-on to offer secure and smart authenticated access to businesses.

With InstaSafe's Multi-Factor Authentication, businesses can offer an added layer of security to all cloud and on-premises applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why use MFA?

It is a critical cybersecurity practice that provides an extra or additional layer of security for user accounts and sensitive information. By using MFA, organisations can prevent phishing attacks.

  • How do hackers beat MFA?

Hackers use social engineering tactics to trick users into revealing their MFA codes.

  • What is the safest MFA method?

The safest MFA method is having token keys or hardware keys. These are physical devices that generate time-based or event-based one-time passwords (OTPs) for login. Only genuine users will have access to these token keys.