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April 25, 2023

Why SMS 2FA Isn’t Enough – Ramp up Protection with Alternative Two-Factor Authentication Methods

Both businesses and individuals have become much more wary in recent years about securing their technology after facing increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks. Security measures like two-factor authentication (2FA) help ensure there’s no unauthorized access to your organization’s network. One common form of 2FA, SMS 2FA, has a number of security flaws associated with it, making it imperative to consider alternative methods of 2FA outside of SMS verification. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Two-factor authentication requires two different authentication factors for users to log into their account 
  • SMS-based two-factor authentication contains a number of security flaws, including susceptibility to social engineering and the possibility of messages being intercepted 
  • Limitations of SMS two-factor authentication also include delays in receiving messages  
  • Alternative forms of two-factor authentication, like hardware tokens or app-based 2FA, can reduce some risks associated with SMS 2FA  

Two-factor authentication is a security measure that requires users to provide two different authentication factors to log into their account. This is typically done through a combination of something the user knows, like a password, and a device the user owns, like a mobile phone. One of the most common forms of 2FA is SMS two-factor authentication (SMS 2FA), where a code is sent to the user’s cell phone via SMS to verify their identity. While SMS 2FA is considered a relatively secure form of 2FA, it’s not without its flaws.  

Vulnerable to SMS Interception  

One of the biggest security flaws with SMS 2FA is the possibility of SMS interception. This occurs when a malicious actor intercepts the SMS message containing the verification code. They can then use this code to gain access to the user’s account even if they don’t know the password. This can be done through techniques such as SIM swapping where the attacker takes control of the victim’s cell phone number.

Possibility of Social Engineering 

SMS 2FA can also be vulnerable to social engineering attacks. This occurs when a malicious actor tricks the user into giving them their verification code, either through a phone call or an email, by posturing as a person or representative from an organization that you trust. For example, the attacker might pretend to be from a bank or an online retailer and ask the user to provide their verification code for security purposes.  

Delays in Receiving SMS  

Another issue with SMS 2FA is that there can be delays in receiving the SMS message containing the verification code. This can be caused by network congestion, problems with the carrier, or other technical issues. This can result in the user being unable to log into their account even if they know their password and are trying to do so from a trusted device. 

Given these security flaws, it’s important to consider alternative forms of 2FA, such as app-based 2FA or hardware tokens. App-based 2FA works by using a code generator app on the user’s cell phone to generate a one-time code for logging into their account. This eliminates the possibility of SMS interception and reduces the risk of social engineering attacks.  

Hardware tokens, such as key fobs, work by generating a unique code that the user enters to log into their account. This eliminates the reliance on the user’s cell phone and reduces the risk of delays in receiving SMS messages. 

Anders Technology has experience developing cybersecurity architecture and strategies to manage vulnerabilities and protect private information from falling into the wrong hands. Learn more about how we can protect your business from evolving cyber threats and the associated fees by contacting Anders below.

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