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Commercial Lines Multi Factor Authentication A Must Have for Critical Cyber Coverage

A growing number of cybersecurity threats have companies on high alert. More sophisticated cyberattacks have been aimed at the data and assets of corporations, and carriers are increasingly requiring insureds to implement multifactor authentication as a subjectivity for a cyber liability policy.

What is MFA?

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is an authentication method that requires the user to provide two or more credentials in order to gain access to an account. Rather than just asking for a username and password, MFA requires one or more additional verification factors unique to the individual, which decreases the likelihood of a successful cyber attack.

Picture yourself at an ATM withdrawing money from your bank account. Your debit card (something you have) is one authentication factor. However, to access your account, you also need to enter the PIN that is associated with your debit card. Your PIN (something you know) is your second authentication factor.

Credentials May Include:

  • Things you know: a password or personal PIN
  • Things you have: a badge or cellphone
  • Things you are: biometric information such as fingerprints or facial recognition

Why is it Important for Cyber Security?

Password compromises have accounted for 81 percent of data breaches in recent years. There are limits to what a single password can do. Rather than asking for a single password that hackers and cyber criminals can gain access to, this adds an additional layer of security. MFA helps protect against unauthorized access, data breaches and password-based cyber-attacks.

Where Should it be Implemented?

MFA is recommended to be implemented across:

  • all remote access to data or the environment (email, VPN, etc.) for access to cloud and on-premises applications
  • for any additional applications (internal or external) that contain personally identifiable information (PII)
  • internal activity with privileged users (owners of a credential that has admin access locally to  a  part of the system or domain-wide across many devices or servers).

In plain English, companies should look to secure any remote access points to their systems or data with MFA. Internal usage of privileged accounts, such as local administrators or domain administrators, should be also secured with MFA where possible.

Some Factors are Stronger than Others

Cybersecurity professionals have long advocated  that two factor authentication utilizing text messages (SMS) is less secure than other methods. The US government stopped using SMS authentication in 2016 — and encouraged others to do the same. Since then, there have been successful breaches across organizations that still utilize this less secure variation of MFA.

There are countless ways for criminals to bypass SMS authentication, some more complex than others, but opt for utilizing MFA apps like Duo, Google  Authentication, or Microsoft Authenticator if you’re using a  smartphone as a means to enable MFA for your organization.

MFA is Not the End-All-Be-All

MFA is an important preventive measure to take to avoid security breaches, but it is not an all-encompassing solution to protect an organization. As noted above, there are weaknesses with SMS-based authentication — and even the most secure forms of MFA have limitations.

For example, if an employee’s personal computer was already compromised and they were utilizing a VPN to work from home, MFA may not prevent malware spreading throughout the corporate network . Additional external defenses would be necessary for further risk mitigation.

What Does an MFA Roll-out Involve?

The timeline and cost of implementing MFA is dependent on several factors, like the size of your organization, the email provider and other technology platforms you’re using, and how you plan to introduce the concept to all of your employees (from stakeholders to the IT department). In some cases, for companies who are already using a system, like Microsoft O365, that has MFA built in; it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that the process for implementing MFA at these organizations is as easy as flipping a switch. In other organizations, with many overlapping technology platforms and access points that have accumulated over time, implementation can be a bit more involved.

While the ultimate goal of MFA implementation is to eventually cover all users across your systems, it’s good to prioritize where to begin based on the risk level to the organization. Starting with administrative (and high-risk) accounts has two key benefits: privileged accounts have the greatest security impact, and you can use what you learned in the roll-out with senior leaders to aid in deploying to the next round of employees. As you consider what systems require user log-in, recognize where you’ll need to update (or replace) older infrastructure that doesn’t support modern authentication.


Click to download instructions on setting up MFA in Office 365.