Australia: How to use multi-factor authentication to combat cyber-crime

The Australian Signals Directorate lists multi-factor authentication as one of the eight essential security protection mechanisms that a user needs to implement to combat cyber-crime. But how do you turn it on for your personal online accounts such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail and iCloud? And how does turning it on for personal accounts protect the corporate environment?

To access most systems, people simply enter a username and a password. As usernames can be commonly known (such as an email address), the password is the only security credential that is known solely by the user.

This username/password combination is known as single factor authentication. Single factor authentication becomes problematic, however, when an attacker has your password. An attacker could obtain your password in any number of circumstances, for example:

  • your password may have been weak and the attacker was able to decipher it;
  • the website's password file may have been compromised by a data breach;
  • following a data breach on a separate website, the attacker guessed your password as you use the same or similar passwords across multiple websites; or
  • you may have been tricked into entering your password into a webpage after clicking on a link in a phishing email.

Of course, once an attacker has your password, they can usually log into your account from anywhere in the world.

WHAT IS MULTI-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION?

Multi-factor authentication (also known as two-step verification or two-factor authentication) is a simple and highly effective way of combatting the issue of stolen passwords. In contrast to single factor authentication, it refers to the use of two of more of the following credentials to allow access to your account:

  • something you know (e.g. a password);
  • something you have (e.g. a security dongle or code sent to your mobile phone – this could be an SMS message, a Code Generator application or a list of codes that you can save and print in the event you lose your mobile device); or
  • something you are (biometrics, such as fingerprint or retina scans).

In addition to helping thwart unauthorised access to your account, multi-factor authentication can warn you that someone is trying to log into your account. If a sudden code request is sent to your mobile phone, you are immediately alerted to the suspicious activity.

Most software platforms support multi-factor authentication. By way of an example, multi-factor authentication is now commonplace with online banking. When a new biller is added or a transaction is large, most banks will now send a code to your mobile phone to validate the transaction (the multiple factors being something you know – your online banking password – and something you have – the specific mobile phone the code was sent to).

HOW TO TURN ON MULTI-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION ON POPULAR EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS

The following table summarises how to set up multi-factor authentication on commonly used email and social media platforms (please note that the way you access these settings may be slightly different depending on whether you are doing it from a desktop/laptop or a mobile phone, and the mobile phone's operating system. The simplest method(s) are provided).

(It is highly recommended that you add a second phone number under Trusted Phone Numbers in the event that your mobile phone is lost and you need a code for the Find My iPhone application)

LinkedIn

[Web Browser]

  • When logged in, click on the Me icon at the top of the LinkedIn page
  • Click 'Settings & Privacy'
  • On the Privacy tab, scroll down to 'Security'
  • Change 'Two-step verification' to On
  • Follow the setup prompts, which will require you to enter a mobile phone number, re-enter your password and confirm a code that is sent to your mobile phone
Facebook [Web Browser]
  • Log into Facebook
  • Select the pull down arrow next to the question mark on the right hand side of the screen and select 'Settings'
  • Go to 'Security and Login'
  • Select 'Use two-factor authentication', click edit
  • Follow the setup prompts
[Mobile Phone - Apple iOS]
  • Within the Facebook application, select the three horizontal bars at the bottom right of the screen to access your profile
  • Scroll down to 'Settings'
  • Select 'Account Settings'
  • Select 'Security and Login'
  • Select 'Use two-factor authentication'
  • Follow the setup prompts
[Mobile Phone - Android]
  • Within the Facebook application, select the three horizontal bars at the top right of the screen to access your profile
  • Select 'Account Settings'
  • Select 'Security and Login'
  • Select 'Use two-factor authentication'
  • Follow the setup prompts

(There are a number of different verification options including receiving SMS alerts, a Code Generator built into the mobile Facebook application and more)

Instagram [Mobile Phone – iOS and Android]
  • Click on your profile button on the bottom right of the screen
  • Select the 3-dots on the top right hand corner of the screen. For iOS they are horizontal (...) and for Android they are vertical
  • Scroll down to 'Two-factor Authentication'
  • Turn 'Require Security Code' to On
  • Follow the setup prompts
Gmail / Google [Web Browser]
  • Go to https://myaccount.google.com/security
  • Sign in to your account if required
  • Scroll to 'Password & sign-in method'
  • Turn '2-Step Verification' to On
  • Select 'Get Started'
  • Follow the setup prompts
Microsoft / Outlook Mail [Web Browser]
  • Go to https://account.microsoft.com/security
  • Sign in to your account if required
  • Go to the 'Security' tab
  • Select the link to 'more security options' at the bottom of the screen
  • Select 'Turn on two-step verification'
  • Follow the setup prompts
  • You can receive notifications by SMS, email or through the 'Microsoft Authenticator' application on your mobile device.
Apple / iCloud [Web Browser]
  • Go to https://appleid.apple.com
  • Sign in with your Apple ID
  • Go to 'Security'
  • Under 'Two-Factor Authentication', select 'Get Started'
  • Follow the setup prompts
[Mobile Phone – Apple iOS]
  • Go to Settings
  • Select your name and enter your password
  • Select 'Password & Security'
  • Tap 'Two-Factor Authentication' to On

You can also configure the majority of the above platforms so they remember a particular device or browser, meaning you only have to set multi-factor authentication up once per device (when entering your password on a previously unknown device or browser, however, you will need to enter the code that is sent). To prevent being locked out of your account through a lost device, it is highly recommended that you print and secure any backup codes or add a second trusted mobile phone to receive a code. This is particularly important when travelling and mobile coverage may be limited.

HOW DOES MULTI-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION APPLY TO THE CORPORATE ENVIRONMENT?

Attackers often target personal accounts before launching attacks on business systems. If unauthorised access is gained to one of your personal accounts, an attacker can then send emails to people in your address book pretending to be you, and gather intelligence on the interests of friends and colleagues for social engineering attacks.

Actively encouraging your staff to turn on multi-factor authentication will help to protect your organisation.

Most of the successful phishing attacks we have seen at Corrs Cyber have targeted stolen credentials for Microsoft Office 365. Once the login password has been captured, attackers have access to email content, SharePoint data, OneDrive files and more. The use of multi-factor authentication on these user accounts would have prevented the attacks and the loss of sensitive corporate material. This is why we strongly recommend integrating multi-factor authentication into a business environment.

Keep in mind though, that whilst multi-factor authentication could thwart an external attacker, it may not always stop an internal threat. If, for example, you employ multi-factor authentication to protect access to a key database, it will be ineffective if a disgruntled employee has both the administrative password and the code. The employee could lock you out of the database. Therefore, it is important to ensure that no one individual has both the password and the generated code for multi-factor authentication in a corporate environment. Ideally, the separate factors should be kept with different people, in separate safes with limited access, or in escrow.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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