Security Flaws of Two-Factor Authentication

Security Flaws of Two-Factor Authentication
The continuous increase in cyberattacks necessitated the need for extra layers of security to prevent unauthorized web access to users’ accounts. A good solution to this problem is two-factor authentication(2FA).

Two-factor authentication was developed to make online accounts safer. It can help prevent phishing and block ransomware attacks but it is not a full-proof security method because it is vulnerable to attacks from cybercriminals.

What is Two-Factor Authentication

Instead of relying solely on username and password combination or other one-step logins, two-factor authentication requires users to have an additional means of identifying themselves. This can be a piece of information you know, a device you own, or a part of you such as a fingerprint.

In this article, we will examine the various ways that Two-Factor authentication can be vulnerable to attacks.

1. Social Engineering
Social engineering is an effective method used by hackers to get the information they couldn’t obtain through technical means. Since two-factor authentication relies on what a user knows, bad actors have been known to impersonate tech support in order to deceive victims into giving up their Two-Factor authentication codes.

Hackers can also bypass 2FA by sending phishing emails to victims. In this case, a fake website is used to collect both username and password as well as the user’s 2FA code.

Social engineers take advantage of human behavior and psychology to request private information such as 2FA codes. It is a sinister form of attack as the target feels secure while their accounts are being hijacked. Social engineering was recently used to hack Twitter and hijack some high profile accounts.

2. Cookie or Session Hijacking
Session hijacking is used by cybercriminals to steal a user’s online identity. If a hacker can get a web login session, two-factor authentication will be rendered useless. The cybercriminals will be free to operate the victim’s account as they like.

Cookie hijacking may involve targeting victims via phishing links to a fake or cloned website. When users enter their login credentials and their two-factor authentication code on the fake site, the data is stolen and routed through the hacker’s server to the real site for login, and the session’s cookie captured for further action.

Another approach used by cybercriminals to bypass two-factor authentication is to request a password reset for a compromised user’s email. After a password reset, some sites don’t request for 2FA thus allowing attackers to login and hijack a user’s account.

3. Inconsistent Two-Factor Authentication
While some websites support two-factor authentication, they don’t always require it for login purposes depending on their security algorithm. This may expose users to security breaches.

When a hacker has login details for an account, an optional 2FA may aid them in taking over such an account. They can retry logins on different systems until the site stops requesting for two-factor authentication code.

4. Brute Force 2FA
When a two-factor authentication interface does not enforce lockout for wrong entries, it gives room for brute force. Hackers can try as many entries as allowed by the system to get the correct combination of 2FA.

5. Buggy 2FA Implementation
Buggy 2FAs are gifts to Cybercriminals. It is very dangerous because it lets hackers access users’ accounts by exploiting the security implementation itself.

In addition, server admins may be oblivious to the problem until a serious data breach occurs.

Buggy 2FA can have a huge impact on businesses. In 2017, a bug in an Infineon Technologies RSA keys affected a large number of devices such as Smart cards and TPM chips.

6. Third-party Authentication Bypass
Some websites integrate with third-party ID systems such as OAuth integration. With this technology, users can log in to an account using third-party verification without the original login for the target site.

A common example of third-party loginis web services that support login via Facebook or Gmail. This alternative login option while convenient creates a security loophole for bypassing two-factor authentication.

7. Using Earlier Generated Tokens
Some web-based services have the option to generate a token in advance that can be used for logging in or unlocking an account.

These codes are kept on a user’s PC just like other files. If the codes fall into the wrong hands, they can be used to bypass the 2FA security system.

How to Make Two-Factor Authentication More Secure

1. Use authenticator apps such as Google Authenticator instead of text messages.
2. Never share your 2FA code with anyone whether over the phone or email.
3. Use difficult to guess passwords to make the first line of defense strong.
4. Never reuse passwords.
5. Learn more about social engineering and organize regular training for your employees to protect themselves against social engineers.
6. If you have the option of setting up your 2FA make it a combination of numbers and letters and should be more than 4 to 6 characters.
7. Always double-check with your IT admins when unsure about 2FA requests for your account.
8. When possible, use security keys that contain hardware chips, Bluetooth or USB keys for logging into your account with 2FA codes.

Despite the strength of two-factor authentication, hackers have been known to bypass the process in order to illegally gain access to unsuspecting victim’s accounts. Activating two-factor authentication for your organization’s account is not the only security measure you should use, and you will still want to continue to watch out for potential 2FA attacks as well.

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