How can multi-factor authentication improve cybersecurity in industrial facilities?

Multi-factor authentication is the next level of security against cyber-attacks, so let’s find out how MFA can help in your industrial plant!

We’ve all stared at a screen while creating an online account, trying to think of a password we could remember later. Even if you’ve never used “123456” or “passw0rd” or a password you used for other accounts, your choice probably follows a pattern that someone else could determine.

With single-factor authentication, even an amateur hacker still could have enough knowledge to eventually break into other people’s accounts. Professionals can do it in seconds. Online security needs a better way for users to prove their identities.

Today, we’ll discuss what multi-factor authentication (MFA) is, how it works, and why it’s important, especially when using digital solutions in your plant.

Table of Content

What is multi-factor authentication (MFA)?

Opening your front door or your inbox requires single-factor authentication, only one piece of proof for access, whether it’s a physical object or a series of symbols. Someone else could steal or duplicate that proof to wander around in your home or your data.

As online services have increased, so has the need for better security. MFA is a method to validate a user’s identity only after accepting two or more pieces of evidence, or “factors.” There are three common factors:

  • Knowledge: Specific information that only the user should know, like a password
  • Possession: A unique item that only the user owns, like a card
  • Inherence: A personal characteristic of the user, such as a fingerprint

Time or location factors, which require logging in at a specific time or place, are also sometimes used.

MFA works against many types of cyberattacks, like phishing, social engineering, brute force, and key logging, making it an excellent all-around security measure.

What’s the difference between two-factor authentication (2FA) and MFA?

Two-factor authentication or two-step verification uses only two factors, where MFA can involve two or more. So it’s accurate to say that 2FA is a subset of MFA.

Three-factor authentication is more secure than 2FA, but users want a solution that’s quick and easy. Unfortunately, companies lean toward 2FA to keep customers and employees happy. But we may one day see three or more factors as the standard.

How does multi-factor authentication work?

MFA requires a user to provide several pieces of proof to a security system. For example, when paying with a credit card, you start with the possession step by inserting the card into the reader, then engage the knowledge step by typing in your code.

Digital accounts commonly require a permanent username and password as a first step. The next step could involve a physical token such as a keycard, biometric information such as a voice or face scan, or a one-time password (OTP).

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OTPs usually come from an algorithm that creates single-use codes which expire quickly, combining the time and possession factors. Even if cybercriminals know your password, they have little opportunity to acquire your temporary code and little time to crack it. Using an authenticator app or token is more secure than SMS because the code generates on your device rather than through the network.

Does the Netilion IIoT ecosystem use MFA?

In a word, yes. As the owner of a Netilion account, you can enable MFA for all users of the account.

Your team members can scan the provided QR code using an authenticator app, which activates the OTP algorithm. Each 6-digit password expires every 30 seconds, so you know your sensitive process and asset data is safe.

You can find the Google Authenticator app in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. You can also use the Microsoft Authenticator, if you prefer; it’s also available in the Play Store and the App Store.

Besides being more secure than SMS, authenticator apps come in handy when you’re outside the coverage zone, as often happens around industrial plants.

Why is multi-factor authentication important for industrial cybersecurity?

At some point, you’ve probably seen a news article about companies that lost tons of customer data to poor security and bad actors. Such a breach in the industrial sector can be even more expensive.

An IBM study found that it takes an average of 307 days and $5.2M to identify and contain a breach in the industrial sector, making it the fourth most costly sector for data theft.

Single-factor authentication is weak to brute-force attacks, where criminals bombard accounts with random login and password combinations. MFA can substantially reduce the risk of data leakage through this kind of cyberattack.

Can MFA be hacked?

As with any digital technology, there’s always some risk. However, most hacking-related breaches occur because of weak or stolen passwords.

MFA acts as a second shield of protection for your industrial network cybersecurity. Even if your password is compromised, hackers will often avoid systems that use OTPs in favor of easier pickings.

Why do you need multi-factor authentication in your plant?

A lot of industrial plants store their data locally, and authentication depends on the facility's regulations. However, the Industrial Internet of Things makes it possible to store data in the cloud so that users can access information anywhere at any time.

Many people are skeptical about cloud storage because it physically lies "outside" the company. But if your local control system has average security standards and only uses single-factor authentication, Netilion’s MFA-protected cloud solution would be more secure.

In addition to MFA, the Netilion IIoT ecosystem meets high standards in information security, like ISO 27001, 27017 and 9001. Netilion also uses one-way communication between the field and the cloud. Communication in the other direction is prohibited, to protect the field against manipulation.

You can learn more about Netilion security in our article, “Cybersecurity in industry plants with IIoT: What really counts …and how secure is Netilion?” But you’ll hardly find a better way to protect your sensitive industrial data from cyber-attacks, so click here to check Netilion out for free!

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Take care!