Design glossary » Multi-factor authentication (MFA) definition

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) definition in product & ux design

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What is a Multi-factor authentication (MFA) page in design?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) in a SaaS (Software as a Service) web application is a security protocol that requires users to provide multiple forms of verification to prove their identity. This process is the digital counterpart of a bank requiring both a card and a PIN before granting you access to an ATM machine—it ensures that the person seeking access is indeed authorized.

MFA is critical in protecting both the user's data and the application's integrity from unauthorized access that could result from compromised login credentials. In a world where cyber threats are as common as they are damaging, MFA acts as an additional line of defense, much like a moat surrounding a castle.

The flow of multi-factor authentication typically involves several steps:

  1. Initial Login Attempt: The user signs in using their regular credentials, such as a username and password. This step is analogous to using a key to unlock the door to your home.

  2. Authentication Request: After the initial login credentials are verified, the system prompts the user for a second factor of authentication. It's like a security system asking for a code once you've entered your house.

  3. Verification Method: The user selects or is presented with a method for the additional verification step. This could be a text message with a code, an authentication app, a phone call, or a biometric verification such as a fingerprint or facial recognition. Picture this as a high-tech lock that requires a fingerprint or a retinal scan for added security.

  4. Supplying Additional Authentication: The user must enter the code or confirm their identity using the chosen secondary method. It’s the equivalent of providing a secret passphrase or answering a security question.

  5. Access Granted or Denied: If the additional authentication step is successful, the user gains access to the app. If it fails, access is denied, and the user might be prompted to try again or contact support, similar to a bouncer checking an ID before allowing entrance to a club.

  6. Optional Trusting: In certain configurations, users may have the option to 'trust' a device so that MFA is not required every time on that particular piece of hardware. It's akin to a security officer recognizing you and waiving you through because they know you are a frequent, authorized visitor.

The MFA flow is designed to be user-friendly yet secure enough to deter potential intruders. While it adds an extra step to the login process, the trade-off is a significantly more robust security posture, ensuring that users' accounts and sensitive information remain protected. It is a safeguard in our digital society and an essential feature for any modern SaaS application where user data security is a priority.

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