Two-Factor vs Adaptive Authentication: Which Is Better?

If your business is considering an investment in multifactor authentication, you may be wondering what the difference is between two-factor authentication and adaptive authentication. Is two-factor authentication good enough? Is adaptive authentication really that much better? And how do you find the right solution for your business? 

Two-Factor Authentication Offers Protection 

As a quick overview, two-factor authentication (2FA) is a form of multifactor authentication (MFA). 2FA adds security to an account by requiring a piece of additional information beyond just a password. Because passwords can be easily stolen or guessed, 2FA offers much stronger protection to an account. 

Standard 2FA combines two factors – typically a password (something you know) with a code generated by an app on a smartphone (something you have) or a fingerprint swipe (something you are). The same factors are required every time. Sometimes an option to “trust” a device is available, so the 2FA step doesn’t have to be repeated on that device for every login event. 

Two-Factor Authentication Lacks Flexibility 

2FA solutions have evolved significantly over the last decade. Newer solutions are cost-effective and scalable, and typically allow the user to leverage a personal device, like a smartphone. They’ve also become more familiar to consumers, thanks to big brands like Google offering apps that integrate easily with email, social media, banking, and more. 

The downside to standard 2FA, though, is that it lacks flexibility and intelligence. They’re typically standalone solutions that don’t integrate with other systems, so there is little oversight and visibility from an IT perspective. 2FA solutions also don’t adapt to a wide range of use cases and scenarios. With 2FA, the authentication factors required have nothing to do with the individual user’s risk profile or login scenarios. Either 2FA is on, and required, or it’s off, and not required. This can slow down users when the added security is not necessary. 

Adaptive Authentication Provides Simple, Risk-Based Intelligence 

As you can see in the infographic below, adaptive authentication provides many advantages over standard 2FA. Adaptive authentication allows MFA to be deployed in a way that evaluates a user’s risk profile and behaviors and adapts authentication requirements to different situations. By only prompting the user when necessary and offering a more intuitive experience with features like biometrics, adaptive authentication offers many usability benefits over 2FA. 

One of the major benefits of adaptive authentication is the granular admin policies that allow an organization to define risk levels based on role, location, time, the resource being accessed, or another parameter. Over time, the solution will also learn the typical behaviors of an individual user and determine what the authentication requirements should be based on whether the user is acting within the “normal” range of behaviors or has deviated from them. 

Essentially, standard 2FA is a one-size-fits-all approach, in which low-risk events may have requirements that are unnecessarily burdensome on a user, while high-risk events may not have enough security. Adaptive authentication aims to solve this by accommodating both scenarios, balancing ease of use for everyday activities while heightening security where it matters most.  

Check out the infographic below for more reasons why you should consider adaptive authentication over standard two-factor authentication.  

Ready to learn more? Explore how LastPass can help you address your authentication and access challenges.