Technology For Business Podcast Season 1 Episode 1: Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): The basics and why does my business need it?

Join Todd Sorg (COO and CISO) and Nate Schmitt (Director of Cybersecurity) from CIT as they chat about all things MFA. Whether it’s examples of MFA/2FA or addressing employee concerns when implementing MFA they’ve got advice for your small to medium-sized business.

Want to connect with our speakers? Email info@cit-net.com or call 651.255.5780.

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Transcript 

00:00:01 Kelsey Welcome to the first CIT tech for business podcasts. Today we’re sitting down with Nate and Todd and we’re going to talk about multi factor authentication, our first acronym, we’re kicking off strong MFA leading in you guys. First off, let us a little bit about you and what is MFA

00:00:18 Todd Thanks, Kelsey, I am Todd. I am Cit’s chief operations officer. I am also our chief Information Security Officer. I’ll let Nate introduce himself and he can kick off the MFA overview as well. 

00:00:31 Nate Yeah, and my name is Nate. I’m our director of cyber security here at CIT. Just help oversee the operational components of our department.

So multi-factor authentication, also known as two factor authentication, is really the core is basically another form of authentication and there’s multiple variants to this, but essentially it’s a mix of something that you have something you know and something that you are and as long as you have two of the three of those to log into a system that’s what multi factor or two factor authentication is. 

00:01:13 Nate 

So what does that look like for something that you know is something likely going to be like a password or something like a PIN code? 

Then there’s something that you are. That’s something that’s going to be like biometrics. So for example, in order to log into some computers, you need to touch your fingerprint or you know you see things on you know some of those crime shows where they’re doing the iris scanning to get into the secure facilities. That’s something that you are. 

Then there’s something that you have, and this is where this is most common in business.  Uhm, due to you know, privacy concerns with the biometrics and everything, but something you have is something that’s going to look like either your cell phone and, you know, in order to do like a push notification to it, it’s going to be something that could be a USB that you have to plug in. 

So I have in front of me. A hardware token that, in order to log in after I put in my password, I plug this into my computer.  I touch it and it just activates and sends off another code, so that’s another form. Then they even have ones, I have another little hardware token in front of me which looks like a little credit card. This is something where it has little battery in it. I click on it, it generates A6 digit code and then from there I enter in that code as well. 

So I put in both my password and a code from something that is in my possession, so that’s what multi-factor is in general. 

00:02:51 Nate 

Where is it used is a whole different discussion, and I’ll let Todd take that over. 

00:02:58 Todd 

But I wanted to back up just to hear before we went too far where we use it. 

It’s been around for for decades.  It’s not a new technology.

People have been using it for banking where you get a text message. Or something along those lines, and that’s typically referred to as 2FA, but the reason why? 

What reason why I interrupted Nate is I just kind of wanted to kind of back up and say why do we use it, right? And the biggest reason that typically comes up and everybody that’s here can kind of expand on it. But what ends up happening is that people typically have issues with passwords. 

Passwords are painful, they’re difficult to remember, so people tend to make them easy to remember, and that’s, you know, your phone number, your childhood best friend, whatever it is your pet and what makes matters worse is that people then use that password everywhere. And if you’re looking at social media or LinkedIn, your work, your work, email and accounts, etc.  More often than not, most people tend to reuse it over and over and over. 

00:03:52 Todd 

Again, inherently what ends up happening is if something ever happens and it could be anything from if you’re in the Twin Cities, there was a Star Tribune hack, there was also a hack that happened on the the meters downtown Minneapolis where they were able to take account names and passwords and post that on through what’s referred to the dark web, and once that’s been out there, if you’ve ever had that information harvested from you, it’s now out in the wild.

So how do you protect it? 

That’s where multi factor comes in. 

So I just wanted to make sure we covered that piece real briefly, so we’ve got that whole picture of what it is, where it came from, why we’re worried about? 

But the answer is, passwords are bad. People hate them, and we could get into that a little bit later on. You know, what can we do about it?  Can we rely more on biometrics at some point in the future? But it’s a little bit off topic of where we’re at at the moment. 

Uhm, where most people will try to implement a multi-factor authentication tool set.  Is anything that’s quote-on-quote “Internet facing” more often than not, one of the larger threats that we’re seeing in our business, and this has been true for for years we’ve we’ve been kind of banging the drum on multi factor for about five years at least. And that’s how I bet that’s the idea. So you could kind of see a correlation there, but email is probably the biggest, so Microsoft has done a really nice job of pushing everybody in the cloud. Google is doing the same. They’re huge providers. 

Once people move their email to the cloud, some of the inherent security that was in having email inside an organization started to be exposed to the Internet. 

And typically most people were signing in with the email address. Which is more often than not, first name, last name, first letter, last name or vice versa, and and then at the company, so that part is super easy to figure out and then you just start going down the list, right? It’s winter, 2022 exclamation point and so on. Then I’m in. 

So in order to protect that that’s where multi factor is coming along. 

00:05:47 Nate 

Yeah, a quick stat that comes to mind. So this was all the way back in 2019, but Microsoft did push out an article, and I’m sure that the numbers have only increased since then, just given the nature that people continue to move to the cloud. But back in 2019 Microsoft put out an article that said their login services for this or their cloud services have attempted logins over 300,000,000 times a day that were fraudulent, and so the article is saying if you implement multi-factor authentication on the accounts it reduces the risk of account compromise by 99.9% right it it’s. 

Everyone, there’s a couple different attacks that people are going to take to try and get to your account fishing. You know, we’ve talked about fishing here at CIT many, many times, but fishing for those that don’t have the full understanding on (phishing) that is an attacker will send you a fraudulent email attempt to elicit your username and password, and then they’ll use that to then log into your account so it’s a fraudulent way of capturing your credential. 

That’s one method, one of the other common methods which for example Todd had mentioned is password reuse. 

If you’re compromising one account, you reuse the same password and it’s leaked out on the dark web you take that and go attempt to log into other services with that and then the last one is just what they call password spraying so you just or password stuffing. You just attempt to push as many passwords as possible for a particular user until one is successful, right, and by having the multi factor, all of those methods are defeated. 

Uhm, there is some considerations to take into play at which we can get into a little bit later too, but, for the majority, if you just implement multi-factor, you reduce about 99.9% of all attempts to log into the system fraudulently. 

00:07:54 Todd 

But you kind of mentioned that already about the statistics. Do you have a rough idea of what number of attacks are coming from email so we can use our own examples of what we’re seeing most of our customers suffer? Does it typically end up being in the the world of cyber security? They refer to it as business email compromise. 

Do you have a sense on how many attacks we see coming in through email specifically? 

00:08:22 Nate 

Even if we take a look at CIT systems, if I pull up any given day, there’s hundreds of them, right? It’s it’s just the simple fact of the password.  Spraying is real, right? Everyone has our email addresses. It’s entered in someone’s database dump, right? Because for example, if we continue to push on things like the Star Tribune or the Minneapolis, the parking that was compromised, right? And they had the email addresses. If you have ever used your work account for that it’s floating out there. t’s on a list. People are just going to attempt it with all the common passwords. There’s some big password lists out there that are known to be highly effective because people tend to just pick bad passwords across the board so, yeah..

…it’s hundreds of times a day for any organization, even if you’re small. 

00:09:18 Todd 

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s great. It’s a great key.

Once Upon a time we were used to talk about organization sites and people used to say hey, I’m way too small to be attacked and and that really isn’t the case anymore. 

Statistically, it’s something along the lines of 5660% of all attacks happen against small businesses, and the reason is because it’s easy, they don’t always have the wherewithal, the technical, technical ability to understand what they should be doing, and so on and so forth so the attacks are real and it does impact everybody. 

I’m sure people see it even happening at home. I get stuff from PayPal and Apple and you name it, I get attacked all the time that I need to click on something or reset something all the time. Uhm, staying on statistics. The reason why I ask Nate about the percent of attacks is I think it’s still somewhere in the high 90s of all attacks that are coming in tend to be fishing and that’s somewhere in the high 90s. 

And as he mentioned, if you can protect correct services and your identity with 99.9%. I mean that’s significant, right? And and the number one tool being MFA. 

There are some statistics we can share this out to, you know, you probably for those that are listening, won’t be able to see this, but we can share it in the channel. And if you’re interested, we can find ways to get you the information as well, but there was the United National Cyber Security chief said that 80 to 90% of all attacks, not just email. All attacks can be circumvented by having multi-factor in. So how we started out? This meeting is what is, but what’s the threat and what are you doing about it? 

Ultimately, that’s why we keep talking about multi-factor authentication. One last statistic, in case you’re wondering, well, sure this has been something we’ve talked about for years. We’ve got it statistically, there was 55% of all organizations have multi-factor enabled only 55% so only half and even in those cases a lot of times people are. Very picky and choosy on how they do it, so they may only do it with their tech team. Or they may only do it with their administrators and so small number of organizations. I shouldn’t say small ’cause half US is a significant number…

…but half (of businesses) still don’t have it, so it’s a major problem and it is still where we see most attacks coming from and can be circumvented by putting multi factor in place. 

00:11:31 Tara

So Todd, maybe I have a question about that – You mentioned that there’s over half organizations that don’t have that. Why do you think that is? What barriers are they looking at (in order) to be like I I don’t have time to do MFA talk a little bit more as to why that’s the case. 

00:11:50 Nate 

I think that right your question answered one of them. They don’t see that they have time to implement it, right is. Often these are slightly lengthier engagements. You know, it doesn’t need to be complicated, but the more time you put into ensuring that it’s a smooth process, the smoother the adoption is going to be.It’s easy to just to go into a system and say everyone has it on. 

That’s where your user friction is going to come into play, and absolutely everyone is going to be upset that day as they are trying to sign into things. 

So user adoption is. One of those items that you need to be pretty cognizant of when you’re implementing it. There’s also some additional strategies that you need to take in order to actually implement it successfully. 

So for example, if the user friction is, “I don’t want to put this code in every single time I’m logging in.”

You can do things to say well, maybe let’s bypass multi-factor from within the office right there is. (There is) some residual risk there that maybe the organization is willing to accept because, for the most part, if someone does have the password and they are attempting to log in, it will likely come from outside of the office. That doesn’t mean that maybe that user’s computer is compromised and there’s a some type of script that calls in from internally, but again, the likelihood is significantly. 

So if your employees are constantly working from the office, you could still bypass multi-factor. 

The larger you put that bypass you know, maybe it’s the the state the the country, right? The bigger the risk becomes, but there are strategies that you can implement without. 

I’d say the other (user friction) one is cost.

there’s a lot of different multi factor solutions out on the market, so if you’re only looking at doing something like email, all of the major email providers now are implementing it or offering it for free, right? You can implement it in Office 365 G suite. There’s no additional cost. 

If you’re looking to use some type of third party service. Then you’re going to start seeing those licensing costs for you know more of a per user cost there. The the other component that I would say is – how far do you want to implement multi-factor across the organization, right? 

You know Todd mentioned that the most common one that’s going to be abused is going to be your email system, so start there. Then you can start looking at other services as well, such as your VPN critical business applications. Once you start wanting to implement multi-factor on those additional systems, that’s where some of the paid services come into play, because they do extend out to additional services and different protocols. User friction cost. 

I think the other big (user friction) one that I’ll let Todd maybe expand on a little bit more is executive buy in. 

Yeah I I would say the two things that I would say by far are the biggest thing that I see as resistance is more often than not when you go through it you are going to put a little bit of friction in between your employees and and them getting work done. 

00:15:21 Todd 

Uhm, the typical pushback that you will get back from that employee is (action description – I’m holding up my phone This is my phone.) The company doesn’t pay for it. I am not putting your business application on my phone. 

The reality is, there are ways to start to build up the the adoption right? So you can be a little forceful with it and you say, OK, great, well we’re just going to give you a token. We’re going to give you a business phone and bear with me when I walk through some of this because I’m not actually encouraging you to go out and buy 100 phones. But when you start to go hey employee, I’m going to give you 2. I’m going to give you a phone and they’ve got their own person. 

They’re going to think, “I don’t want two phones just to avoid putting in the six digit code”, and they’ll usually adopt it. Or you give them a token and they’re like, “This is inconvenient. I have to make sure I have it with me when I’m logging in from home. I gotta go grab my keys ’cause it’s on my keychain.” Whatever the case may be, that’s usually where they’re kind of pushing back and then inevitably what ends up happening is you go OK, well, here’s a solution, here’s a solution, here’s a solution (action descriptionholding up fingers to count all three items).

They’re (the user is) like, “The reality is, it’s it’s so convenient to just have it on my phone that I carry with me everywhere anyway. I’ll just go ahead and do it and the reality is, it’s not really all that complex.”

It’s not a heavyweight thing, it’s not dipping into any of your personal information. It’s just an app and it’s only doing a couple of things. It’s either generating A6 digit code or longer or it’s pushing you with content that says is this you.

When it comes to Executive adoption (the thought is that) it is inconvenient. 

A lot of people don’t want to be bothered. I’ll give a good example. And as I said, multi-factor’s been around for ages. Back many, many years ago in the early 2000s I had joined in organization and the very first thing I did was (our remote connections is really insecure.) (say) “Let’s implement multi-factor”, and I implemented it. It probably lasted about a month before the CEO said, ” I can’t stand it. Turn it off.” uhm now? 

The security threats weren’t nearly what they are today, but I learned a lot during that time too, so one of those strategies, or several of the strategies Nate covered already is you start small

It starts (with) going well, let’s start with a small group that are my power users. Maybe that’s it and then you get a few other people that go OK. It’s working. It really isn’t that bad and you start to expand it or you. Less than some of the security requirements, as Nate said, you can make an area trusted it’s work, work as trusted I’ve got the adoption in. People are getting used to the fact that when I’m at work I don’t get prompted when I’m at home. I do OK. It’s not a big deal and then you go OK, we’re going to ratchet it up a little bit. We’re going to add another location. We’re going to add another application. We’re going to whatever, and so you can continue to build on the security and you can get that buy in just naturally. 

You know, probably many people have heard the term, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way is, It’s a bit of a boiled frog scenario as as you start to do what they realize you know really isn’t that bad. Not that we’re trying to boil our employees, but you know conceptually is you just do it a little bit at a time and you’re improving your security as you go. 

00:18:23 Nate 

So one last user friction that I I wanted to call out that’s not as common, but it does come up from time to time is Union policies.

So if you want to have an employee start downloading an application on their phone or start carrying around, you know, a phone just for phone calls and stuff. Sometimes Union policies will say, well, you need to start reimbursing the employees for that. There is a cost associated with that, and so that definitely feeds into some of the other considerations.

That’s sometimes where hardware tokens come into play. You know it’s maybe a $20 hardware token, right, or that’s one time cost.  It’s not reoccurring, so you can still implement multi-factor without having to, you know, start reimbursing for cell phones or paying for the phones outright. 

It’s one that I don’t commonly hear, but on more of the the production environments you know, and I I’m not going to get deep into compliance here, but things like CMMC, right? It’s starting to ask for multi factor.  CMMC tends to be a lot of the manufacturing firms where there’s a lot of union employees so. 

00:19:40 Todd 

Yeah, I’ll expand on the compliance piece too. I mean, there’s a lot coming up. If you’re in any compliance industry, health care, finance, you name it. As Nate mentioned, manufacturing, it’s going to be something that you’re probably already experiencing. As I mentioned, you know you’ve been being prompted for an additional code from your bank for days for weeks, months, years, whatever the case may be, it is coming in. 

This is just me expanding a little bit, in my opinion…

…Compliance is coming and it’s going to be expanding over the next five years, so there are going to be reasons why you’re going to have to adopt something like this. 

So if the threat of cyber attacks isn’t enough, there are going to be other things, and you can already see it’s happening. So This is why I’m saying it. 

If you look over the last year, the Biden administration had come out and said the cyber attacks are getting worse and worse. We’re spending tons of money. We’re constantly under attack. What are we going to do about it? They built out an executive order and they specifically say you’ve got to have MFA, if that’s not enough, the insurance companies are doing it too. 

So if you’re looking at cyber security insurance and almost everybody is asking for it at this point. Uhm, they’re going to be looking forward as well. Uh, as I’m going down this compliance thing, I’ll wrap this up briefly and I’ll pass it back to Nate. But as you’re looking at the compliance thing, I was actually working with one of our customers and they were going through the insurance process and they don’t have any of the compliance from CMC Healthcare. Any of that. But the insurance organization had come in and they did what I would consider pretty much a full IT audit where they were looking at data diagrams. They’re looking at security protocols. I mean, it was everything, so I actually went on site and met with the insurance adjuster just to make sure that we covered all of the information. That we needed to cover and it was significant. It took an hour and obviously MFA is included in that. 

It’s kind of the way life insurance used to be where with life insurance you could just sign on the dotted line (and) off you went. You got a whole bunch of coverage and that’s changed over the years to whereas the underwriting is going (to say) now I need blood work and I need to wait. You and I need health background and family history and yadda yadda. 

It’s just gonna get worse, and where I was going with it… and like I said, I was going to wrap that up quickly and I didn’t, so I’ll stop talking and pass it back to Nate. 

00:22:02 Kelsey 

Yeah, can I interrupt for just just a hot second, as we’ve kind of gone down the compliance path and all of these good things. Kind of looking back at if you’re having user friction and you’re having people there, like, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t have this code pushed to my phone. It’s too much work.” Why is it effective at actually preventing? These attacks, what is it doing for me?

I’m like yeah I get it, I get the phone, I put it (the code or push notification) in and congratulations. So we’re saying yeah, it’s 99, or over 99% effective? Why? 

00:22:30 Nate 

Yeah, a good question there. Before I jump into that. While Todd was talking, I decided to go look at our system here just to see how many of that password spraying attempt I saw in our system in the last 24 hours. It was just shy of 200 attempts, right? I can see the logs, so again, we’re not a big company by any means. It happens all the time, so. 

Why is it (MFA) so effective, right?

So if I just called out, there’s nearly 200 attempts in the last 24 hours to password spray our environment there. The reason why it (MFA) is so effective is, even if a password is compromised the threat actor is not going to have the other form of multi-factor, or the the other form the second form, or the third form of multi factor. 

In order to get into the system so password I’ve showed this to people before is, I say here’s a dummy account in, like a Gmail or something, right? Here’s the password. I’ll give you 100 bucks if you can get into that, because I have the multi-factor keys here. It just doesn’t happen. I’ve never paid someone out, because they would have to retrieve that file from me or that hardware token from me in order to get into place.

So, where we typically see multi-factor fail is not the the technology in itself. 

It’s still the user. 

So there are websites that will try and capture the multi-factor token and pass it through to the legitimate site and then redirect the user so they’ll still log in, but it’s the user who has fallen for a fraudulent website, still entered in their password and given up the multi-factor code gave it both of them to the attacker. Then the attacker just goes logs in and you know there is a timing on these tokens where maybe they’re good for five minutes. Maybe they’re good for 15 minutes. It allows for users to have a grace period to access their phones sitting on the desk access the email, access the text message so if you give it up right away, and then you hand it over. Is someone immediately? They’re going to use it first, right? 

I I just worked with another organization where their multi-factor was a phone call, right? 

So this is actually a pretty common attack method at the moment it’s called. MFA bombing.

So what you do is you just bug the user enough until they just say “I can’t take it anymore”, accept the phone call, and that was the phone call that was the MFA prompt and the attacker just logs in, right?  

So in the instance that I was looking at with that other customer, it was attacker tried to log in, was prompted with a 6 digit code. They weren’t able to get that, so then they switched over to the backup which is a phone call. Sent the user a phone call. It failed because the user didn’t accept it. 30 seconds later sent another one. It failed. Sent the next one. The user said “I’m sick of this call” accept, and the attacker logged in, so yeah. 

00:25:47 Todd 

Another one I’ll throw in. We don’t see this as often in the endpoint of this is you still need training when you deploy the tool, but we have seen people that have deployed the push technology so that is when you log in and you get a push to your phone that says was this really you? You know we have had people that have been attacked where someone was like, “yeah, I just logged in” and they’ve allowed the attacker in even though they didn’t personally sign in. So there is kind of a training aspect that goes with it. 

Uhm, one last thing that I kind of wanted to dive into – I know we talked about the threats and the attacks and whatnot, but as we’re wrapping this up I just kind of wanted to kind of re illustrate some of the real concerns and and ultimately I we talked about compliance. We talked about the threats we talked about all of that stuff. The reality is the reason behind that is because of the cost, and the cost is built up from a lot of different things. 

From the ransomware, if you get attacked from ransomware, ransomware more often than not they started nowadays. They started around $1,000,000 and they start to get talked down to something real. It includes downtime, it includes unproductive employees, etc. Statistically, the last time I looked at it we were somewhere on average, so that’s average across all SMB market, not you’re a bigger company. You get bigger ransomware, etc. It’s about $500,000 down time, about two weeks, so that’s fairly significant, and if I can deploy something like MFA and protect 90% to 99.9. It’s something you really gotta start to consider and go, “boy, I can reduce my risk by $500,000 in a given year. 

That’s probably (worth it for) something that’s little bit of friction, a little bit of build up. We can find a way to move forward. It’s a good way to start looking at it and thinking about it and go where do we go from here? 

00:27:33 Nate 

Yeah, and the one thing that I’d add to that is the cost is going to be dependent on the the application or system that the threat actor is obtaining access to, right so? So Todd was mentioning ransomware that could have been multi-factor on a VPN for example, right, someone had a compromised password, attacker gets into the VPN. Most companies don’t have a dedicated demilitarized or DMZ zone for VPN users, they just say once you pass through, you have full access to the network. 

That’s where those ransomware costs are going to come into play. 

It could be something like your email system, right? Someone in there just obtaining data. Maybe it’s a fraudulent wire transfer that they’re trying to set up, whatever that number is it could be 10,000, I’ve dealt with the ones that are $500,000 wire transfers, right? 

It’s just a matter of; What are they accessing? What are the costs? and whatever…

…the ransomware remediation costs are I promise that it’s far more than the cost of implementing multi-factor at the end of the day.

00:28:39 Todd 

Yeah, so so kind of as a last thought from me (and Nate can jump in on this too If he’s got any) but the last thing I have is we did talk about, sometimes there’s friction, sometimes there’s a technical hurdle, if you will, beause there are ways to go about it, there’s paid solutions etc. Obviously if you need help, reach out to your trusted partners. There’s a lot of help out there or there course you can go do your Google searches as well. 

So in the end when you need help, reach out. Reach out to those (technology partners) that you trust and you can get some good support from. 

00:29:07 Nate 

Yeah, I I guess my final closing thought is:

Everyone scared of user friction, but in almost every case, it ends up being more of a concern that doesn’t always come to fruition, right, is that the impact is actually fairly minimal if you implement it correctly. So, a lot of those concerns are unfortunately, just not fully grounded based on facts, right? Just feelings. 

00:29:41 Kelsey 

Awesome, thank you so much Todd and Nate for sitting down and chatting about MFA and all of the things that we could go into it. I’m sure that you guys would love to chat with anybody for an extended period of time about any of this that we could tangent on a lot of things. But that wraps up our first Tech for Business podcast here today. 

If you guys have more questions that you want to ask feel free to reach out to info@cit.net.com or give us a call 651.255.5780 or we’re also online at www.cit.net.com/podcast, but that’s our little marketing spiel on there that. 

We’re here to answer your questions anytime about any cyber security needs or technology for business, and we will chat with you guys next week. 

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