6 Steps to Prevent MFA Fatigue Attack: How Does MFA Work?

September 25, 2023

Imagine guarding your house with multiple locks, thinking you've outsmarted any potential thief. That's the promise of multi-factor authentication (MFA). But what if someone could not only pick those locks but also make copies of the keys for everyone else? Sounds scary, doesn't it? 

The problem you face is known as the MFA fatigue attack. These attacks make you so annoyed with MFA that you either turn it off or overlook warning signs, making you an easy target. It's like having so many locks that you start ignoring whether they're actually secure. Surprisingly, you're not alone in this problem. Microsoft revealed that they saw over 382,000 MFA fatigue attacks in 2022, which is expected to increase this year. 

The good news? You can prevent MFA fatigue and safeguard your digital realm without breaking a sweat. 

MFA fatigue attack: Woman using a smartphone to authenticate her identity, exemplifying multi-factor authentication

What is multi-factor authentication (MFA)? 

So, you've heard the term "multi-factor authentication," or MFA, thrown around, but what's the big deal? MFA is like a high-tech bouncer at the entrance of your online accounts. Instead of letting you in with just a password (that's like the basic cover charge), MFA asks for another form of ID. Maybe it's a text message code sent to your phone, or perhaps it's a fingerprint. Either way, MFA makes sure you're really you.

Collage featuring different authentication methods like text codes, authenticator apps, biometrics, and physical keys

What authentication factors are commonly used for MFA?

As mentioned, MFA is like a security guard that asks for multiple IDs before letting you in. Instead of just using a password (which can be stolen or guessed), MFA adds extra layers of verification. Here's what those layers commonly are:

  1. Text codes: You'll get a short code via SMS. Just enter it after you type in your password. Easy-peasy.
  2. Authenticator apps: These apps generate new codes every few seconds. Open the app and use the current code to log in.
  3. Biometrics: Think fingerprints or facial recognition. Perfect for when you're feeling all James Bond-ish but still want security.
  4. Physical keys: These are USB devices you plug into your computer. No key, no entry. Kinda like the VIP list at a club.
MFA fatigue attack prevention: Tired individual overlooking important security notifications on a laptop screen, showcasing MFA fatigue

What are MFA fatigue attacks? 

On an average day, you might encounter multiple MFA prompts. From signing into your email to confirming a payment, it's a constant game of "authenticate this, verify that." These prompts serve a purpose, but their frequency could make you susceptible to fatigue. Before you know it, you might overlook critical details that differentiate legitimate from malicious prompts. That's how the MFA fatigue attack works. 

When this happens, you get careless, maybe even frustrated. In this state, you're more likely to fall for scams or ignore warning signs. The attacker then counts on you being too tired or distracted to double-check. Some of the most common ways threat actors take advantage of MFA are through: 

  1. Phishing scams: Attackers may use sophisticated phishing techniques, presenting fake but convincing MFA prompts to the user. Given the user is already experiencing 'MFA fatigue,' there is a higher likelihood of falling for these traps.
  2. Alert spoofing: Attackers could flood the user with false positive alerts, thereby desensitizing them to real threats and making it easier to sneak in malicious activity amid the noise.
  3. Social engineering: Exploiting the user's fatigued state to extract sensitive information that can be used to compromise the MFA system.
  4. Credential stuffing: Relying on the fact that a fatigued user may recycle old codes, attackers try combinations of known passwords and usernames.
Person closely scrutinizing an MFA prompt on their computer screen, representing steps to detect MFA fatigue attacks

6 steps to detect an MFA fatigue attack: Is this a real MFA prompt? 

You can't let your guard down, especially when it comes to MFA fatigue attacks. So, let's roll up our sleeves and detect this invisible enemy. But how do you do it? 

Step #1: Verify the source

Is the prompt coming from a recognized number or email? Fraudulent messages often come from unfamiliar addresses. Take a second to double-check; it's worth it.

Step #2: Inspect the language

Look out for awkward phrasing or typos in the text of the prompt. Real MFA prompts are professional and concise. If it sounds off, it probably is.

Step #3: Examine the timing

Think about the context. If you get an MFA prompt while you're not trying to access the account in question, be cautious. Reach out to the service provider to confirm if it's legitimate.

Step #4: Cross-check with official apps

Many service providers have official apps that show a log of account activities. If you receive an unexpected prompt, check the activity log in the official app to see if it aligns with the prompt.

Step #5: Contact customer support

When in doubt, don't hesitate to contact customer support. Most companies can quickly confirm the legitimacy of an MFA prompt. It's a simple step that can save you a lot of trouble.

Step #6: Use a security key

A physical security key can act as an extra layer of protection against fraudulent prompts. These keys are only activated when connected to the legitimate site, making it easier for you to identify fakes.

Man setting up various layers of security on his computer as a way to prevent MFA fatigue attacks

MFA fatigue attack prevention: Ways to protect yourself

You've heard the saying, "Prevention is better than cure." Well, that applies to MFA fatigue attacks, too. Since you're familiar with the threats and how to spot them, let's dive into how you can fortify your digital life.

Boost your password game

Let's start with the basics—your password. You know you shouldn't be using "123456" or "password," right? Switch to a unique and complex password for each account. Make it a cocktail of upper-case letters, lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. It's your first line of defense; don't make it easy for attackers to break through.

Quick tip: Use a reputable password manager to keep track of your complex passwords.

Scrutinize every notification

In the digital age, skepticism is a virtue. Whenever you receive an MFA prompt, take a moment to scrutinize it. Is the timing right? Does the source seem legit? A couple of extra seconds spent here can save you from potentially disastrous consequences.

Update, update, update

Do you know those annoying reminders to update your software or app? Don't ignore them. Updates often contain security patches that protect you from new types of attacks. Keep your system and your apps up-to-date to benefit from the latest security measures.

Layer up your security

Remember, one lock isn't enough. Use multiple authentication methods—something you know (password), something you have (mobile device), and something you are (fingerprint or facial recognition). The more layers, the better.

Keep tabs on account activities

Regularly review activity logs if your service provider offers this feature. Unusual or unauthorized activity? Report it and change your credentials immediately.

Futuristic image of advanced biometric and behavioral authentication methods, indicating the future of MFA

The road ahead: What is the future of MFA? 

You know the drill: a password here, a fingerprint scan there, maybe even a facial recognition step. But guess what? Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is not done evolving. As technology advances, MFA is becoming smarter and more intuitive.

Imagine walking up to your computer, and it knows it's you—not just from your password, but from the unique way you type it. That's behavioral biometrics for you. Or how about a security system that detects your heartbeat? That's not sci-fi; it's the next wave in MFA.

The point is the future is pushing MFA beyond mere passwords and tokens to more dynamic methods that are harder to crack. This is great for you because it means enhanced security that’s also more user-friendly.

So, as you embrace MFA to protect your digital realm, remember that the future holds even more promise. We're talking about a more intelligent, more responsive, and, ultimately, safer environment for everyone. And you, armed with the knowledge of where cybersecurity is headed, can prepare for these innovations, securing not just your present but also your future.

Scale weighing the pros and cons of using Multi-Factor Authentication

Pros and cons of MFA: Is having an MFA still safe for me? 

We've now proven that, like any security measure, MFA isn't perfect. So, aside from fatigue attacks, what else could go wrong when using MFA?

First, there's the human element. Let's say you use text messages as your second factor. If your phone is lost or stolen, whoever has it gains the keys to your kingdom. Or consider phishing attacks: crafty emails trick you into revealing your authentication codes and, bam, unauthorized access!

Then there are system glitches. Yep, technology isn't flawless. Software bugs or server downtime could temporarily lock you out of your accounts. Pretty inconvenient when you're on a deadline, right? So, with these pitfalls, is MFA still worth it? The answer is a resounding yes.

The challenges are there, but they don't outweigh the benefits. For every scenario where MFA could fail, there are countless more where it successfully fends off cyberattacks. The trick is to be aware and proactive. Use MFA methods that suit your lifestyle and business needs. Keep tabs on advancements in cybersecurity and update your systems accordingly. Even as you read this, developers are working on next-gen MFA solutions that are more reliable and secure.

So go ahead, keep that MFA in place. Just remember, it's a part of your security plan, not the whole thing. Always keep your eyes open for new risks and ways to strengthen your digital barriers. In a world where cyber threats evolve daily, every layer of protection counts.

CloudOrbis team member assisting a customer in setting up robust MFA protections

Worried about your data? Let CloudOrbis help you with your MFA!

Now that you know that MFA is a solid line of defense and has some gaps. Let's talk about how CloudOrbis can help you strengthen your cybersecurity and protect your data. 

First off, let's brag—just a little. With a stunningly quick response time of under 5 minutes and a 90% first-response resolution rate, we're a reliable partner for your IT security. It's no wonder our customer retention rate is 100%. 

Scared of the MFA fatigue attack? Shake it off. We offer a cocktail of robust IT measures that complement MFA, making your business even more secure. Our range spans everything from top-notch IT infrastructure to specialized services like data backup and Microsoft 365 optimization. So, with us, you're getting a comprehensive shield, not just a single armor plate.

Clock ticking with a call-to-action message urging immediate action for better MFA security

Why wait?

Enough said. Now it's your turn to make a move. With our roots in Oakville and our services expanding across Burlington, Mississauga, and Hamilton, we're poised to be the IT guardian you've been searching for. So why not take the next step? Contact us at 905 821 7004 or send a message to info@cloudorbis.com to schedule a comprehensive evaluation of your current setup.

Frequently asked questions

How does overload affect MFA security?

Overload in the context of MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) refers to a deliberate attempt by cybercriminals to flood a user with numerous authentication requests, also known as MFA bombing. This can confuse the victim, making them more susceptible to granting a hacker access to their account. The overload strategy can exploit attack vectors like push notification systems, causing a bombardment of MFA push notifications.

What is MFA bombing, and how is it different from MFA spamming?

MFA bombing is a specific form of cyberattack where the hacker initiates many MFA requests to overwhelm the victim. MFA spamming is slightly different; it involves spamming the user with numerous MFA notifications but doesn't necessarily rely on the victim granting access. Both attacks like these exploit the MFA system and can be highly disruptive.

How do hackers gain access through MFA authentication systems?

Hackers often employ social engineering attacks or scour the dark web for information that can help them crack your username and password. Once they initiate the MFA request, they will attempt to trick the user into approving the MFA push notification, thereby gaining unauthorized access.

How can I protect myself against multiple attack methods?

The key to defending against various attack methods, including MFA bombing and MFA spamming, lies in being vigilant. Always question unexpected MFA requests and never approve an MFA push notification or login attempt you did not initiate. Keep your security feature settings updated and adhere to best practices for maximum MFA security.