2FA vs MFA: Understand the Differences Between These Authentication Methods

2FA vs MFA: Understand the Differences Between These Authentication Methods

8 min read

You’ve probably heard terms like “2FA” and “MFA” thrown around, especially when it comes to securing your online accounts. But what do these acronyms actually mean, and how do they differ?

In this blog post, we’ll break down the nuts and bolts of Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). We’ll also guide you through the process of setting up these authentication methods on CoinPayments, so you can gain access to your account with an extra layer of security.

So, if you’ve ever scratched your head wondering about the difference between 2FA vs MFA, or if you’re just looking to bolster the security of your user accounts, you’re in the right place. Stick around as we explain these terms and help you make an informed decision on which authentication method suits you best.


What is Authentication?

difference between 2fa and mfa

Authentication is the process that confirms you are who you say you are when you’re trying to access your online accounts or systems. Think of it like a digital handshake between you and the service you’re using.

Now, you might be thinking, “Isn’t a username and password enough?” Well, not really. While entering a password is a form of authentication, it’s what we call “single factor authentication.” And let’s be honest, passwords alone aren’t much of the security they used to be. Cybercriminals have upped their game, and they’ve gotten pretty good at cracking passwords to gain unauthorized access to user accounts.

So, if you’re still relying solely on a username and password combo, your account’s security isn’t as robust as you might think. The more layers of authentication you add, the harder it becomes for someone to break in. That’s where Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) come into play, offering you additional authentication factors to ramp up your security.


What is Two Factor Authentication (2FA)

two factor authentication

Imagine you’re at a high-security event and the bouncer asks for both your ID and a special invite. That’s essentially what 2FA does for your online accounts – it asks for two types of proof before letting you in.

So, how does 2FA work? Well, it combines two of the following authentication factors:

  • Knowledge Factor: This is something you know, like your password or a PIN. It’s the basic level of security we’re all familiar with.
  • Possession Factor: This is something you physically have, like your smartphone or a hardware token. Ever received a text with a code to enter after logging in? That’s a possession factor.


The beauty of 2FA is that even if someone figures out your password, they’d still need the second factor – your phone or hardware token – to gain access.

Common ways to implement 2FA include receiving a one-time password via SMS or using an authentication app like Google Authenticator.


Types of Two Factor Authentication

From the basic SMS-based options to the more advanced biometric authentication, each type offers a different level of security and convenience. Let’s break down these various 2FA types to help you make an informed choice for safeguarding your accounts.


SMS-Based 2FA

SMS-based Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is one of the earliest forms of additional authentication factors. After entering your username and password, you receive a Time-Based One-Time Password (TOTP) via SMS. While straightforward, this method has vulnerabilities like SIM swapping and social engineering attacks.

A notable case that highlights these vulnerabilities involved a Coinbase customer in March 2023 who sued the company for over $96,000 in losses due to a SIM-swapping attack. Due to these security risks, SMS-based 2FA is generally not recommended for protecting user accounts that require high security.


Software-Based 2FA

Software-based 2FA utilizes dedicated authentication apps like Google Authenticator and Authy.

These apps generate unique TOTPs (Time-based One-Time Passwords) for each service you’re using, adding an extra layer of security to the authentication process. Some apps even allow you to specify which devices can access the authentication codes, offering protection against SIM-swap attacks. This method is commonly used for securing online services, including email, social media, crypto exchange services, and financial accounts


Hardware-Based 2FA

Hardware-based 2FA involves using a physical security key that you plug into a USB port. This method provides a strong level of protection by requiring the physical possession of the hardware token for access. It’s particularly effective against phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks, making it a secure method for high-stakes accounts like cryptocurrency wallets.


Biometric 2FA

Biometric authentication takes 2FA to the next level by using unique physical characteristics for identity verification. This could be a fingerprint scan, facial recognition, or even an iris scan. Biometric data offers a high level of security and is increasingly being integrated into mobile devices, making it more accessible for everyday use.

So, there you have it, a quick rundown of the different types of 2FA. Each has its pros and cons, but the bottom line is some form of 2FA is better than none. Especially if you’re dealing with sensitive transactions like cryptocurrency on CoinPayments, you’ll want to opt for the most secure method you’re comfortable with.


What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

multi factor authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is an advanced authentication method that requires users to provide multiple types of authentication factors to verify their identity. Unlike Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), which uses exactly two authentication factors, MFA can use two or more factors for added security.

Types of Authentication Factors in MFA:

  • Knowledge Factor: This is something the user knows, such as a password or PIN. While this is a common authentication method, it’s also susceptible to security threats like phishing attacks.
  • Possession Factor: This involves something the user physically possesses, like a hardware token or a mobile app that generates a One-Time Password (OTP).
  • Inherence Factor: This is biometric data unique to the user, such as a fingerprint scan or facial recognition. Biometric authentication is considered a secure method because it’s difficult to replicate or steal.
  • Context Factor: This is determined by the user’s location. For example, if you’re within a secure company network, you might not need additional authentication factors. However, if you’re accessing systems from an unknown location, extra steps will be required for identity verification.


By combining these different authentication factors, MFA provides a more secure method of protecting user accounts against unauthorized access. It’s especially useful in environments that handle sensitive information, as it offers robust protection against a variety of security risks, including data breaches and unauthorized access.


2FA vs MFA Differences

Feature  Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)  Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) 
Number of Factors  Strictly two  Two or more 
Type of Factors  Can be of the same type  Must be of different types 
Flexibility  Limited  High 
Risk Mitigation  Lower if factors are similar  Higher due to diverse factors 
Device Dependency  Possible  Risk increases with single device 
Common Use Cases  Email, social media  Banking, healthcare 
Subset   N/A  Includes 2FA and 2SV 
Factor Independence  Not mandatory  Mandatory 


In a 2FA vs MFA debate, the primary difference lies in the number of authentication factors involved. 2FA strictly involves two, while MFA can incorporate two or more, offering a more nuanced layer of protection.

In 2FA, both factors can even be of the same type, like a password followed by a security question, both of which are knowledge-based. MFA, on the other hand, demands a blend of different factor types, such as a password, a mobile push notification, and a fingerprint scan. This diversity in factor types makes MFA more robust and flexible in its approach to security.

Another distinction is in risk mitigation. If one factor is compromised in MFA, the presence of additional, different factors still provides a layer of security, a feature less prominent in 2FA, especially if both factors are similar. Device dependency also comes into play.

Using all factors on a single device in MFA could be a potential security risk, something that 2FA doesn’t necessarily circumvent. Two-step verification (2SV) often gets mixed up in this conversation but is actually a subset of MFA, involving two factors of the same type.

In practical terms, Multi-Factor Authentication is often reserved for high-security environments like banking or healthcare, while 2FA is more commonly used for everyday applications such as email and social media. So, while 2FA is a type of MFA, the reverse isn’t true, much like how every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.

So, now you know much more about the 2FA vs MFA topic, but how do you set it up within your CoinPayments account?

How to Setup 2FA on CoinPayments


To enable 2FA for CoinPayments account, please follow steps you see on your screen.

  • Go to “Account” => “Account Settings” => “Login & Security” => “2FA” field.
  • Choose “Linked 2FA Accounts” option
  • Follow the link below to pair your device.
  • Click Add New Google Authenticator button
  • Open Authenticator app and scan the provided QR code.
  • Enter a code you see in an Authenticator App into the “Verification” field.
  • Click Complete Link button.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is MFA in Cryptocurrency?

MFA or Multi-Factor Authentication is a way to double or even triple-check that it’s really you trying to access your crypto assets. You’ll need to provide multiple forms of verification, making it a tough nut to crack for anyone with ill intentions.


Is 2FA Safe for Crypto?

Yes, 2FA is like having a second lock on your digital assets. It forms a secure bridge between your online accounts and your devices, adding that extra layer of armor against unauthorized access. However, remember, no security measure is 100% foolproof, so always stay vigilant.


Is 2FA Obsolete?

Far from it! While it’s true that cyber threats are evolving, 2FA still manages to fend off a large chunk of these attacks. It’s like saying, “Is a seatbelt obsolete because cars now have airbags?” They serve different purposes but work best together.


Is OTP a 2FA or MFA?

One-Time Passwords (OTP) can be a part of both 2FA and MFA setups. In a 2FA setup, it could be the second factor after your password. In an MFA environment, it could be one of the multiple layers you have to pass through.


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