Adaptive Two-factor Authentication: An Easy Solution for CIOs?

It’s a given that employee access to corporate systems should be both as secure and simple as possible. However, time-strapped CIOs under pressure from demanding staff and challenged with authenticating users all over the world on multiple devices, have been torn between relying on the fatally flawed password or hard token two-factor authentication (2FA) approach to keep their systems secure. As a result, adaptive authentication has gained popularity as it reduces the time it takes to login by verifying a user based on their location.

End users want speed, stability and consistency in their login methods. If a user attempts to verify their identity using adaptive authentication in a non trusted location, they will be asked to use the full 2FA process. This requires entering a code generated on a soft or hard token depending on the technology used. If the user is using this approach less than once a week, they are likely to run into complications – forgetting the process or even their hard token.

Adaptive authentication works by granting users access using just their user name and password if they are in a trusted location. Although this in theory process makes it easier for a user to authenticate their identity, there are a number of issues with this technology, which many may not realise. There are three ways of achieving adaptive authentication, and it’s important for CIOs to consider the differences.










  1. GeoIP: This is detecting a user’s geo position via their IP address. However, it has a number of issues. Internet service provides often change IP addresses of private users to prevent them from running their own servers at home. This means that when an IP address is switched, a user’s location could appear to be somewhere 200 miles away, flagging them as now being in an unsecure location. The home of the user now assigned to the old IP address, has also suddenly become a trusted site.
  2. Using a GPS location: This method requires an app to be installed on a user’s mobile device. Whilst this is infinitely more precise, employers can track the location of their staff whenever the device is on, raising serious questions on privacy. The future of adaptive outreach is to use the local base transceiver station’s GSM cell ID to identify the location of a user’s mobile phone and therefore verify their identity. With this method, neither the organization, nor the 2FA security provider knows the location of the user.
  3. Near Field Communication (NFC): based mobile authentication is the ultimate solution for both the CIO and the end user. This authentication method is so quick, simple and secure, which means that there’s no need for it to be adaptive. For example, NFC can securely transfer all the information required to enable a browser to start up, connect to the required URL and then automatically enter the user ID, password and second factor passcode in one seamless logon. NFC isn’t just limited to mobile phones either. Wearable technology, highly personal in nature, can also be utilized, enabling users to authenticate using their smart watch by simply tapping their wrists against a corresponding device.


Overall, NFC provides a solution that’s even quicker than entering a simple user name and password. The CIO is then safe in the knowledge that their end points are covered, and the user is happy authenticating their way.


Published: 17 August 2015

Category: Industry News

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