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Which Multi-Factor Authentication Form Is the Strongest?

3 minutes read
mfa strongest form

In the face of increasing cyber threats in today’s digital era, securing data access is more crucial than ever. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), which requires users to provide multiple independent credentials, serves as a proactive defense mechanism. However, it’s essential to consider that all MFA forms offer varying levels of protection and are susceptible to threats such as phishing to different degrees.

In this post, we compare and contrast 7 different MFA methods, aiming to determine which one provides the most secure defense.


SMS One-Time Passwords (OTP) are popular due to their simplicity of use. A unique code is dispatched via an SMS message directly to the user’s device. However, this ease of use comes at the cost of potential vulnerability to SIM swap attacks, phishing scams, and message interception. Even in these secure times, a well-staged phishing attack can trick even the most cautious users into revealing their OTP.

2. Email OTP

Email One-Time Passwords (OTP) work similarly to their SMS counterparts, the primary difference lying in the delivery method. Although this method circumvents the risk of SMS interception, it still carries its vulnerability to phishing attempts, Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks, and email breaches.

3. OTP Using Mobile Authenticator Apps

Using Mobile Authenticator Apps, such as Google Authenticator, the OTPs are generated on the user’s device itself, thereby avoiding the risky transmission channels. However, phishing attacks remain a threat as users can be manipulated into sharing their OTP.

4. Push Notification Using Mobile Authenticator Apps

By incorporating Mobile Authenticator Apps like Duo Security for push notifications, the security level is noticeably ramped up. Upon any authentication attempt, a push notification surfaces on the user’s device, awaiting their approval or denial. Even though this reduces exposure to phishing, users could unwittingly approve a fraudulent request.

5. Push Notification with Number Matching

An extra layer of security is added with push notification using number matching. Under this system, users are shown a specific number when they respond to an MFA push notification. To complete the verification process, they must accurately enter this number into the authenticator app. Despite this additional interactive step, phishing risks can’t be completely disregarded.

6. FIDO2-Compliant Authenticators

FIDO2-Compliant Authenticators like YubiKeys or biometric readers represent an advanced level of MFA. They use cryptographic login credentials and are tied directly to a hardware device. These authenticators significantly reduce the risk of phishing, MITM, and replay attacks, marking them as true phishing-resistant MFA mechanisms.

7. PKI Certificate-Based Authentication (CBA)

The PKI Certificate-Based Authentication (CBA) MFA method, employed by high-security government organizations, leverages smart cards, like PIV (Personal Identity Verification) card or CAC (Common Access Card). These provide a highly secure, phishing-resistant two-factor solution resilient to various forms of cyber-attacks.

In conclusion, clear winners in the strength hierarchy of MFA forms are the phishing-resistant hardware-based authenticators—FIDO2-compliant devices and PKI Certificate-Based Authentication. 

However, the selection of an MFA solution should take into account more than just strength—it should balance user convenience, deployment complexity, and cost-effectiveness. This balance ensures optimal user adoption and a safer digital environment. But remember, the most effective cybersecurity is always a combination of advanced technology and user awareness.

At Datawiza, we streamline the implementation of various MFA forms with our no-code solution. If you’re ready to enhance your cybersecurity, contact us