How We Secure: Authentication Methods

Short Message Service (SMS)

Less-secure strong authentication using mobile devices with SMS text capability.

SMS OTP

SMS Challenge/Response

Cost-effective but non-compliant authentication

Mobile devices with SMS text capability can be used for authentication via One Time Password (OTP) and Challenge/Response (CR or Y/N). This is a less-secure form of strong authentication because it is vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

  • SMS OTP sends an OTP to the user’s phone via SMS. The user enters the OTP into their login authentication and is approved.
  • SMS Challenge-Response sends a question asking if the authorization attempt is approved to the user’s phone via SMS. If the user texts back “Yes”, authentication is completed and the user is logged in. If the user texts back “No”, authentication is failed and the user is not logged in.

For organizations requiring compliance with any NIST-based regulatory regime, SMS OTP is no longer a compliant authentication method due to its vulnerability to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Very low cost to implement and maintain
  • Easy to self-provision or automatically provision
  • Easy to recover user accounts and reprovision
  • Leverages BYOD (mobile phones)
  • Open standards-based (OATH)
  • Can’t work offline – requires a cellular connection
  • Can’t work if user forgets their mobile phone
  • Not compliant – SMS is vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks
  • Not viable for Secure Areas or other use cases where mobile phones are prohibited

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