People often think they have the strongest possible password that can protect them from unauthorized access. Sadly, that’s not always the case. The reality is most people (and organizations) are painfully behind the times when it comes to password management and security. A study by Verizon has estimated that about 80% of hacking-related breaches are linked to passwords. With password compromise becoming inevitable in this digital world, it is essential to add an extra layer of security with the help of a one-time password (OTP).
It is easier than you might think to steal your password. When that happens, you could lose all critical information in a matter of minutes. In this blog, we’ll discuss how you can secure your critical files with the help of a simple OTP.
What Does OTP Mean?
Before we deep-dive into OTP generators and security posture, let’s define what a one-time password is and what its purpose in cybersecurity is. A one-time password refers to an automatically generated numeric or alphanumeric passcode that can be used to authenticate a user for a single login session. This code is typically sent through SMS, voice or email.
What is the Purpose of an OTP?
The static password we use is the commonly used method of authenticating a user. However, it is also the least secure. When a hacker gets hold of this static password, you risk losing everything from personal information to other sensitive data.
An OTP, on the other hand, offers a temporary password that is valid only for a few minutes. It is near impossible for cybercriminals to get hold of this. Even if they get hold of it, the code will expire before they can use it against you. In other words, it adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts.
Is an OTP the Same as MFA?
Multifactor authentication (MFA) is something designed to make logging in challenging and to boost security. In that sense, an OTP is a part of multifactor authentication. MFA can also include more layers of security depending on the importance of the data. For instance, biometric authentication can also be included as a part of MFA. MFA uses two or more independent credentials to authenticate a user.
What is an OTP Generator?
To automatically generate an OTP and deliver it to a user, you need an OTP generator that randomly generates a string of numeric or alphanumeric passcodes. In most cases, OTP generators work as a two-factor authentication system, where a combination of what a user knows (PIN or password) and what the user has (a cellphone) is used to authenticate a user.
In many OTP generators, the code used once to log in cannot be used again. This reduces the possibility of it being exploited by a hacker. These generators typically use randomness or pseudorandomness to ensure that it is impossible to predict an OTP by using the previous ones. Hence, the algorithms used by the OTP generators also vary significantly in detail.
How Does an OTP Generator Work?
The OTP generator and the authentication server rely on different algorithms to make it work. There are two inputs typically involved – a seed and a moving factor. Here, the seed is a static value that is registered when you create an account on the authentication server. The moving factor generates the unique code, which changes whenever a new OTP is requested. Once the authentication server validates the code, the password expires. The password also expires when the pre-determined time limit is reached after its generation. The OTP values typically have minute or second timestamps to ensure protection from security threats.
How Many Types of OTPs Are There?
OTPs can be classified into two types: HOTP and TOTP. Let’s discuss how they compare against each other and which one is best suited for enhanced security.
HOTP: HMAC-Based One-Time Password
The ‘H’ in HOTP refers to Hashed Message Authentication Code (HMAC). As the name implies, this is based on hash-based authentication codes. The code generated here is attached to a counter and is activated with a new event. This password is not based on time. Here, the code is valid only until the user requests another code or the code is validated by the authentication server.
TOTP: Time-Based One-Time Password
Here, the moving factor is based on time rather than the event. You can customize the timestep based on your preference. Typically, the duration for the passcode lasts between 30 seconds and 180 seconds. If the user hasn’t used the passcode by then, it will lapse.
Both types have their own advantages. While time-based passwords are more secure, hash-based codes are more user-friendly. TOTPs are the advanced versions of HOTPs. Since the code is valid here only for a specific duration, it offers better security.
What Are the Benefits of OTP?
Now that you have a full understanding of what an OTP is and how it works, let’s look at the role it plays in boosting security.
Enhanced Account Security
By implementing dynamically generated, random passwords that expire or can only be used once, you can significantly improve protection against account compromise. OTPs are nearly impossible to be guessed by hackers, which can drastically reduce the attack window. It also prevents the practice of using the same password for many accounts.
Ease of Implementation
In most cases, OTPs can be implemented remotely and with significant ease. You can use your own smartphone for authentication, with no need for an extra device. Also, people don’t have to memorize their codes, and there is no need to ensure password strength.
Convenient to Use
The token required for OTPs can easily be retrieved through one’s email, mobile device or other similar sources. It takes very little time and eliminates the need to memorize a variety of passwords.
OTP Security with IT Glue
Security is the number one priority for IT Glue. As a leading cloud-based documentation platform, IT Glue comes with multifactor authentication to prevent unauthorized access in any form. IT Glue is also equipped with a next-generation password management engine with an OTP generator and MFA to ensure users have access to account passwords instantly without the need to memorize them all.
IT Glue’s SOC 2-compliant documentation platform features an immutable audit trail, network discovery, diagramming and more. All these features are fully integrated and linked with all your documentation.
To know more about multifactor authentication in IT Glue, request a demo.
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