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Microsoft urges users to stop using phone-based multi-factor authentication

A company executive says app-based authentication is more secure

Photo (c) hanieriani - Getty Images
A Microsoft executive is urging users to move away from phone-based multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms and instead embrace newer security technologies, like app-based authenticators and security keys.

In a blog post, Alex Weinert, Director of Identity Security at Microsoft, said app-based two-factor authentication provides greater security.

Weinert said telephone-based multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions -- like one-time codes sent via SMS and voice calls -- are “based on publicly switched telephone networks (PSTN), and I believe they’re the least secure of the MFA methods available today.” 

“That gap will only widen as MFA adoption increases attackers’ interest in breaking these methods and purpose-built authenticators extend their security and usability advantages,” he said. “Plan your move to passwordless strong auth now – the authenticator app provides an immediate and evolving option.” 

MFA is ‘essential’

In 2019, Weinert penned a blog post in which he said that internal Microsoft statistics showed that users who enabled MFA blocked around 99.9 percent of automated attacks against their Microsoft accounts. 

In a follow up blog post earlier this week, he stressed that MFA itself is essential -- but the way people use it should change. If users have to choose between multiple MFA mechanisms, he said they should avoid phone-based MFA which can be intercepted by attackers. 

Weinert said a good place to start is by using Microsoft’s Authenticator MFA app. For even greater security, hardware security keys can be used. 

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