What Is MFA Fatigue Attack: How Multi-Factor Authentication Works

February 23, 2024

Did you know that, according to Microsoft, using MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) slashes the risk of a security breach by a whopping 99.2%? That's impressive, right? But pause for a second and think about the tiny crack left open – that remaining 0.8%. It's where the sneaky troublemaker, known as the MFA fatigue attack, slips through.

What is an MFA fatigue attack, you ask? It's when cybercriminals bombard you with endless MFA prompts, hoping you'll hit 'approve' just to make them stop. It starts with what's called MFA spam, or an MFA spam attack, flooding your device with requests until your patience wears thin.

This blog dives deep into understanding what MFA fatigue attacks are, how they begin with something as seemingly harmless as MFA spamming, and, most importantly, how you can shield yourself from such attacks.

What is MFA fatigue attack: Definition of MFA

What is Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)? 

Before understanding what an MFA fatigue attack is, let's define Multi-factor authentication (MFA). It is a security system that requires more than one form of verification from users to grant access to an account or system. Unlike traditional security, which uses only a password (something you know), MFA adds additional layers by requiring something you have, such as:

• Time-Based One-Time Password (TOTP)

• SMS text message

• Email token

• Hardware security key

• Biometric

• Security questions

• Risk-based authentication

This method significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access because even if a hacker obtains your password, they would still need the second factor to break into your account.

Is MFA 100% secure?

While MFA significantly enhances security, it is not 100% foolproof, especially when you don't understand what MFA fatigue attacks are.

Techniques such as phishing can still deceive users into revealing their MFA codes, and advanced persistent threats (APTs) may find ways around it. Attackers also use social engineering to exploit human errors, potentially bypassing MFA protections. 

Therefore, while MFA is a critical layer of defense, it's crucial to combine it with other security practices.

Definition of MFA fatigue attacks

What is an MFA fatigue attack?

A multi-factor authentication (MFA) fatigue attack, sometimes called MFA bombing or MFA spamming, is when attackers flood your devices with authentication requests. This isn't just annoying; it's a calculated move to wear you down.

What is the MFA fatigue attack's aim? To make you accidentally confirm a request, give them access to your account or device.

How does it work?

How do MFA spam attacks begin? 

Now that you understand what MFA fatigue attacks are, want to know how MFA spam attacks start? Well, it can be complex, but here's how they work: 

• Attackers get your login details through phishing or the dark web.

• With your details, they're ready to bypass MFA security.

• They log in as you, causing your device to receive many MFA requests.

• The spam attack involves sending you push notifications to approve access.

• They aim for you to approve a request by mistake, granting them access.

The initial breach

First off, MFA spam attacks need your login credentials. This could be your username and password. They might trick you into giving these up through phishing emails or messages that look legit but aren't. Sometimes, they buy stolen credentials from the dark web. 

The setup for the attack

Once they have your first layer of login details, they're halfway there. But to really get into your account, they need to bypass the second security layer – this is where MFA comes in. MFA asks for another proof of identity, like a code from your phone. 

Launching the attack

With your credentials in hand, the attacker tries to log in as you. This triggers the MFA request, which is where the MFA spamming starts. They bombard you with MFA requests to your phone or email, hoping you'll get so annoyed or confused that you'll approve one of them.

The role of push notifications

If you don't know what an MFA fatigue attack is, simply think about attackers using push notifications. After the attackers enter your username and password, you get a notification asking if it's you trying to log in. Normally, you'd say yes if it was you. But in an MFA spam attack, saying yes lets the attacker in.

The end goal

The relentless flood of requests is designed to wear you down. The attackers are betting on you, eventually hitting 'approve' to stop the notifications. If you do, they gain full access to your account. 

What happens if you become a victim?

What happens if you become a victim of the MFA bombing?

When you become a victim of MFA spamming, it's like finding yourself in the middle of a relentless storm of authentication requests. This isn't just annoying; it's a serious security threat. Here's what could happen:

Immediate account access

If you accidentally approve one of these MFA requests, attackers gain instant access to your account. This could be your email, bank account, or any service where you've enabled MFA. Once inside, they can steal sensitive information, money, or even your identity.

Loss of confidential data

If you don't understand what MFA fatigue attacks are, threat actors may easily extract your confidential data. This might include personal information, company secrets, client lists, or financial details. The loss or exposure of such data can have devastating effects, both personally and professionally.

Financial theft

If the compromised account is linked to financial services, MFA spam attacks can transfer funds, make unauthorized purchases, or access credit lines. The financial implications can range from minor inconveniences to significant monetary loss.

Reputation damage

For businesses, a successful MFA spamming attack can damage your reputation. If client data is compromised, trust is eroded, and rebuilding that trust can be difficult and costly. For individuals, it could mean a loss of credibility among peers and potential future security implications.

Future security risks

Once attackers have access, they can also plant malware or backdoors for future attacks. This means your problems might not end with just one incident. Your device or network could be at risk of future exploits, leading to a cycle of security issues.

Preventing MFA fatigue attacks

How to prevent MFA fatigue attacks? 

Understanding what MFA fatigue attacks are and preventing them is crucial to safeguarding your digital presence. Here are ways you can guarantee your security. 

Tip #1 Stay alert to unsolicited MFA requests

If you receive an MFA request without trying to log in, be cautious. It's a red flag that someone else might be attempting to access your account. Treat unexpected requests as potential threats and do not approve them without verification.

Tip #2 Use a strong, unique password

Your first line of defense is your password and making sure you know what an MFA fatigue attack is. Make your password strong and unique, and change it regularly. Avoid using the same password across different accounts. 

Tip #3 Educate yourself and others

Understanding the tactics attackers use in an MFA spam attack, such as phishing attempts to gain your credentials, is key. Educate yourself and your team or family on verifying the authenticity of MFA requests.

Tip #4 Enable notifications for unusual activity

Many services offer notifications for unusual login attempts or other suspicious activities. Enable these notifications. They can alert you to unauthorized attempts to access your account, giving you a chance to react promptly.

Tip #5 Consider physical security keys

For high-security accounts, consider using a physical security key. These devices offer a level of security beyond what software-based MFA can provide. An attacker cannot remotely spam requests to a physical device in your possession.

Tip #6 Regularly review account sessions

Regularly check the active sessions on your accounts. If you see devices or locations you don't recognize, it could indicate unauthorized access. Log out of these sessions and change your password immediately.

Tip #7 Limit MFA attempts

Where possible, configure your accounts to limit the number of MFA attempts. This can prevent attackers from bombarding you with requests and reduce the chances of an accidental approval.

Tip #8 Use a password manager

A password manager can help generate and store strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. It also makes it easier to change passwords regularly, an essential practice for maintaining account security.

Tip #9 Adopt a zero-trust approach

When you know what MFA fatigue attacks are, it's better to assume that any request or login attempt could be a potential threat. Verify every unusual activity, even if it comes from a trusted source. This mindset can help you stay vigilant against sophisticated attacks.

How to stop MFA spamming attacks?

The best way to stop identity-based attacks

Stopping identity-based attacks, like knowing what MFA fatigue attacks are, is critical in today’s digital age. One of the most effective ways to defend yourself is by partnering with a great Managed Service Provider (MSP). Here’s what to look for in an MSP:

• Proactive monitoring: Choose an MSP that offers 24/7 monitoring of your systems. They should identify and address threats before they escalate.

• Advanced security tools: Look for an MSP with access to the latest security technologies, including advanced firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and anti-malware solutions.

• Expertise in compliance: Ensure your MSP understands the compliance requirements relevant to your industry. 

• Regular security assessments: A good MSP will conduct regular security assessments to identify vulnerabilities in your network and recommend improvements.

• Employee training: Since many attacks exploit human error, find an MSP that offers cybersecurity awareness training for your team.

• Incident response planning: Ask about their incident response capabilities. In the event of an MFA spamming, you’ll want a clear plan and rapid action to minimize damage.

Partnering with the right MSP can significantly reduce your risk of MFA spam attacks, offering peace of mind and allowing you to focus on your core business activities.

Why choose our services?

Why choose AlwaysOnIT for your security? 

Choosing the right partner for your cybersecurity needs is crucial, especially when it comes to understanding what MFA fatigue attacks are. This is where AlwaysOnIT shines.

With over 20 years of experience, our team has become a leader in IT infrastructure, management, and optimization. Our approach to cybersecurity is both strategic and personalized, ensuring that your business is not just a number but a valued partner.

Some of our services include proactive maintenance, system status monitoring, data backups, disaster recovery, and cutting-edge cybersecurity measures tailored to thwart MFA fatigue attacks, among other threats.

What sets us apart is we understand the importance of a strategic IT partnership, offering responsive support and reliable solutions that are always tailored to your specific needs.

Contact us now

Ready to secure your business?

Don't let MFA spamming attacks put your operations at risk. Partner with AlwaysOnIT and gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing your cybersecurity is in expert hands.

Contact us today to learn how we can tailor our solutions to protect your business. 

Frequently asked questions

How do MFA notifications enhance security during the sign-in process?

MFA notifications play a crucial role in the authentication process, acting as a barrier against unauthorized access. When a user attempts to sign in, MFA push notifications are sent to their registered device, requiring them to verify their identity. This method effectively reduces the attack surface, making it more challenging for threat actors to gain access to the account.

How did the Uber September 2022 phishing attacks highlight the need for robust MFA authentication?

The Uber September 2022 phishing attacks highlighted the need for robust MFA authentication by demonstrating how attackers may use sophisticated attack methods to circumvent basic security measures. These attacks underscore the importance of MFA in protecting against unauthorized access.

What are the best practices to prevent an Uber account hack in 2022?

Adopting best practices is vital to prevent a similar incident like the 2022 Uber account hack. These include enabling MFA authentication, being vigilant of phishing attacks, and using passwordless authentication where possible. Security teams also recommend initiating the MFA process for every sign-in attempt.

How can sending MFA notifications defend you against malicious attacks?

Sending MFA notifications is a defense mechanism against malicious attacks. It requires the user to confirm their identity through number matching on their device, a step that thwarts social engineering attack methods. 

Why do security experts require the user to engage in MFA applications?

Security experts require the user to engage in MFA applications to fortify the authentication process against cyberattacks. MFA applications implement an additional layer of security, safeguarding against lapsus in the traditional password-only approach. 

What makes an attack known as MFA bombing particularly dangerous?

An attack known as an MFA bombing is particularly dangerous because it exploits the user's fatigue from receiving numerous MFA requests. This method, a form of social engineering attack, pressures the user into approving an access request, thereby allowing attackers to bypass security measures and access sensitive data without MFA.

Can passwordless authentication significantly reduce the attack surface for online accounts?

Yes, passwordless authentication can significantly reduce the attack surface for online accounts by eliminating the reliance on passwords, which are often the target of hack attempts. This approach utilizes a more secure authentication method, reducing the chances of a successful cyberattack.