Demystifying Cisco Duo MFA: Multi-Factor Authentication, Cybersecurity, and You

Man using Duo MFA for secure login on digital interface.On May 7, 2021, an American oil pipeline system that comprised critical gasoline and jet fuel supply infrastructure for the Southeastern United States suffered a ransomware attack that shut the pipeline down for nearly a week. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack cost the company $4.4 million and severely damaged the company’s reputation; and across the eastern seaboard, panicked Americans lined up at gas stations with gas cans out of fear of imminent fuel shortages.

Sometimes it can be difficult to grasp the massive and far-reaching consequences that can stem from a simple data breach—or the simple measures that can prevent these issues from occurring. In the case of Colonial Pipeline, the ransomware attacker used stolen credentials to exfiltrate data and plant ransomware to shut down the company’s billing systems on their way out. With the right application of multi-factor authentication and zero-trust practices, this costly data breach and the lasting impact it had on East Coast Americans could have been entirely prevented.

In this article, we’ll explore the role zero-trust security models and practices, such as Cisco Duo MFA, play in preventing these kinds of potentially devastating cybersecurity incidents.

Understanding Zero-Trust in Cybersecurity

In cybersecurity, traditional security models typically assume that everything inside your organization’s network is trustworthy. Zero-trust security models, however, recognize that cyber threats can come from both within and without. As a result, zero-trust models refuse to trust any user or device by default and insist on verifying anything and everything attempting to connect to its network before granting access.

Zero-trust models protect organizations from cyber threats by using least privilege access, continuous monitoring, microsegmentation, and encryption to protect data from unauthorized access or tampering and mitigate the damage done in the event that a breach occurs.

Identity and access management solutions such as multi-factor authentication and risk-based authentication are essential parts of a zero-trust cybersecurity solution.

What is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, is a system in which users need more evidence to access the network than just a password. Multi-factor authentication combines a traditional password with either something you have (a mobile phone or authentication token) or something you are (a fingerprint or other biometric verification). Some forms of MFA also forgo passwords entirely and use various levels of other authentication tokens, eliminating the risk stolen credentials can pose to an organization’s security posture by eliminating the credentials altogether.

MFA is an essential part of zero-trust cybersecurity policies and practices, though in practice it can sometimes prove cumbersome and frustrating for users. Modern zero-trust cybersecurity tools must strike a balance between offering security and enabling people to access the data they need to perform their duties.

Cisco Duo uses MFA as a foundation for cost-effective, enterprise-level network protection measures that are both robust and user-friendly, including:

  • Adaptive risk-based authentication to adjust authentication levels based on the user’s current situation and prevent push bombing attacks
  • Frictionless single sign-on for an improved and seamless user experience that maximizes security and minimizes frustration
  • Passwordless solutions that remove the risk of stolen user credentials by replacing passwords with MFA
  • Trusted endpoints and device health checks that allow organizations to control which devices can access corporate resources, maintaining a zero-trust security posture even in workplaces with BYOD policies

What is Risk-Based Authentication?

Similar to multi-factor authentication, risk-based authentication provides additional layers of security to your organization’s access management solutions.

Risk-based authentication is dynamic and adaptive. Instead of requesting the same additional authentication mechanisms in every circumstance, it uses risk assessment and user behavior analytics to determine what “normal” and “abnormal” behavior for a user is. Risk-based authentication is less strict in normal, low-risk situations and more strict in abnormal, high-risk situations.

Cisco Duo multi-factor authentication, for example, incorporates risk-based authentication to adjust authentication requirements based on risk levels detected during login attempts. The more failed login attempts, the more high-risk the situation, and the stricter it will be in allowing access.

Risk-based authentication and device health tests can help organizations uphold zero-trust principles while allowing employees to safely and conveniently use personal devices for work purposes.

Zero-Trust, Cisco Duo MFA, and Cyber Liability Insurance

Throughout 2023 as cybersecurity incidents grow ever more prevalent and ever more costly, cyber liability insurance has emerged as a solution for businesses to recover from the damage cyber attacks can inflict.

Like insurance for any other disaster, cyber liability insurance helps businesses get back on their feet after a security incident, assisting in covering damages and other financial costs such as fines or penalties. Also like any other form of insurance, the lower your risk of an incident, the lower your premiums. We have noticed that with Cisco Duo authentication and other zero-trust features, organizations have been able to reduce their premiums and make cyber liability insurance more affordable.

Dive Deeper Into Multi-Factor Authentication With Byteworks and Cisco

If you’d like to learn more about the wide world of multi-factor authentication solutions, dive into our on-demand webinar, in which we join forces with Cisco Duo to shed some light on how user-centric, zero-trust security platforms can protect your business in the age of constant cyber-threats.

Together, Byteworks account manager Mike and Cisco specialist Alan will walk you through:

  • Real-world case studies demonstrating the importance of multi-factor authentication for protecting your valuable data, including how Cisco Duo’s various MFA features such as passwordless logins, single sign-on, and other features provide security without compromising user experience
  • How Cisco Duo multi-factor authentication goes beyond two-factor authentication with user-friendly phishing-resistant features and trusted endpoints
  • How device health checks and risk-based authentication protect your endpoints
  • How Cisco Duo’s Device Health features can reduce your IT team’s workload and help you balance a zero-trust philosophy with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) practices
  • Detailed examples of Cisco Duo authentication and endpoint protection features in action with case studies including Inductive Automation and the University of Sunderland
  • …And more!

Click the link below to access the webinar and watch it anytime:

Access Our On-Demand Cisco Duo MFA Webinar

Ensure Cyber Protection With Byteworks

Across industries, across market sectors, organizations of all shapes and sizes all have one thing in common: an urgent need to protect themselves and their sensitive data from cybercrime. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cybersecurity. You need cybersecurity strategies and solutions that fit the shape of your organization, the risk landscape of your industry, and any applicable regulations or compliance requirements like a glove.

Cisco Duo MFA presents a powerful, versatile solution to the ever-present problem of protecting your people, your endpoints, and your sensitive data from cyber threats. As a Cisco partner, Byteworks is poised to leverage the most appropriate Cisco Duo authentication features and capabilities to fit your unique cybersecurity risk profile.

Get started today. Schedule a meeting with a cybersecurity expert or explore cybersecurity services from Byteworks.


What is multi-factor authentication (MFA)?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security system that requires users to provide multiple forms of verification before granting access to a network or system. This typically includes a password along with something the user has (such as a mobile phone) or something the user is (such as a fingerprint).

How does risk-based authentication work?

Risk-based authentication uses risk assessment and user behavior analytics to determine the level of risk associated with a login attempt. In high-risk situations, additional authentication mechanisms may be required, while in low-risk situations, the authentication process may be less strict.

What is zero-trust security?

Zero-trust security is a cybersecurity model that assumes no user or device within a network is inherently trustworthy. Instead, it requires verification for every access request, regardless of the user’s location or device. This model helps prevent data breaches and unauthorized access.

How can Cisco Duo MFA help protect my organization?

Cisco Duo MFA offers a range of features such as adaptive risk-based authentication, frictionless single sign-on, passwordless solutions, and trusted endpoints. These features enhance security while providing a user-friendly experience, ultimately helping to protect your organization from cyber threats.

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