A Study of Multi-Factor and Risk-Based Authentication Availability


Anthony Gavazzi, Ryan Williams, Engin Kirda, and Long Lu, Northeastern University; Andre King, Andy Davis, and Tim Leek, MIT Lincoln Laboratory


Password-based authentication (PBA) remains the most popular form of user authentication on the web despite its long-understood insecurity. Given the deficiencies of PBA, many online services support multi-factor authentication (MFA) and/or risk-based authentication (RBA) to better secure user accounts. The security, usability, and implementations of MFA and RBA have been studied extensively, but attempts to measure their availability among popular web services have lacked breadth. Additionally, no study has analyzed MFA and RBA prevalence together or how the presence of Single-Sign-On (SSO) providers affects the availability of MFA and RBA on the web.

In this paper, we present a study of 208 popular sites in the Tranco top 5K that support account creation to understand the availability of MFA and RBA on the web, the additional authentication factors that can be used for MFA and RBA, and how logging into sites through more secure SSO providers changes the landscape of user authentication security. We find that only 42.31% of sites support any form of MFA, and only 22.12% of sites block an obvious account hijacking attempt. Though most sites do not offer MFA or RBA, SSO completely changes the picture. If one were to create an account for each site through an SSO provider that offers MFA and/or RBA, whenever available, 80.29% of sites would have access to MFA and 72.60% of sites would stop an obvious account hijacking attempt. However, this proliferation through SSO comes with a privacy trade-off, as nearly all SSO providers that support MFA and RBA are major third-party trackers.

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@inproceedings {285375,
author = {Anthony Gavazzi and Ryan Williams and Engin Kirda and Long Lu and Andre King and Andy Davis and Tim Leek},
title = {A Study of {Multi-Factor} and {Risk-Based} Authentication Availability},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {2043--2060},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity23/presentation/gavazzi},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug