Multi-Factor Authentication: Imperative or Inconvenient?

Courtesy of Washington Square News.

Written by Pooja Narayanan

In implementing MFA, NYU administration emphasized the importance of security. Students would have to prove they were logging into their accounts through their cell phones. But this wasn’t an argument many students were satisfied with.

In July 2017, every NYU student received an email informing them that they were required to enroll in a new Multi-Factor Authentication system that would further protect their NYU accounts. The email read as such:

“NYU Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) adds an additional layer of security to your NYU login, and will soon become mandatory. You must follow the below steps in order to continue your access to most NYU services that require a NetID and password (including NYU Email, NYU Classes, myTime, and many more).”

To access all NYU accounts, students had to download an app called Duo Mobile on their phones, which received a “push” from their account that they would then have to accept. Other options to confirm the identity of a student included receiving a text message or phone call.

But the decision to adopt the new MFA policy was not only unnecessary, but also inconsiderate and inconvenient.

In implementing MFA, NYU administration emphasized the importance of security. Students would have to prove they were logging into their accounts through their cell phones. But this wasn’t an argument many students were satisfied with. “I already have a password, and if my password is enough [to keep people out of my account], then what’s the point? NYU already makes us change our passwords every six months,” said Juli Torres, a junior.

What administrators may not have accounted for was that MFA actually requires a degree of wealth. “What about the students who don’t have smartphones? I mean, you can get a phone call, and it’s expected that you have a phone, but it’s not fair to assume those things,” said Juli. “Also, I don’t like to carry my phone when I’m studying sometimes, so I can’t access my accounts then. I think it’s pretty ridiculous.” The cost of a smartphone is at least $200, with newer models of the iPhone selling for upwards of $700. For students who are already struggling to afford the cost of attending NYU, MFA only adds an extra financial burden. While students can receive a call if they don’t have a smartphone, this is a tedious process that they do not want to experience every time they sign into NYU Classes. Moreover, MFA stops students from stepping away from their devices. During finals season, this can be especially irritating.

MFA is also inconvenient, but not only for students. Even professors have been forced to download Duo Mobile and adhere to the new policy. Professor David Yermack expressed his distaste for the extra layer of security. “I find the whole thing extremely inconvenient, especially when I am on campus in my office,” he said. However, it’s not just NYU that is implementing MFA policies. “Many websites, such as my health insurance company, are also now requiring it, and it is really annoying. It seems like total overkill to require it for accessing school websites from computers on campus, even the podium computers in front of the classrooms.”

Luckily, students at Stern are not forced to click the green “send me a push” button when they log into their Stern account. The Stern administration seems to recognize the effectiveness of replacing passwords each year. They also seem to trust that as young adults, students have the ability and common sense to create strong passwords.

But to focus on the positives, one good thing did come from MFA: a new wave of jokes and memes. Read one Facebook status: “Why would people want to hack into my NYU account? To pay my tuition?” If only.

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