Two-factor authentication (2FA) or Multi-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security to your usual method of logging into systems such as E-mail, online accounts, web banking, social media. Any account that requires you to securely log in you should where possible use two-factor authentication. This type of authentication is not a new method but is becoming a more popular method due to insecurities in current login methods and the increasing threats to your personal information online.
It has become increasingly more common for scammers to gain access to your personal information via email phishing scams or via previous account hacks or even brute force hacking weak passwords on accounts. If you have a weak password or do not change your password very often you can become more vulnerable to these attacks. Using Two-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security that is much harder to penetrate.
How does two-factor authentication it work?
With any typical online account, you will log in with just a username and password. When you only need one thing to verify that you are who you say you are it is referred to as single-factor authentication.
With two factor authentication, you need to provide two things – your password and something else such as a code sent to your mobile device or an answer to a secret question that you personally set and only you would know the answer to this question.
Often you will only need to set up 2FA once on a device and it will be remembered until a new device is attempting to use the account. For example, two factor authentication will be prompted on your phone when it is used to access the account for the first time or periodically when a time out of the authenticated device occurs. This time out period changes between systems that you are authenticating to.
Having two-factor authentication is important as it acts as a roadblock to hackers attempting to access your account. It is virtually impossible to access your account with it enabled without having access to your authentication devices such as your phone or tablet.
Which method should I use?
The authentication method you choose to use will depend on the level of security you require and also which one you will feel more comfortable with using.
There are several types of two-factor authentication available based on either something you know, something you have or something you are. Examples include:
- SMS codes will be sent to your phone or another device that you specify.
- security questions set up by you, which only you would know the answers to when prompted
- a physical device, like a security token that generates temporary access codes
- use software, such as the Google Authenticator app, that sends a notification to your smartphone (or tablet) or provides a temporary access code. Once you’ve installed one, you can use the same app when setting up two-factor authentication on any accounts which offer this option.
- use a fingerprint scan to access your apps.
- voice recognition. Less common method but can be used in some instances.
Why should I use it?
While it does require one extra step to a log-in process, it provides much stronger security for your account. With two factor authentication activated on your account, the chances of a hacker gaining access will be eliminated. Having two-factor authentication is not going to remove all risk. You will, however, make your accounts much more secure than with only single-factor authentication.
It is strongly recommended that you follow these recommendations:
- wherever possible, activate two-factor authentication
- use strong passwords/passphrases and keep them safe
- do not use the same passwords across multiple sites
- use a password manager to keep stock of all your passwords and log-in details.