Two-Factor Authentication: What it is & Why You​ Should Use it

Passwords are not as infallible as we need them to be. Hackers are always looking for ways of breaking them, and they can scoop them up by using sheer brute force or even simply phishing them. Data breaches have also led to the exposure of millions of user passwords, and such can easily leave you at the mercy of cybercriminals.

Poor password habits like reusing passwords on multiple accounts or using common passwords have also led to the infiltration of millions of accounts. All these factors make it super important to have an extra layer of security, and this is where two-factor authentication comes in.

What is Two-factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) – also known as two-step verification or multifactor authentication – is a security technique that involves verifying your identity twice to get access. This means that even if a hacker or a nefarious individual gains access to your password, they still won’t be able to log in to your account thanks to the second layer of security.

How Does 2FA Work Online?

There are three factors used for any type of authentication:

  • Something you know: This can be a password, PIN, zip code, a security question, or any other piece of information that only you would know.
  • Something you have: This can be a prompt sent to your phone, a verification SMS, a hardware token, generated codes in authenticator apps, etc.
  • Something you are: This can be a biometric such as a fingerprint, retina scan, face, or voice.

Two-factor authentication simply works by providing two of the above authentication factors for access to an account.

For example, if you have enabled 2FA on your Gmail account, you will need to provide your password then a security code before you can log in to the account. The second step might feel like a hassle, but it also means that nobody can log in to your account even when they know the password.

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Most Common 2FA Methods

There are various methods that are used to implement two-factor authentication. Here are the popular 2FA techniques used today:

SMS Codes:  This is the most common 2FA verification method. However, it’s also the least secure. This is because someone can see the code if your messages display on your lock screen, and a hacker can intercept the text message or redirect it. They may also use your sim card on another phone or even steal/ clone your phone.

Security Questions: These questions are usually personal, but they are also very unsecure. It’s quite easy to uncover or guess personal information, and you can also be easily tricked into giving the answer unknowingly. One way of making security questions more secure is by providing an unrelated answer, provided you won’t forget it.

Authenticator apps: This a highly secure method that generates random codes for a given site. Once you connect your account to an authenticator app, it will give you a time-limited random code for the account. The account will then request the authentication code during log-in. One of the most popular authenticator apps is Google Authenticator, and the only weakness of the method is someone gaining access to your phone.

Biometrics: This method covers fingerprint scans, retina scans, face, and voice. They are considered highly secure, but they can also be compromised by someone recording your voice or stealing your fingerprints, though these are unlikely scenarios. Biometrics is very convenient since you always have them with you, but the method also requires you to trust a company to keep your biometric information safe. The main problem is you can’t change them if the company’s database is compromised.

A Universal Security Key: This a small device which is usually plugged into the computer and used for 2FA across multiple accounts. The devices typically go for around $50 and are considered very secure. To log in, you just need to connect the device through USB-A, USB-C or NFC and then press a button when prompted. The only risk associated with this method is someone stealing your key.

Where Should You Use 2FA?

Companies have realized the importance of 2FA, and most of the popular services have already integrated it into their systems. These include Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon, Twitter, Yahoo, Dropbox, and many others.

Below is a list of some of the services that you need to secure with 2FA:

  • Emails
  • Online banking & other financial services
  • Online shopping (Amazon, eBay)
  • Cloud storage accounts (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.)
  • Social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
  • Password managers (LastPass, RoboForm, etc.)
  • Communication apps (Skype, Whatsapp, Slack, etc.)
  • Productivity apps (Trello, Evernote, etc.)

Useful tool: If you wish to check whether a specific service/ website you use has implemented 2FA, you can visit twofactorauth.org

In Summary

Two-factor authentication provides extra security that makes it difficult for a hacker or an ill-willed person to get access to your account. While it’s not a magic wand that makes your account foolproof, it goes a long way in keeping it safe. Apart from the increased security, 2FA makes an account unattractive to a hacker.

It’s therefore essential to use the security technique on all your accounts that a hacker can be interested in. If the service doesn’t offer 2FA, ensure that you obey the basic password policy. Apart from that, also use a secure VPN such as NymGuard to encrypt your traffic. With the AES 256-bit encryption provided by Nymguard, no hacker will be able to intercept your traffic and steal your data.

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