What is two-factor authentication and how can does it help me stay secure online?
By Mark Phillips ¦ Blog.TotalAV.com ¦
One of the best pieces of security advice any computer expert can give you is to enable two-factor authentication where possible. Nowadays, with password breaches being so common, it could be the one thing that keeps away hackers from stealing your online identity.
Two-factor authentication or two-step verification?
A lot of people may think they’re the same thing, but this is definitely not the case. There are three types of authentication factors, something you know – such as a password or PIN, something you have – such as a mobile phone or a special USB key, or something you are – such as your fingerprint one or another biometric identifier.
While two-factor authentication combines with two different factors, two-step verification uses all the same factors twice, for example, a password and a one-time code which is sent via email or SMS. You might think that a code sent to a phone qualifies as a second factor since the phone is something you physically have, but SMS is also insecure and the code could be intercepted at some point. From a security risk perspective: that makes it pretty much similar to a password.
Meanwhile, two-factor authentication is more secure than other two-step verification process, however both are better than relying on a single password. So regardless of which one is on offer, take advantage of it.
One account that rules them all
If there’s one online account that is worth protecting with above-all-others, it’s your email. That’s not just because it contains your private conversations, but because it also serves as a gateway to your other accounts. Mostly online services ask every user to sign up with their email and rely on that to reset their passwords and send important communications. An attacker with access to your email can search for old registration emails easily and find out where you have accounts online. Then he/she can reset passwords and communicate with technical support staff at all those websites. Start your adoption of two-step or two-factor authentication by turning this feature on for your email. All the large email providers including like Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook offer this security feature.
I did that, now what?
If you’re not using a software extension like a password manager, make that your next priority. Most popular password managers prefer to have two-factor authentication option enabled at sites like Facebook, ICloud, Apple ID, Twitter, Apple sites, Snapchat, LinkedIn, PayPal and WordPress.com.
How does it help me stay secure online?
Well, that’s a loaded question, when it comes to online security. It is true that two-factor authentication is not impervious to hackers. One of the most high-profile cases of a compromised two-factor system occurred in 2011 when security company of RSA revealed that its (SecurID) authentication tokens had been hacked.
Although it might not be completely safe (what is these days?), two-step authentication has significantly reduced the amount of password breaches in the past decade and we suggest you turn it on asap!