Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security measure that requires two pieces of information to authenticate someone. When you turn on 2FA, it will ask for not only your password but also an additional piece of information, such as a code from a hardware token or the answer to a secret question.
It means that even if someone discovers your password, they can’t access your account without this second factor! Let’s get into it.
Why There Is A Need For 2FA?
If you are an online user, it is essential to understand the importance of two-factor authentication (TFA). Many people think that this type of security measure has become less necessary due to advancements in technology.
- However, even though many improvements have been made, TFA remains just as relevant for ensuring your safety and privacy while browsing or conducting business on the internet connection.
- The use of multi-factor access control systems ensures that only individuals who possess specific credentials can gain access to their accounts regardless if they know passwords or not.
- Hence, more security for your mobile devices than single-factor authentication. You can also check for the importance of internet safety for further help.
How Does Two-Factor Authentication Work?
Two-factor authentication (also known as two-step verification) is an extra layer for account security that makes it harder for someone to hack into your accounts. Instead of just using one method like a password or PIN to log in, you’ll need to confirm who you are by utilizing another factor.
It is something only the user knows (a password or verification code), something only the user has (such as a hardware token or phone app), or somewhere the user is located (via GPS). A second factor might sound inconvenient at first, but they will be locked out if hackers can’t get past this step.
Common Types of Two-Factor Authentication
There are several different ways to implement two-factor authentication. While SMS and push notifications can be convenient, they aren’t as secure as hardware tokens or software tokens that generate OTPs for sign-in. The details include:
1. Hardware Tokens
A hardware token is a physical device that generates one-time passwords (OTPs), which provide an extra level of security for your accounts. A common type of hardware token is USB devices. Usually, they look like flash drives and contain the OTP generator, receiver, and sometimes even the capability to generate new seeds or PINs on them.
- You download some software onto your phone that turns it into a receiving station/tokenizer. It is capable of receiving the OTPs generated by your hardware token.
- Your phone then displays the one-time password (OTP) to you. At this point, you enter it into whatever app or website requires an extra layer of security, and voila! You are logged in with two factors.
- Hardware security token provides a very high level of protection for your accounts because they never go online via WiFi, cellular networks, etc. It makes them much more secure than SMS texts or TOTPs (Time-based One Time Passwords).
- Furthermore, if someone steals your mobile device/phone, there is no way to hack it without physical access to the key fob itself.
2. SMS And Voice-Based Authentication
Users receive a text or voice call on their cell phone when they log in to confirm that it’s them. A notification will appear, and the user must tap “Approve” before being allowed into an account. The method of authentication requires no special software but does require access to a mobile phone connected via SMS (text messaging) or voice.
A drawback of this form of two-factor authentication is that attackers can potentially hijack the text messages sent out by services. For example, Google Authenticator if they have physical access to your smartphone or Google account.
- So, be careful about setting up any security measure which uses push notifications without verifying its origin first!
- Also, in the case of SMS-based verification codes, the authentication attempt can be successful by hackers in case of negligence of the authentication code. Also, they generate app-specific passwords that hackers can crack.
- In addition, these days, most people rely heavily on their smartphones and pretty much can’t live without them.
- Therefore, it would be a great inconvenience if they lose their cell phones or get locked out of the account that only uses their phone for two-factor authentication.
3. Software Tokens
Many software tokens for two-factor authentication are compatible with numerous devices. These tokens either use cryptography to generate time-based one-time passwords (TOTPs) or produce passwords as a sequence of numbers.
- Although some software tokens rely on a physical keypad that can be hidden from sight.
- In this case, the user enters their password into the token, displaying a six-digit number that changes every 60 seconds.
- One of the most significant benefits of using software tokens is that they are available on different platforms. It means you can use it for everything from your phone to pagers and tablets.
- They are also easy to install, requiring little maintenance or special requirements.
- Just download an app onto your device, set up a PIN (personal identification number). Then, it generates codes whenever you need them.
4. Push Notification
Push notifications are a great way to deliver the same security without the bulkiness of SMS or voice-based authentication. Instead, your phone receives a push notification with an activation code. You enter it in order to gain access to whatever site or app you’re trying to log into.
- Many sites and services use this type of two-factor authentication. It includes Facebook, Google’s Gmail service, Apple iMessage, and Slack messenger chat platform for business users.
- Even some online banking websites use this kind of user verification!
- It works well because it doesn’t rely on any other device besides your smartphone. Hence, you can activate easily while still providing excellent protection against unauthorized login attempts.
- It is a kind of compromised two-factor system because users can approve the knowledge factor by mistake.
Bringing It All Together
If you are not using two-factor authentication, it is time to start. You never know when someone might try to log into your account and get access to all of your information. The authentication factors and account recovery process will make sure that the only person who can log in or change any settings on your accounts is you!
Hence, two-factor authentication adds protection to your accounts without having to remember multiple passwords. Just make sure you use it right! You can also check for other tips to stay safe on the Internet for your privacy.
Maryam has been teaching IT as a school teacher for over a decade, and her main subject of choice is Internet safety, especially helping parents keep their families safe and secure online. When Maryam is not teaching or writing she is a big fan of the outdoors, the complete opposite of staring at a computer screen for hours.