IMPORTANT: An Extra Layer of Security
Some security tips bear repetition. I've been beating the drum for two-factor authentication for several years. I know, it sounds geeky, but it's actually a simple tool that can protect you even if a hacker steals all your passwords. Here's what you need to know...
What is Two-Factor Authentication?
It goes by many names... Sometimes it's referred to as "2FA," "two-step verification," "login approval," or "enhanced login security." Bottom line, it's a big improvement on the username/password method of gaining access to online accounts.
Two-factor authentication makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) for someone to hack into your online accounts, even if they have your password. That’s because a password is just one factor used to prove (authenticate) that you are who you say you are. The other authentication factor will be quite different.
A username, such as JSmith419, is who you claim to be. In order to authenticate that claim, you may provide a password which, in theory, only the real JSmith419 knows. That’s one-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication requires two out the following three types of authentication factors:
- Something you know (e.g., a password)
- Something you have (e.g., a mobile phone)
- Something that is part of you (e.g., a fingerprint)
Passwords and mobile phones have become the preferred pair of factors for two-factor authentication. To use two-factor authentication methods 1 and 2, you might register your phone number with an online service such as Gmail, Facebook or your bank. Then, each time you enter your username and password, the service sends a text message (or an automated voice call) to that phone number, containing a unique one-time code that you must type in to be fully authenticated.
You've Got Options
Phones are ubiquitous these days; it doesn’t even have to be a smartphone. If you do have a smartphone, you have the option to use an authentication app such as Google Authenticator to generate the one-time code. With Google (and perhaps other services) you can also print out a list of "backup codes" to be used in situations where you don't have your phone handy.
If it sounds like a nuisance to enter both a password and a verification code every time you log in, well, you're right. But most services that offer two-factor authentication give you the option to enter the code once and check a box that says something like "trust this computer." If you do that, you won’t need to enter a verification code each time you sign in with that computer.
Online businesses increasingly urge customers to use two-factor authentication. Some even insist upon it. Their reasons include the skyrocketing frequency of mass thefts of username/password pairs by hackers, and the cost of responding to such breaches. Those costs can include lawsuits, fraudulent transactions that merchants or banks must eat, the cost of notifying affected customers, and even the cost of providing a year’s worth of credit report monitoring. Not to mention the cost of bad publicity and lost customers.
Earlier this month, a new campaign was launched to encourage and help Internet users to enable two-factor authentication on all the sites that offer it. The “Turn It On” Web site https://www.turnon2fa.com is chock-full of information about two-factor authentication (abbreviated 2FA). Even better, it provides step-by-step instructions for enabling 2FA on over 100 sites, a list that is growing rapidly.
Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo are the most popular sites offering 2FA. “Turn It On” also documents 2FA procedures for backup and sync services such as Dropbox; financial sites including Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America; cloud computing resources such as Amazon Web Services; communication services such as Skype and Office 365; domain services such as GoDaddy; Web hosting services; government Web sites; Paypal and other payment services; eBay, Etsy, and other shopping sites; and many social media sites.
We are all relying on cloud-based services for an increasing number of functions. As the number of user accounts you have grows, so does your exposure to identity theft and fraud. Two-factor authentication is the best way to protect yourself. It’s worth the small extra effort.
Do you use 2FA? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Jun 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- IMPORTANT: An Extra Layer of Security (Posted: 19 Jun 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved