What Is Two-Factor Authentication?

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Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is an extra layer of security that helps protect your online accounts from unauthorized access. When you enable 2FA, you’re adding a second authentication factor or step to your usual login process, thus improving your online account security. For example, after first entering your username and password, you then have to enter as well a one-time code sent to your phone. In this blog post, we will explain what 2FA is, how it works, how secure it is, why we need it, and how to set it up. We will also explore what other security measures could be used to complement or strengthen 2FA.

What is two-factor authentication (2FA)?

Two-factor authentication, also known as 2FA or two-step verification, is an extra layer of security that helps protect your online accounts from unauthorized access. When you enable 2FA for an account, you’re adding a second step to the usual login process of entering your username and password.

The idea behind 2FA is that even if someone knows your username and password, they won’t be able to log in to your account unless they also have access to the second factor, using your phone, email or another personal device, which is usually something that only you would have. This makes it much harder for someone to gain unauthorized access to your account.

How does two-factor authentication work?

Adding in a second authentication step to access your online account can be either one of the following:

  • A one-time code that’s generated by an app on your phone and that you enter when prompted after entering your username and password.
  • A call or text message (SMS) with a one-time code that you enter when prompted after entering your username and password.
  • An email with a one-time code that you enter when prompted after entering your username and password.
  • An “Approve” notification received onto your phone.

How secure is two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication is generally considered to be more secure than just using a username and password since it adds an extra layer of security. However, 2FA is not perfect and there are ways for attackers to bypass it.

For example, if an attacker has your username and password and is also able to intercept the one-time code sent to your phone, they may be able to gain access to your account. Additionally, if you’re using SMS for 2FA and an attacker can hijack your phone number, they may be able to receive the one-time code and use it to log in to your account.

That being said, 2FA is still a very effective security measure and is generally recommended, especially if you’re using it for high-risk accounts such as financial accounts.

Why do we need two-factor authentication?

There are a few reasons why you might want to enable 2FA on your online accounts:

  • To prevent unauthorized access: As mentioned, 2FA adds in an extra layer of security by requiring someone to not only have the first factor of authentication consisting of your username and password but also the second factor such as a code sent to your email address or a one-time “Approve” prompt on your phone or another device.
  • To avoid phishing attacks: Phishing is a type of online fraud where attackers try to trick you into giving them your username and password. If 2FA is enabled for your account, even if someone manages to get your username and password, they won’t be able to log in unless they also have the second factor.
  • To comply with security policies: In some cases, 2FA may be required by your organization for certain accounts, such as email or financial accounts.

Enabling two-factor authentication is among the cybersecurity best practices for remote work and the 8 tips to secure your e-commerce website.

How can we set up two-factor authentication?

Most online services that offer 2FA will give you the option to use an app on your phone to generate the one-time code, such as Google Authenticator.

You can also use SMS for 2FA, although this is generally considered less secure than using an app since it’s easier for attackers to intercept text messages than it is to get access to your phone.

In any of your online accounts, simply access your security settings and select the “2-step verification.”

What could complement or strengthen 2FA?

There are a few additional security measures you can use on top of 2FA to make your accounts or applications more secure, namely the following:

  • Use passwords of 8 characters or more, including at least one uppercase letter and one lowercase letter, and a special character, that will be difficult to predict.
  • Enable two-step verification for your email account as well.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi to access sensitive accounts, or use a VPN in that particular situation.
  • Consider using a password manager, such as 1Password to generate and store strong and unique passwords.
  • Keep your operating system and apps up to date.
  • Train your employees on phishing attacks, designed to trick a person into sharing sensitive information with the attacker.

Regular penetration testing of your network security, application security, cloud security, and remote work security can also help keep your online accounts more secure.

Wrapping up

At a time when malicious attackers can access and use powerful automated tools to launch cyberattacks, two-factor authentication is one of the key best practices to protect your online accounts from threats. Microsoft indicated in a study that 2FA can block off 99.9% of cyberattacks on user accounts. For that reason, 2FA continues to gain ground among users. Google has recently announced that it would start to force its Gmail users to enable two-step authentication on their email accounts.

Contact us if you need help with improving your cybersecurity posture.

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