An In-Depth Look at Two Factor Authentication
Cyber attacks have always been a huge threat to the modern world. Although technology has greatly improved, keeping private data safe remains an issue. A few methods to protect online information have emerged over the past decade and one of them is two factor authentication or 2FA.
What is Two Factor Authentication?
Put simply, two factor authentication is the process that requests for more than the password of the user. Apps and websites utilize this method to make sure the user who is trying to gain access is really the person he or she claims to be.
Normally, you provide your login details, namely your username or email and your password. With 2FA, you need to supply your password, along with a unique code. This code is sent to your registered phone or another app. With this method, the website or software application is given the insurance that you have access to your virtual password and the physical device.
There are three general ID types that you can use for 2FA:
- Your password, PIN, street address, account number, or any set of digits or letters that you can provide
- A USB security key, an authenticator fob, your phone, or a technology that you can hold in your hands
- Your fingerprint, voice, retina, or things that are a part of your body
If the site or app uses the 2FA method, you will need two of the three above-mentioned elements to gain access to it.
You may not have realized it but two factor authentication is not a new technology. In fact, you have been using it for most of your adult life.
For instance, if you are an online retailer, the company that processes the payments of your customers, which were performed through their credit cards, would typically ask for a code. They may also require you to give the billing address and the card number.
These numbers are a way for the firms to ensure that you possess the card, which is generally the first step of the authentication process. When you provide the address and it matches the same location that the card issuer has on their record, you have completed the second step. These two processes simply assure the company that you are who you say you are.
Going back to the old days when people would only use checks to pay for their purchases, most businesses would ask for two physical IDs, such as a school or work ID and state DMV. It may seem outdated and different in comparison with the password-and-phone authentication process, but it was also a form of 2FA.
The main rule of two factor authentication is for the user to provide not just one method but two to prove their identity. Only then can they access their account.
Why Should You Use Two Factor Authentication?
The simplest explanation why you need two factor authentication with a website or an app is that it becomes more difficult for someone to hack into your account. Before, many hackers could create a quick password crack and they could gain access to someone else’s account anywhere in the world. It was because they only required the user’s personal data.
With 2FA, there is one more step needed to confirm the user’s identity. Passwords are not only weak but are an outdated method as well. They may be a requirement with all apps but it does not mean they offer the best security. It is why two factor authentication was introduced.
Another reason why 2FA is vital to security is that it can be difficult to memorize a certain group of characters. Most people have different passwords for the applications that they use, which they think protects them from hackers. However, this assortment of letters and numbers (and even special symbols) can be a huge challenge to keep in people’s memory.
There have been a number of apps in existence that help organize and memorize passwords, including super-long strings. However, you still need one password that will keep you safe. Two factor authentication gives you two various keys that you will use to log into your account. In short, it significantly ramps up the difficulty level of accessing your account.
Therefore, any hacker who tries to open your account and get your personal information will not find it easy at all.
According to tech experts, data breaches can happen to anyone at any given time. However, four out of five of such issues could be avoided with the help of 2FA. The majority of data breaches that are linked to hacking occur because the users have weak passwords. The hackers find them uncomplicated, so they can quickly take the information.
Believe it or not, many users have the same password. In 2018, millions of people still used the following:
- 123456 (up to 9)
For a few years now until last year, “123456” and “password” have been the most commonly utilized password all over the world. With such data, the risk of stealing passwords every day grows tenfold. It was why 2FA was created to ensure that hackers who could get the common password would still have to work harder to gain access.
With 2FA, it provides a certain level of guarantee that hackers will have to crack an additional security layer. Even better today, these 2FA methods depend on time. For instance, you want to access your account on a certain app. The first step is to provide your traditional login details, which are your username or email and your password.
In the proceeding step, the app will send an authentication code straight to your linked mobile device. It will typically have a timer in which you can only enter the given code within the time limit. Most of the time, the code will no longer be usable after a minute to five minutes. The time frame varies from one app to another. However, it does provide more robust security for the user since the code expires quickly.
How Secure is 2FA?
Two factor authentication gives your account additional security. However, it does not guarantee that you will not be a victim of hackers. It does make your account a lot more secure compared to not using it. Although nothing is guaranteed in the world of technology, 2FA is mostly enough to give you the protection you need – unless you are unlucky or you are one of the high-profile targets of a group of hackers.
On the positive side though, a phishing email will not be able to log in to your account even if it gets your password. For most people, they use 2FA for their online profiles and a token will be sent to their phone. Without such code or token, the scammer can never access your account.
To enter, they will typically have to give your username or ID, along with your password. After that, it is essential that they can also supply the token. The first two requirements are typically easy for some hackers to get. However, they cannot get the other code unless they have your phone within a certain period.
How Does 2FA Work?
Two factor authentication is everywhere. From Amazon to Google to Facebook, this method is a requirement to access an account, particularly when you are using an unrecognized or new device. 2FA can work in different ways but there are two main ways to receive the pass codes.
The code can be sent to your email or your phone number, which can either be a text message or a phone call. A server will generate the code for you and send it to the receiver of your choice. Emails and in-app verification requires you to be connected to the Internet.
With your phone number, you will need to have access to your mobile, which also requires network connectivity. In any case, you should not leave your phone in a remote area, so you will receive the text, call, or email.
However, it does not mean that you cannot authenticate your account without an Internet connection. Some apps allow users to generate a pass code even when they are offline. This option typically involves other apps, such as Google Authenticator, TOTP Authenticator, and the like.
In some instances, you may be able to utilize hardware devices, which enable two factor authentication. If the app or website allows you to choose between the first and second option, it is recommended that you choose the offline method.
It is more robust than the use of phones or the Internet because it does not require data connectivity. As you may already know, network phishing is still a problem. The offline method gives you a more secure way of authenticating because it is less risky.
Before you use 2FA for authentication, you need to enable the option first. It typically involves three steps but they are all easy to carry out, even for beginners. Common steps include the following:
- Provide your credentials. You start with your login details, meaning you need to provide your username and password. Even if you are currently logged in to your account, you will need to re-enter these pieces of information to enable the service.
- Enable through your account settings. The next step is to go to your account settings and find the option to enable two factor authentication. This procedure is necessary since it is the method that lets the server know that you wish to use 2FA for your account. You may be asked to provide a phone number or your email address in which the authentication code will be sent.
- Confirm the change. The final step is to supply a token back to the app or site’s server by means of affirming the modification you have just made. Typically, it involves a barcode, which you have to scan to finalize the process. In other instances, you will have to manually enter certain details to complete the 2FA approval.
Most of the time, users select SMS for confirming their identity. If you do the same, you should have access to your phone during the process of enabling 2FA.
What Happens When You Lose Access to Your Phone?
As you can see, you need your number or smartphone to get into your account. Therefore, it is more than a necessity to back up; otherwise, you could end up getting locked you of your account. The premise is that your secondary password should always be accessible to you.
However, problems can arise. For instance, you lose your phone or it was stolen from you. Such an unfortunate thing can happen to anyone, which means they lose their data as well. The best way to maintain your access is to back up your codes. This method will depend on the site or app you are using.
Some sites allow users to save another code or password. You should keep it in a safe place, so you do not lose your account access. The saved code can be utilized in such an instance when you can no longer control your phone.
An alternative is to use an authentication app. It gives you the option to back up any related data, including your security code. If you lose your phone and the website you want to access will send a text to the device, you can use the recovery key from the service to unlock the account.
One Important Reminder About Two Factor Authentication
Two factor authentication boosts your login process by adding an extra layer of protection. Even though it reduces the chance of hackers to get to your account, it should not be treated as a replacement for strong passwords.
Some people tend to use weak passwords repeatedly to avoid the risk of them forgetting their login details. However, this type of password is a bane to your own cyber security. You should make the effort to create a unique password and one that is complex to ensure that other people will not figure it out. This tip is important, especially when banking.
While 2FA is helpful, you should still have a strong password. These two work hand in hand so the hackers cannot get to your account and access your private data.
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