Don’t let the big name scare you, two factor authentication is actually quite simple. If you just use a password to sign in to a website, you are using one factor - the password. Having a strong password is good, but adding another factor is better. So what is the second factor? As Lifehacker points out in this article, the second factor is something you have - for instance your cell phone. Once enabled, the first time you log in to a website from a new device the site will send a code via text message to your phone. You type in the code and that’s it!
How does this help? Imagine someone figures out your password and tries to log in to your bank account from a remote location. Because they are doing this from a new device, your bank will send a verification code to your cell phone. Unless the hacker has also stolen your cell phone, they won’t be able to log in to your account. Simple as that.
I know what you are thinking - what if someone does steal my phone? Well there are other security measures you can put in place for that, like adding a password to open your phone, and remote wipe and “find my phone” features. Two factor authentication won’t help you with a stolen phone but most of us use our phones and tablets so much these days we know right away if it’s lost or stolen. Two factor is meant to protect you from anonymous hackers who live on the internet and wouldn’t have access to your phone.
I’ve been using two factor authentication for quite a while now and it hasn’t really been an inconvenience for me at all. Most sites remember me on my device for a period of time and when that time runs out I always have my phone on me to receive the text message. I feel more secure and know that if anyone tried to log in to my accounts I would know about it.
I like to think of it in terms of home security. I don’t have a home alarm system. We live in a pretty safe area and I don’t think it’s necessary. The locks on our doors are similar to the passwords you have on your accounts. I know that someone could pretty easily break into our house by picking the lock or busting in the window. If I lived in an area where I didn’t feel as safe, I would buy a home alarm. That way if someone did pick my lock or break a window, the alarm would go off and alert the police. Think of two factor authentication as your home alarm and the internet as the most dangerous community you could possibly live in!
Some people have argued that with two factor authentication, a password is almost irrelevant. In fact a well known reporter for the Wall Street Journal recently published his twitter password to prove that his two factor authentication would protect him. You can read his account here. I still believe that having a strong unique password for each site is extremely important but enabling two factor authentication is even better!
I’ve simplified the use of two factor authentication here and am not including some of the other “factors” you can use, like Google’s authenticator app. The point is, if you don’t have two factor authentication on your important accounts you need to add it now. To find out what sites have it, check out this listing: https://twofactorauth.org/
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