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December 13, 2021

What’s the Deal With Two-Factor Authentication & Why Should You Use It?

Posted by Rhiannon

We use the internet for almost everything, every day. This includes emails, banking, social media, work, and anything in between. By managing our personal lives online, we put our personal lives on the line. Hacks and breaches of data happen every day and with increasing frequency and severity, If your information is stolen in those attacks, the results can be devastating. However, there are certain measures you can take to protect your safety and privacy online. These measures include things like using strong passwords, and avoiding public wi-fi. One other thing to do is turn on two-factor authentication. So, what do you need to know?

  • What is two-factor authentication?
  • How does it keep you safe?
  • Why, where, and when should you use it?
  • How do you use it effectively?
  • The future of two-factor authentication

What is Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication is a form of digital account security, sometimes also called 2FA, multi-step authentication, or multi-factor authentication. When used in conjunction with passwords, it adds an extra layer of protection to things like your bank account, emails, and more by requiring your regular password and a special one-time code. 

When enabled, the process for accessing your accounts may look something like this:

  1. You input your normal username and password.
  2. Before granting you access to your account, the website will send you a verification code. The code may be sent to your smartphone through a text, your email, or a dedicated authentication app like the Google Authenticator.
  3. Once you input the verification code correctly, you can access your account.

The main purpose of two-factor authentication is to prevent a cybercriminal from accessing your accounts even if your passwords are compromised.

How Does 2FA Keep You Safe?

In the earliest stages of the internet, the username-password form of security served us well. Websites were small and didn’t have much valuable information for cybercriminals to bother with, so passwords stored on those websites were generally safe. However, as the web has become more and more integral to our daily lives, that has quickly changed. Now, websites have millions, if not billions, of users, and most websites contain valuable data about every user. If a user’s password is compromised, their information and assets could be as well, which opens them up to the threat of privacy, identity, and financial theft. 

To help mitigate the damage of password theft and prevent criminals from accessing user accounts in the event of password breaches, many websites now offer two-factor authentication. The principle behind this form of security is based on the belief that, even if a cybercriminal gains access to your password, they are unlikely to be able to input the one-time code sent to your personal devices, since they shouldn’t have your devices.

Why Should You Use 2FA?

By using this extra security feature, you make the lives of would-be hackers significantly more difficult. If you have to use two-steps to log in to your accounts, so do they. In addition, a cybercriminal is less likely to have access to the device or account you use to receive a one-time code, which may stop an breach in its tracks. Two factor-authentication also reduces the risk of credit card fraud, identity theft, and more. 

In addition, revenge hacks -where disgruntled employees, friends, and loved ones who may have access to your private information use that knowledge against you- can also be prevented. Overall, two-factor authentication simply makes your online life more secure, which makes your offline life more secure.

Where Should You Use 2FA?

In general, the best rule of thumb is to turn on two-factor authentication for any app that offers it. However, it may slow down how quickly you can log in to your accounts, which occasionally makes some users decide against it. If you prefer convenience over security, consider instead how much personal and important information you have on each site to decide the level of security you want. We recommend using 2FA for online banking and shopping (or any other site with access to your financial information), email and cloud accounts, social media and messaging apps, and online password managers.

However, websites like free news outlets, non-identifying game accounts (like Candy Crush, for example), and other accounts with a minimum of information about you is less likely to need 2FA.

When Should You Use 2FA?

To keep it short and sweet, the best time to use two-factor authentication is now.

How Do You Use Two-Factor Authentication Safely?

Generally speaking, 2FA is very effective as a security method. However, there are some things that can reduce its effectiveness. Here are some ways to make two-factor authentication as safe as possible:

  • When enabling 2FA, some websites allow you to choose how you’d like to receive your one-time code. The most common options are as text messages, emails, or prompts through an authenticator app. Where possible, do not select text messages. In some sophisticated attacks, a cybercriminal may be able to hijack your text messages, which then grants them access to your passwords and your one-time code.
  • Use a unique password for your authenticator app or email addresses. Many people fall into the habit of using the same password for all their accounts. However, if a cybercriminal gains access to the password for your bank account and you use the same password for your authenticator app the criminal can also access the app to acquire the 2FA code.

The Future of Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication arose out of a need for better online security. Cybercriminals continuously develop more sophisticated methods of attack. If successful, they can steal millions of user passwords in one fell swoop. To reduce the damage of password theft, security experts developed 2FA to ensure that, even if a password has been compromised, the account still has another line of defence. 

However, 2FA isn’t a perfect security solution. It can still be stymied if the end-user doesn’t implement it correctly, or often enough. For example, someone who uses the same password for their bank account and authenticator app may still find their account breached simply because an attacker can access both accounts with one password.

To help improve 2FA, some security experts are working on developing a hardware solution, in which a user carries a physical key with them (it might look something like a USB drive). This key would contain a user’s login credentials and would automatically feed it into a website when connected. In fact, some models of this technology are already in use today, but are favoured mostly by privacy die-hards. However, one day, this tech may become the standard for authentication security the world (wide web) over.

Keep in mind, two-factor authentication isn’t a magical shield that prevents all data breaches. You can further protect yourself by using strong passwords, multiple email addresses, and VPNs like HotBot VPN.

Posted by Rhiannon

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