With the world getting increasingly digital by the day, the need to raise the awareness level for cybersecurity has never been stronger. Going by the current trends at top global intelligence agencies including the FBI and the NSA, technology has made cybersecurity a bigger threat to nations than terrorism1. The threats aren’t exclusively toward governmental agencies and large corporation though. Everyone with an online identity has to take cybersecurity seriously just as it is with securing your properties. In fact, consumers have been on the receiving end of some of the world’s largest data breaches2. Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is a good and effective place to start protecting your online identity/assets.
What is Two Factor Authentication?
As the name suggests, two-factor authentication simply adds one more layer of security to your basic one-step login procedure. The entire purpose is to double check that you’re the one accessing your account. It’s like locking a door with two padlocks, the first being your basic password and the second being a password you have to get via preset medium or device that you would normally be able to access.
Most people who have enabled 2FA use it in two ways. First, they use a mobile application usually called an authenticator to generate a code that they’d enter in a second login step after they’ve entered their password. Granted, they would have to first set up the authenticator app by scanning a QR code or entering an authentication code to add the online account they’re trying to secure to the authenticator application.
The second common way 2FA is used is via SMS. In this case, the user receives a text message that contains a one-time password that they’d have to enter after they must have entered their usual password.
The advantage of the mobile application-based 2FA over the SMS 2FA is that you can still access your account even if you traveled abroad where your local carrier might not be available. A mobile app 2FA allows you to generate one-time passwords offline at any location. While Google Authenticator is the most widely used 2FA app, there are other options like Microsoft Authenticator, Twilio Authy, FreeOTP, Toopher and a few others.
In addition to SMS and mobile app-based 2FA, there are also hardware 2FA tokens as well. Hardware tokens come in various shapes and design ranging from USB tokens to offline tokens that have a digital screen and smartcards3. Their purpose is still the same with the mobile app and SMS. They simply generate a second password to verify your identity in an additional step.
The thing is hardware 2FA, while bulkier and less convenient to use, offer a solution to the limitations of the mobile phone based 2FA. For instance, many 2FA apps do not have your accounts stored on the cloud. So if you lose access to your mobile phone/device, you’re likely to go through several steps and procedures to regain access to each of the account you secured using the app-based 2FA. The same applies to SMS-based 2FA. According to reviews, only Twilio Authy app seems to back up your accounts on the cloud, hence, hence, mitigating the risks of your losing access to your account.
However, with hardware 2FA tokens, you only need to worry about keeping the device safe.
How You Can Actually Use 2FA to Secure Your Online Identity
While some companies require you to set up 2FA before you can use your web accounts with them, you’d have to look for how to set up 2FA with most websites. The technology website Verge has a comprehensive guide on how to set up 2FA for your accounts across the web.
However, if some of your accounts are not listed, you’ll need to check the security setting section of your dashboard to see how to activate 2FA. If this information isn’t readily available, you should contact the support department of the company to inquire about this.
Bringing it all together
While 2FA does a great job protecting your online identity/assets from data breaches, it doesn’t completely protect you from potential hackers. In essence, having 2FA activated on your account doesn’t make the good old advice of changing your password regularly obsolete. Moreover, if you find 2FA too cumbersome to use, it might help to consider other cybersecurity technologies including face ID and biometrics