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Keep your accounts secure with two-factor authentication

Jul 24, 2020 · 4 min read

Keep your accounts secure with two-factor authentication

If you think a password is enough to protect your account, think again. In the age of cybercrime and high-tech hackers, you need something more sophisticated. You need two-factor authentication (2FA).

It’s one of the best ways to keep your accounts safe from cybercriminals. Now available across numerous services — including Apple’s operating systems, Google Drive, Windows 10, and popular social networks — 2FA is a simple and effective security solution.

What is two-factor authentication?

The process adds an extra security layer to your account, making it much harder for malicious actors to attack and steal your data. To access a profile protected with 2FA, you need two elements:

  • Something you know (a password or pin code)
  • Something you have (access to a specific device)

With 2FA, every time you want to log in to your account, you will first be asked to enter your password. Then, a one-time code will automatically be sent to your mobile phone; if you can prove that you’re also the device owner, you can log in.

Even if a cybercriminal acquires your password and tries to break into your account, they will need to have physical access to your phone as well.

How is 2FA different from 2SV?

If you already have two-step verification (2SV), is two-factor authentication necessary? The answer is yes.

Although 2SV also offers some additional layers of protection, it doesn’t necessarily require the “something you have” part. In order to access your account when 2SV is on, you can use either two USB security keys, two passwords, or a combination of a password and a security question.

The main difference between these two is pretty simple:

  • If you use 2FA, the bad actor who wants to hack your account will have to pull off two types of theft: they will need to steal your physical device (“something you have”) and your password (“something you know”).
  • If you rely on 2SV, the hacker will only need to commit one type of crime, multiple times. He just needs to steal your information — your password and the answer to your security question, for example. If he’s using spyware or extorting a data breach, he may already have both.

Although both of these security measures add an additional level of safety to your account and should be used wherever possible, 2FA offers more benefits. Needless to say – any form of protection is better than none.

How to enable 2FA

2FA on macOS and iOS

macOS 2FA

  • macOS

If you’re setting up 2FA on macOS, head to System Preferences in the Apple menu and select Apple ID. Go to Password & Security and click Turn On Two-Factor Authentication.

If you’re using macOS Mojave or an older operating system, you should go to System Preferences and click iCloud. Next, select Account Details, Security, and Turn On Two-Factor Authentication.

  • iOS

If you’re using an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you should first go to Settings, and Password & Security. Alternatively, if you’re using an earlier version of the operating system — iOS 10.2 or older — head to Settings, iCloud, and Apple ID, and click Turn On Two-Factor Authentication.

Next, enter the number of the phone you want to use as your verifying device. Apple will then send you a code by text or call, depending on your preferences. Verify your number to complete the setup process for two-factor authentication.

2FA on Google

Google 2FA

Confusingly, Google uses the term “2-Step Verification” when referring to their 2FA features, so in this case you'll be setting up 2SV. Go to Sign-in and security. Enter your password and phone number to receive your verification code.

You can either stay with the default option and receive your security codes via text or voice messages, get the Google prompt to make your verifications quicker or use their Authenticator app.

With the Google prompt, you won’t need to type in verification codes each time you want to access your account. Instead, you will receive a notification asking if it’s really you trying to log in. Simply tap “Yes” and you’re in.

2FA on Windows 10

Windows 10 2FA

If you’re a Windows 10 user, the process for setting up 2FA is a simple one, and can be carried out online through your Microsoft account. As part of the authentication process, you can use an email, a phone number, or Microsoft's dedicated Authenticator app.

Head to Microsoft’s Security Basics page and log into your Microsoft account. Then click More security options and Set up two-step verification, and follow the prompts to complete the set-up process.

Take security to the next level

Now might be a good time to go through all your accounts (Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, PayPal, etc) and add that extra layer of security.

The majority of popular services provide either two 2FA or 2SV to their customers and there are also a number of specialized apps, such as Authy or Duo Mobile, designed for the same purpose. If you're not sure whether a specific website offers 2FA or 2SV, you can quickly check it here.

If you want to take your security to the next level, you can also use a virtual private network (VPN) to enhance online safety. NordVPN wraps your data in layers of next-generation encryption, making it harder for criminals to access your passwords and sensitive data. Take control of your data today with 2FA and NordVPN.

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Stephen Levine
Stephen Levine successVerified author

When Stephen's not busy being a news junkie or playing with the latest gadgets, he loves to blog about tech and cybersecurity issues. He hates the idea of anyone collecting excessive data about him or his two cats.


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