Two-Factor Authentication: Protecting Your Online Accounts

Laptop and two-factor authentication devices

Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is one of the easiest and most available multi-factor authentication approaches to protecting online accounts.

Analysis of recent online account breaches indicate that weak and reused passwords continue to be a common entry point for account or identity takeover and network intrusions.

Some simple steps and tools like two-factor authentication can help your end users employ unique, strong passwords for their dozens of accounts.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your accounts could let you know when someone new is trying to get into them? Even better, wouldn’t it be terrific to make a stolen password useless to others?

Were you tricked into revealing your password through a phishing scam? Rest easy, your account is safe! That’s essentially the control that two-factor authentication (2FA) — also known as two-step verification or login approval — gives to you. And, it only takes about two minutes to set up and two seconds to use. That’s a lot of power for very little effort!

How does it work?

Once you’ve activated two-factor authentication on an account, whenever an account login with your password comes from a different device from what you’ve already permitted, an authorization check will come to your smartphone or other registered device.

Without your approval or current code, a password thief can’t get into your account.

Is it difficult to set up?

Two-factor authentication is becoming more widely available and easier to use. Typically, you’ll either install a mobile security app on your smartphone and use that to handle the authorization checks for accounts, or you could use the text/phone call method if you can’t install a mobile app.

For international travelers, the mobile app also generates a code so that a data or cellular service connection isn’t required for this second step.

Can I adjust frequency of the checks?

In many cases, yes, although some accounts may require the verification for specific transactions or functions. You may want to have the extra verification every time you log in (e.g., personal website administration), or you might be comfortable requesting the verification only when an access attempt comes from a computer/device other than the one you originally permitted when you set up 2FA — such as personal email account you typically only check from one laptop and one smartphone.

Which accounts should I protect with 2FA?

Why wouldn’t you protect all of them where it’s available? But, start with those that are most critical to your identity and livelihood. Here are some suggestions:

  • Email accounts: “Forgot password” reset requests typically send instructions and links here, so protect this account to make sure you keep control of resetting your account passwords!
  • Financial accounts: Protect your money!
  • Social media accounts and website management accounts: Protect your brand!
  • Online shopping accounts: Protect usage of your stored credit card information!

If you or your organization need help with implementing two-factor authentication, Tech Prognosis can help. Contact us at (512) 814-8044, or use this form to schedule a security assessment of your technology environment.

This post is part of a larger campaign designed to support security professionals and IT communicators as they develop or enhance their security awareness plans. The campaign is brought to you by the Awareness and Training Working Group of the EDUCAUSE Higher Education Information Security Council (HEISC).

 

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