Two-Factor Authentication: Complete Guide

Apr 06, 2020
Two-Factor Authentication

We’ve all had that moment where you’re trying to sign in to a website you haven’t visited in some time and then you’re asked to enter an SMS code or answer a pre-set personal question. Now you have to jump through hoops just to get in! Of course, we are talking about two-factor authentication and while it sounds annoying you’d be surprised at how much you stand to lose without it.

The Importance of Two-Factor Authentication. Two-factor authentication is used by websites, applications, and platforms to keep your data and personal information private and secure.

Two-factor authentication has grown in popularity among top websites in the past decade so much so that hackers and data breaches have found creative ways to bypass traditional security measures. Read below to find out more about what two-factor authentication is, why we need it, and how some of the big players are finding new and improved methods of protecting your data.

What is Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is simply a second way of proving your online identity to the website or application you are trying to access. This is an integral part of keeping your personal and financial data secure by requiring that you go through a post-password identity confirmation step in order to access a specific web-page, your account, or even reset a password.

It’s kind of like when your bank asks for a second form of ID. You just showed them your Driver’s License but now they want to see the same exact information to prove you are the same exact person? Just like there is no negotiating with a bank, there’s no way to bypass the two-factor authentication page. Of course, similar to a bank, the site is just doing its best to protect you, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

Multi-Factor Authentication Channels

As data breachers and hacking-bots have become more and more aware of the steps necessary to bypass authentication measures, large companies and organizations have taken additional steps in order to ensure their customers’ privacy online. In fact, some websites and apps have started using multi-factor authentication which means two or more authentication measures.

While this may seem like a headache, think about what you stand to lose. Depending on the website or application you are using, you could have stored information about yourself from simple things like your age, gender, and relationship status to more important data like your bank account number, social security number, and home address.

Here are some of the most popular multi-factor authentication methods in practice today.

SMS Authentication

The most common and one of the most effective multi-factor confirmation steps is SMS authentication. This is a preferred step for many companies and most users because of its accessibility, security, and speed.

After entering your password or asking for a password reset, the website will ask you to enter a 4 to 8 digit code on the next page that they texted you via SMS. If you set up an email address to link with your phone number you can get the SMS text forwarded to your email. This way no matter where you are in the world you don’t have to have your phone on you to receive an SMS.

Voice

Voice authentication is a fairly new application and has not been put into widespread use as of yet. Essentially, similar to receiving an SMS code, with voice two-factor authentication your receive a message or what could be called an MMS text with a audio recording of a code you have to then listen to and enter.

This is done in order to stop third-parties or bots from reading your messages. In this case, only you can listen to messages and codes.

Token

When it comes to tokens there are actually two forms we can talk about. One is the more popular software token and the other refers to blockchain tokens, namely with the Ethereum token.

Software tokens are codes stored on physical devices like a USB or computer. By accessing these you can enter your security code and move on. This; however, is fairly dangerous as software tokens can be compromised or stolen.

The other token refers more to the tokenization of assets through the blockchain network. Ethereum, for instance, provides unique tokens to people who purchase an Ethereum token. The token acts as a smart contract as is unique to each individual. This by no stretch of the imagination is in wide use or used at all for that matter but theoretically could be the future of multi-form authentication.

Push

Push notifications are a bit different and require that you have a smartphone. Essentially you install a push-supported application and create an account. You can register on free platforms or paid ones.

With this method, you actually don’t even have to enter a password. Just put in your username to the website or app you are trying to use at which point you will get a push notification and you either have to “Approve” “Accept” or “Decline”. This is great because it stops parties who don’t have physical access to your device from accessing your data. Still, you have to own a smartphone.

Who Needs Two-Factor Authentication

You may be thinking to yourself, “well my password is super strong so I definitely don’t need another authentication method” but you may fail to see the bigger picture. As mentioned before there is too much at stake here in order to avoid something that is very clearly important.

Every now and then you hear news stories of millions of people who lost their information to third parties after a cyber attack. That being said, everyone needs two-factor authentication! Whether you’re just signing in to Facebook or checking out your bank statement you need to go through with the multi-factor authentication steps to protect yourself from fraud, identity theft, and financial or personal loss.

Examples of Multi-Factor Authentication From Big Brands

Let’s quickly go through a few examples of large companies and organizations that use two-factor authentication and verification and their preferred methods.

Gmail Two-Step Verification

With over 1.5 billion active users, Gmail has the arduous task of protecting a lot of its users. Google, like most companies, opts for the simple SMS code which is fast and accessible.

Multi-Factor Authentication Office 365

If you set up authentication on your Office 365 you can choose a multi-factor method by which you enter a code sent via SMS text and then a biometric method using finger-print identification or face recognition.

Twitch Two-Factor Authentication

Like Google and Facebook, Twitch, the largest gaming streaming platform in the world, requires a code as its two-factor authentication, which is sent to your phone.

GitHub Two-Factor Authentication

GitHub uses a slightly different authentication system. Instead of relying on a code sent via SMS, they use a process called a time-based one-time password (TOTP) in which you enter a new password that expires at a certain period of time.

Paypal Two-Factor Authentication

Paypal sends you a security key as its authentication method. The key is sent to your phone and acts as a One Time Pin (OTP) meaning it will expire and won’t be applicable next time.

There you have it! The ins and outs of two-factor identification. Data security is going to be one of the largest concerns for individuals and brands during this decade. People have to be concerned about their personal and financial information being lost or corrupted and companies have to place the safety of their users above all else in order to differentiate themselves.

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