Information Security Technology

What Is Two Factor Authentication (2FA) and Why You Should Activate It

It’s not uncommon to read about data breaches in the media these days, but this isn’t just something that affects large corporations. There are many things that you can do to reduce your risk of being hacked, including using two factor authentication (2FA).

What is two factor authentication?

2FA is an extra security step that makes sure that the person trying to access an online account is the person they say they are. Without 2FA activated, you enter your username and password and you are immediately given access. With 2FA, you will have to complete a further step to gain access. This extra step can be:

  • Biometric authentication: A fingerprint (touch ID), facial recognition (Face ID) or voice recognition to verify your identity.
  • A generated code: A generated 2FA pin is sent to your phone via SMS or email.
  • Software tokens: A software-generated one-time passcode

Why is just using a password not good enough?

It might feel like a lot more effort to use 2FA rather than just a password, but using 2FA greatly reduces your risk of being a victim of a cyber attack. The 2020 Verizon Data Breach Report found that 81% of company data breaches were caused by stolen and/or weak passwords.

There are many reasons that passwords are notoriously easy to hack, including:

  • Human memory: Humans just don’t have the capacity to memorise many long unique passwords, so they get lazy and make them short and easy to crack.
  • Too many accounts: The modern world requires us to have passwords for every online shop you buy from, every different account you have, and the easiest option is often to re-use the same password across multiple websites or just add on a number or symbol.

Why you should activate 2FA

By activating 2FA, you create a strong barrier for hackers. Microsoft experiences 300 million fraudulent sign-in attempts to the cloud every day. They found that 99.9% of attacks can be blocked by using multi-factor authentication. Although it might seem like a lot of extra hassle, activating 2FA could be the difference between getting hacked or not.

How to enable 2FA

More and more websites and apps are now using two factor authentication to help protect their users from being the victim of a cyberattack. The method for enabling 2FA varies depending on the phone type, but it can usually be found in ‘Settings’ under ‘Security’. Some apps use SMS for 2FA, while others use face ID, touch ID or a code from a third-party authentication app.

If the app you’re using has 2FA as an option, it’s highly recommendable that you activate it to ensure you have maximum protection from hackers.

What is the most secure two factor authentication?

Using any type of 2FA is more secure than just using a password, but which is the most secure?

In general, a generated code sent through SMS or email is considered as being the weakest form of 2FA and the easiest to hack. For low-risk websites, an SMS code may be sufficient. However, for companies with more personal information such as banks, it’s advisable to find a more secure 2FA alternative.

Software tokens are the most popular form of 2FA. Users must download a 2FA app and when prompted, enter a code that is typically only valid for less than a minute. The code is generated and displayed on the same device which eliminates the risk of a hacker intercepting it.

Biometric Authentication is the most secure method of 2FA as it requires something completely unique to the user, such as a fingerprint or retina scan. Like all methods, it’s not completely hack-proof but it is significantly better than just using a password.

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