Two-Factor Authentication: Why, When and How to Use It

06.01.16

Due to the prevalence of new and improved hacking techniques and security threats in today’s online world, a single password may not provide ample protection for the information you want to keep private.

In response to these increased threats, many online services – like Google, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal and many banking institutions – now provide an additional security feature called “two-factor authentication.”

What is Two-Factor Authentication?

If we think about a password as a key to a lock, then we can imagine two-factor authentication as two locks, requiring two different keys. In general two-factor authentication requires two of these three types of information:

  • Something you KNOW: Personal Identification Number, password, pattern, zip code, etc.
  • Something you HAVE: a cell phone or mobile device, a bankcard, etc.
  • Something you ARE: biometrics, like fingerprints, retina scans, voice recognition

For example, once you enter your username and password (Something you KNOW) to access an account with two-factor authentication enabled, the account you’re logging in to can send a unique, single-use code (Something you HAVE), to your phone, as a text message. You would then use that code in the second step of the login process to gain access to your account.

For, perhaps, a more familiar example, consider what happens when you get cash from an ATM. You present your card (Something you HAVE) and then enter your PIN (Something you KNOW), to prove who you are. If you only have one of those items, you can’t take out cash.

Requiring a user to present two different keys, instead of just one, can make logging in to your accounts slightly more complicated, but it also neutralizes a whole host of threats that could otherwise jeopardize your privacy.

How do I set-up Two-Factor Authentication?

Enabling two-factor authentication (sometimes also called “two-step verification,” or “login verification”) can require navigating through privacy and security settings for your accounts. We’ve done that work for you for some common sites – see the helpful links below.

For assistance with other accounts, such as personal banking or any other platform where you store sensitive information, contact that agency or institution to guide you through the process.

category: Awareness
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