The Beginner’s Guide to Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is an easy way to add extra security to your accounts. Here’s what home users need to know about setting up and using 2FA.

How Two-Factor Authentication Works
Two-factor authentication works in tandem with your password. When logging in, you’ll enter your password plus a one-time token, such as a code sent to your phone. Because these tokens can only be used once, and are valid for a short period of time, they’re harder (but not impossible) for criminals to bypass.

While there are several ways to receive a 2FA code, the most common is via a text message to your phone. You can also use an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy. It’s a fast and seamless process, especially when integrated with a password manager.

You may hear the term “two-step verification,” or 2SV. Technically speaking, what you’re doing as a consumer is likely 2SV and not 2FA, but the term “two-factor authentication” has come to represent both.

Where Can I Use 2FA?
Many sites use two-factor authentication, but the most important accounts to protect are the ones that have your personal data. Think bank accounts, Google, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — anything that gives access to your email account, your finances, or your social media. Start by securing those accounts, then move onto any others that offer the additional protection of two-factor authentication.

Do I Still Need a Strong Password If I’m Using 2FA?
YES! Using two-factor authentication is no substitute for using strong passwords that are unique on every site. The idea is to make every layer of your account security as rock-solid as possible. Strong passwords and two-factor authentication are both necessary components of your computer security strategy.

How to Set Up 2FA
Setting up 2FA varies from site to site, but typically there will be a form for you to fill out to enable it. You’ll need to provide your phone number or follow the instructions for your authenticator app. Again, your password manager will make it easier to manage your accounts, including those that use 2FA.

Keeping Your Authentication Method Secure
If you use authentication via phone number, it’s vital that you protect your phone. Secure it with a PIN or fingerprint, enable all security settings, and keep the software and apps updated.

Beware of scammers who will try to con you into revealing your code, thus bypassing the entire point of having a second method of authentication. These scams often come in the form of phishing emails or spam phone calls. Never reveal your code to anyone, and don’t click on links in email messages. Criminals may also try to hijack your phone number. Talk to your phone provider about how you can add extra security protections to your account to protect against these kinds of scams.

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