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By Brian Donohue – Kaspersky
We’ve recorded podcasts about it. We’ve discussed it at length in a number of screencasts (which I have kindly embedded below). We’ve mentioned it indirectly in countless articles. But we’ve never taken the time to dedicate an article solely to explaining what two-factor authentication is, how it works, and where you should use it.
What is Two-Factor Authentication?
Two-factor authentication is a feature offered by a number of online service providers that adds an additional layer of security to the account login process by requiring that a user provide two forms of authentication. The first form – in general – is your password. The second factor can be any number of things. Perhaps the most popular second factor of authentication is the SMS or email code. The general theory behind two-factor is that, in order to log in, you must know something and possess something. Thus, in order to access your company’s virtual private network, you might need a password and a USB stick.
Two-factor is no panacea to prevent account hijacks, but it’s a formidable barrier to anything that would try to compromise an account protected by it. I think it is pretty well known that passwords are severely flawed: weak ones are easy to remember and easy to guess; strong ones are hard to guess but hard to remember. Because of this, people who are already bad at creating passwords, use the same ones over and over again. Two-factor at least makes it so an attacker would have to figure out your password and have access to your second factor, which would generally mean stealing your cell phone or compromising your email account.