2FA: Extra Security for Free?

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Two Factor Authentication, or 2FA, is a simple, and often free, way of adding an extra layer of security to many online services. But what is it and what services can you get it for?

Further to my blog post yesterday about password security and creating strong passwords and with the news that Windows 10 is going to feature prominent 2FA, I thought it was only logical to talk about 2FA.

2FA is a general term for using two forms of authentication to access an account, a building, a house, or anything that requires authentication to enter.

The two factors could be a combination of knowledge, possession or inherence factors: for example a password, a key, or a fingerprint respectively. The combination doesn’t matter; the important thing is that you are required to provide TWO methods.

For the sake of brevity I’m not going to talk about each and every method of authentication; I’ll just focus on the kind that you’ll probably end up using the most and that I am used to using.


2FA and Me


My introduction to 2FA was through World of Warcraft, after a friend had their account hacked. It made me incredibly paranoid and I sought a way to better protect my precious online characters.

I bought an “Authenticator” or “Token” for my WoW account. I started with a hardware Token but later moved on to the mobile App version.

The two essentially operate in the same way: a number is generated by a secure server; this number changes every 30-60 seconds and is synced with the Token. When you try and log in you enter your password (the first factor) and then the number provided by the Token or App (the second factor), the password is checked and then the number is checked against the secure server and bingo!

This is generally how they work for most online services that use Tokens or Authenticators: RIFT Authenticator, Battle.net authenticator, Square Enix Token, Star Wars: The Old Republic and last but certainly not least Google Authenticator.

Google Authenticator is the one that I recommend above all else, particularly for Chrome, Gmail or Android users. If you use Android or Gmail, have a think about how many of your accounts are linked to those accounts. There’s a lot huh? It takes a few minutes to setup the authenticator. Bit of a no brainer really isn’t it?

More importantly some online payment services, the ones with all your bank and credit card details on them, have a form of 2FA attached. The main one that I use is PayPal.

PayPal works slightly differently from the “Token” method: instead of having a physical token or an App, PayPal send you a text when you try and log in with a short code.

2FA is a simple and usually free way to beef up your security and more services are offering 2FA every day, for more details on exactly which services offer it, click here.

DISSCLAIMER: these systems, although very secure, are NOT infallible. The best way to make the most of them is to combine them with a very strong, secure and unique password. Therefore, in the event that one is cracked or compromised you have the other to fall back on until you are secure again. You might even consider going up to Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) for applicable services.