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What Is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?

And why aren’t passwords good enough?

Before addressing the question ‘what is two-factor authentication’ or ‘what is 2FA,’ let’s consider why it’s important to do everything you can to improve your online account security. With so much of our lives happening on mobile devices and laptops, it’s no wonder our digital accounts have become a magnet for criminals. Malicious attacks against governments, companies, and individuals are more and more common. And there are no signs that the hacks, data breaches, and other forms of cybercrime are slowing down!

Luckily, it’s easy for businesses to add an extra level of protection to user accounts in the form of two-factor authentication, also commonly referred to as 2FA.

Rise in Cybercrime Requires Stronger Security With 2FA

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a massive increase in the number of websites losing personal data of their users. And as cybercrime gets more sophisticated, companies find their old security systems are no match for modern threats and attacks. Sometimes it’s simple human error that has left them exposed. And it’s not just user trust that can be damaged. All types of organizations—global companies, small businesses, start-ups, and even non-profits—can suffer severe financial and reputational loss.

For consumers, the after-effects of targeted hack or identity theft can be devastating. Stolen credentials are used to secure fake credit cards and fund shopping sprees, which can damage a victim’s credit rating. And entire bank and cryptocurrency accounts can be drained overnight. A recent study revealed that in 2016 over $16 billion was taken from 15.4 million U.S. consumers. Even more incredible, identify thieves stole over $107 billion in the past six years alone.

Clearly, online sites and apps must offer tighter security. And, whenever possible, consumers should get in the habit of protecting themselves with something that’s stronger than just a password. For many, that extra level of security is two-factor authentication.

 

Two-Factor Authentication
Two-Factor Authentication

 

Two-Factor Authentication To The Rescue

2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. First, a user will enter their username and a password. Then, instead of immediately gaining access, they will be required to provide another piece of information. This second factor could come from one of the following categories:

  • Something you know: This could be a personal identification number (PIN), a password, answers to “secret questions” or a specific keystroke pattern
  • Something you have: Typically, a user would have something in their possession, like a credit card, a smartphone, or a small hardware token
  • Something you are: This category is a little more advanced, and might include a biometric pattern of a fingerprint, an iris scan, or a voice print

With 2FA, a potential compromise of just one of these factors won’t unlock the account. So, even if your password is stolen or your phone is lost, the chances of a someone else having your second-factor information is highly unlikely. Looking at it from another angle, if a consumer uses 2FA correctly, websites and apps can be more confident of the user’s identity, and unlock the account.

 

Passwords: Historically Bad But Still In Use

  • Humans have lousy memories. A recent report looked at over 4 billion stolen passwords and found that most were embarrassingly simple. Among the worst are “111111,” “123456,” “123456789,” “qwerty,” and “password.” While these are easy to remember, any decent hacker could crack these simple passwords in no time.
  • Too many accounts: As users get more comfortable with doing everything online, they open more and more accounts. This eventually creates too many passwords to remember and paves the way for a dangerous habit: password recycling. Here’s why hackers love this trend: it takes just seconds for hacking software to test thousands of stolen sign-in credentials against popular online banks and shopping sites. If a username and password pair is recycled, it’s extremely likely it’ll unlock plenty of other lucrative accounts.
  • Security fatigue sets in: To protect themselves, some consumers try to make it harder for attackers by creating more complex passwords and passphrases. But with so many data breaches flooding the dark web with user information, many just give up and fall back to using weak passwords across multiple accounts.

Content derived from https://authy.com/what-is-2fa/