Passwords are important, but they’re only the first layer of protection for your internet accounts. By adding two-factor authentication, you can increase your account safeguards.
Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, works by adding an additional code to the login process. You’ll log in like you usually do with your username and password. Then you’ll be prompted for the one-time code, which is usually sent via text message or an authentication app like Google Authenticator or Authy.
Many sites offer two-factor authentication, and you should use it wherever you can. It’s especially important to protect your bank accounts as well as email and social media, because hackers strive to hijack consumer accounts for use in scams and cybercrime.
However, two-factor authentication is no substitute for strong passwords. The latest password advice suggests a long passphrase with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Even more critical, each account needs its own unique password. That might seem like a lot to remember, and many people indeed continue to use the same or similar passwords on
all of their accounts. But there's no need to take that risk when creating secure passwords is so easy. Password management tools like 1Password and Lastpass can generate random passphrases and enter them for you at the click of a button. They also offer features for managing two-factor authentication.
Setting up 2FA involves filling out a quick form in your account preferences. Once it’s set up, you’ll receive a prompt for the one-time code each time you log in. That code will expire, so use it quickly!
Many sites will allow you to remember trusted devices like your computer and phone. Don’t use 2FA over a public network unless you’re using a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your connection.
Some sites let you generate backup codes in case you have problems logging in via two-factor authentication. It’s vital to keep multiple copies of these codes in safe places because without them, you may not be able to regain access to your account if you get locked out. Adding a secondary email address is also a good idea.
As with everything else on the internet, 2FA scams are everywhere. Phishing messages or voice calls may attempt to trick you into revealing your code. You should never give out your code to anyone. Don’t click on links in email messages in case they’re scams. Type the site address directly into your browser, and proceed with your 2FA login from there.
Be sure to protect the device that receives your 2FA codes with a PIN, fingerprint or face ID. Keep the system and apps updated, and set up the “find my phone” option, so you can locate or erase your phone if it’s missing or stolen. And if you’re moving to a new phone, don’t forget to follow the site or app’s instructions for transferring your two-factor authentication.
Two-factor authentication may not be perfect, but it’s better than passwords alone. For more information on protecting your internet accounts, see my Tech Tips blog.
• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. Visit her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com to receive weekly tech news by email.