In recent years, concerns over data privacy and online security, in general, are becoming more and more pressing. One of the reasons, simply, is that more people have smart devices, which means that more people are online. With an increased number of people online, this means that more personal information is out there on servers all over – the servers of big data companies among them.
The number of smartphone users in the US alone in 2021 looks to be around 298 million, which is a staggering number. With more users being so easily connected, this means that more accounts are created on various platforms online every day. A large part of our lives is now taking place online, whether we like it or not. It’s inevitable, but it also has larger implications for the security of our data. Our online accounts are now becoming prime targets for cybercriminals who know that they’ve potentially got an increasing number of places from which to steal data. And, with data leaks becoming more commonplace, cybercrime does not look to be slowing down anytime soon.
What can we do about it? Educating ourselves about online security in general and getting into safe online habits is a necessity today. One of the key ways in which you can bolster your online security is by using two-factor authentication, or 2FA, when logging into your accounts. Let’s look further into this extra layer of digital security.
What Is 2FA?
2FA is the savvy way to refer to two-factor authentication. It’s exactly what the name implies, but let’s break it down further. Basically, when logging into an account, you need to validate your identity to make sure that it really is you attempting to log in. We’re all used to the old username (or email) and password method logging into an account. The truth is, using a password is still one of the most secure ways to protect an account, but it’s not impenetrable. We all know that accounts can be hacked, even if you’ve got a complex password.
So what makes 2FA different? Well, your password makes up one factor. The second factor in the 2-step verification process, essentially, means that you’re able to add another mechanism into the mix, over and above your usual password, when logging into an account. This mechanism can be in a variety of forms, but it’s usually a biometric factor, one-time passcode, or another similar token.
Is My Password Not Enough?
Ask yourself this question and then think about it for a few minutes. Do you really believe that your passwords are strong enough to keep hackers out? Comparitech finds that 59% of people use their name or date of birth as part of their passwords in some way or the other. Even though we’re told time and time again to use strong passwords which cannot be easily guessed by others, we still manage to make it that much easier for others to access our accounts. You might think that people won’t guess that information about you if they ever want to breach one of your accounts, but it’s surprisingly easy to find out such information. We give away a lot more than we might think on our social media profiles, for example, where our birthdays and other personal information are shared with friends and others (depending on your privacy settings). We often create patterns and those who want to get in can figure these out when trying to decrypt our passwords.
Password hygiene doesn’t seem to be a priority for many. And even for those who do take it seriously and go the extra mile to use a password manager, for instance, many of us fall victim to phishing scams by email where our account credentials get stolen by malicious actors.
So, when a hacker gets hold of your login details, they’ve got your password and then they’re in. That’s why 2FA is important and can help to protect you by offering that second layer of security. It’s important to note that 2FA is not 100% safe, but it’s far safer than just using one layer of security for your account.
Two-Factor Authentication Methods
Tech companies have begun to see the need for 2FA features. By helping their users or clients in bolstering their login security, they also effectively safeguard themselves, as well as their reputation. It’s an increasingly common feature among reputable organizations, whether they’re centered on tech or not. The issue of data protection has become paramount. We’ve mentioned two common methods of 2FA earlier, but let’s look at how they work.
If you’re going to enable 2FA on your Google account or on another platform, this is probably one of the first methods that will pop up as an option. The one-time passcode (OTP) is a common and simple way of 2FA which people are becoming increasingly familiar with. You’ve probably used this method already without realizing that it’s part of a 2FA security feature.
After you type in your username (or email address) and password like you normally would, you’re not immediately signed in to your account. You’ll notice that you’re taken to another page that asks for a one-time passcode. You can choose how you’d like to receive this randomly-generated passcode – either by SMS on your phone, via email, authentication app, or a security key device. It’s usually wise to receive it on your phone because, this way, a hacker can only gain access to your account if they’re also in possession of your phone.
These OTPs are generally only available for a limited period of time, which serves to heighten security.
Since smartphones and other tech are becoming, well, smarter, biometric two-factor authentication is gaining traction. After logging in with your password as usual, this method of 2FA requires that you scan your fingerprints, iris, or face into the system. Once the platform recognizes you and sees that there’s a match, you’ve gained access. Like an OTP sent to your device, the use of biometrics makes it far more difficult for others to gain access to your accounts.