Tech Tips

What Is Two Factor Authentication?

With so many online accounts now holding sensitive information such as automatic payment methods, credit card numbers, addresses and bank account numbers, the security of those accounts is even more important than ever.  The latest significant change in the simple username and password combination is multi factor authentication (or two factor identification) which adds an additional step to a login process requiring another method of authentication, such as a text message sent to your mobile phone with a one time verification code.


Why Use Two Factor Authentication?

The reason multi factor authentication is so helpful is that even if thieves get your username and password combinations they will still need the other identification method—usually a physical object that you have in your possession, such as your mobile phone.

Multi factor authentication is becoming more and more common for online accounts.  The latest online merchant to implement this is  Most people who have Amazon accounts know just how easy it is to add addresses and make purchases, as well as store credit card and other information.  Amazon now offers a second step in the identification procedure where you will be sent a one time code to your mobile phone when you are logging into the website.

Although password managers such as LastPass make it easier for people to use different passwords on every online account, many people still use the same email and password combination for all of their logins.  It’s not hard for a hacker to take one login and test it quickly on many online sites.  This is where multi factor authentication can come in and help you out.  Or, it’s additional protection in case the hackers somehow are able to crack your account password.

Pitfalls of Multi Factor Authentication

There are certainly downsides to multi factor authentication.  You have to have your mobile phone on you at all times, and you have to be in cell phone service range.  Also, SMS messaging rates may apply, and if you don’t have unlimited messages you may be charged.  You must also allow your phone number to be shared with the online merchant or service, which could potentially put some people off (despite the fact that most services would encrypt this information, you can never be sure).

However despite the downsides, two factor authentication is the single most effective thing that you can do in order to protect your online security and the security of all of your accounts.

Setting It Up On Your Accounts

If you’re wondering how you can enable this extra bit of security for any of the sites that you have accounts at, you can visit for detailed walkthroughs of many sites offering multi factor sign in processes.  Take a moment to think about the biggest accounts that you use (bank accounts, online merchants, credit cards, etc) and make a list.  You can also visit for a list of popular online services that might help you remember the many places that you’ve established accounts at.

The Future Of Multi Factor Authentication

As technology improves, multi factor identification is growing to include biometrics such as facial recognition (with Windows Hello) and fingerprint scanning (now much more common thanks to the iPhone’s thumbprint scanner that works so well).  However until technology catches up it’s helpful to at least enable an SMS code as the second factor besides your username and password.

Personally I am going to turn on multi factor identification on my Amazon account.  It’s just too easy to log in and order stuff with my credit card and I’d like my information to be a bit more secure.


Bill Gordon

Bill Gordon has been writing on tech and malware subjects for 6 years and has been working in the internet and tech industry for over 15 years. He currently lives in Southern California.

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