What is Two-Factor Authentication?

The benefits and drawbacks of this security feature

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security feature that adds another layer of protection to your account. Instead of just needing a username and password, two-factor authentication requests a verification code, which you receive via text, email, or through a third-party app. 2FA is also known as two-step authentication or two-step verification.

How Two-Factor Authentication Works

When you log into a website, you must provide a username and a password. Two-factor authentication helps secure your login with a temporary code you need to obtain before logging in.

If you do not have a code for your account, you will not be allowed access, which is why two-factor authentication is an essential additional step for security. You have limited time to use the code before it expires; once it does, you must request another one. Once a code is used, it cannot be used again.

Even if a hacker has your username and password, they cannot access your account without the ability to get an associated 2FA code.

How to Get Verification Codes for 2FA

There are two different methods to get a verification code:

  • Via SMS texts to your Android or iOS device.
  • Via a 2FA mobile app.

Here's how the codes work:

Of the two methods, the app route is more secure for receiving verification codes. If a hacker knows your username, your password, and your phone number, they can (using specific tools) intercept the transmission of the SMS 2FA code and then use it to gain access to your account. Because of this, it is best to use an authentication app whenever possible.

If you choose the SMS text method, you'll have to associate your account with a phone number.

If you choose the authenticator app method, you need to add this account to it. When you need a code, open the app and input the number listed under this account. (Codes automatically generate after a specific time interval.)

Using Two Factor Authentication

After you set up two-factor authentication, it's easy to use. Just log in, as usual, request the code via text message or through an app, and input that on the login page.

Drawbacks of Two-Factor Authentication

There is only one downside to using 2FA for your accounts: convenience. There's more typing involved, and the process is a bit more time-consuming. You will also have to have your mobile phone at the ready and powered up (so you can retrieve the necessary 2FA code), which can be difficult when traveling abroad or in a dead zone.

Adding this extra layer of security is well worth the inconvenience. Although two-factor authentication isn’t perfect, it is considerably more secure than an account protected only by a username and password.

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