What Is 2-Factor Authentication?

By Jeremy Rhodes
Should we be concerned about our personal data that we readily hand out to companies? Such information as SSN, bank account number, driver’s license number, home address, email address, and so on. If our personal data is stolen, it can be catastrophic to recover from. Is there anything that can be done? Yes, there is, and it is called two-factor authentication.
Two factor authentications (2FA) can greatly protect your personal data online. This is also sometimes referred as two-step verification or dual-factor authentication. However, it’s all part of multi-factor authentication. Let’s discuss. Also, I’ll try to show why you as an individual should not only know about this security feature but implement it whenever possible.

How does this all work, you might ask? Well, 2FA uses something you know and something you have. For example, a username or password is something you know, and a phone (text) or email account is something you have. This works by entering username and password and choosing the next authentication step. Depending on your choice, you’ll receive a text message or an email. In the message you’ll receive a PIN (personal identification number). This is what you’ll enter in the popup window. The PIN you received is typically six or seven characters long. Just remember, the PIN will have a time limit, usually 15-20 minutes long.

Like most things, there are alternate ways to do the same thing or have the same result. Some organizations use two things you know: a password and a PIN that you created with your new account. In this scenario you enter a username and a password or a PIN. Next, you’ll just enter the opposite thing.

In today’s world, security breaches have become all too common. These security breaches steal both usernames and passwords to online accounts by the thousands or millions. Possibly one of those accounts could be yours. This is where 2FA can delay or prevent an attacker from gaining access to your account(s). Think of your bank account for instance. Would you want your checking or savings emptied, or your credit score damaged?

A good example of this is the Equifax security breach in 2017. A total of 143 million Americans’ sensitive information was stolen. This means that a thief could open a credit-card account in your name and you’d be left paying the bill. With 2FA implemented, this would be prevented or delayed long enough for you to be informed of the breach and change your password.

Two-factor authentication is not perfect, nor should it be the only security feature used. One way to think about this is like an onion (this won’t make your eyes water). Each layer adds more and better protection in depth. For example, long and unique password/passphrase (don’t use the same one for multiple accounts), limiting your access time to important accounts (e.g. bank accounts), and avoiding wireless public access points (e.g. café internet). Lastly, a virtual private network (VPN) can be used for enhanced security online.

Jeremy Rhodes is completing an A.A.S. in Information Technology and is part of the Senior Capstone Project class. His career goal is to work in system administration.

Categories: Uncategorized

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