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What is Two Factor Authentication (2FA)?

Two Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two Factor Authentication (2FA) is a optional (but almost mandatory) security measure that requires users to provide two distinct forms of identification before they can access a system, account, or service. This authentication is designed to enhance the overall security of sensitive data/information and user accounts by adding an additional layer of protection beyond the traditional username/password combination.

Related glossary terms;

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In Detail! Two Factor Authentication

The non-TL;DR version;

Two Factor Authentication, also known as 2FA, refers to the extra layers of security implemented to protect users’ accounts and data. With 2FA, a user must provide two distinct forms of identification to gain access to an account or service.

Traditionally, a single factor (a password usually) was used to authenticate a user. However, this method has proven to be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, like phishing and brute-force attacks. To combat these security threats, 2FA was developed to provide an added level of protection.

In this context, a factor can be:

  1. Something you know: This refers to information only the user should know, such as a password or personal identification number (PIN).
  2. Something you have: This involves using a physical device or token, such as a mobile phone or hardware token, to generate a unique code or key.
  3. Something you are: This includes biometric data, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition.

To meet the requirements of 2FA, a user must provide authentication factors from at least two of these categories.

Methods of 2FA

Several methods are available for implementing two-factor authentication. Some popular options include;

  • Google Authenticator: Google Authenticator is a mobile app installed on the user’s smart phone. It generates a time-based one-time password (TOTP) for authentication. This app is widely adopted and supported by popular online services.
  • SMS: SMS-based 2FA involves sending a unique code via text message to a user’s phone number. The user must then enter this code to gain access to their account. This method is simple but may not be the most secure since SMS can be intercepted or spoofed by attackers.
  • Microsoft Authenticator: Microsoft Authenticator is a mobile app that generates time-based codes for authentication (TOTP). It also supports push notifications and biometric authentication, making it a versatile and a user-friendly 2FA option. It is commonly used to access Microsoft 365 Business accounts.
  • Hardware forms of 2FA: Hardware tokens, such as Yubikeys or smart cards, provide a physical device that a user must possess to authenticate. These devices can be more secure than other 2FA methods since they require physical possession of the token.

Irrespective of the method used, 2FA provides the added layer of security that can reduce the risk of account compromise. With the increasing exposure of cyber-attacks, it is critical in today’s world to use 2FA to protect sensitive information and accounts.

While 2FA provides increased security, it is definitely not hacker-proof. Attackers can still use social engineering tactics to trick users into revealing their 2FA credentials, so it’s important to be vigilant and cautious when sharing personal information.

Moreover, not all online services support 2FA, and some may require specific types of 2FA. It is recommended to enable 2FA for all services that support it, especially those containing sensitive information like banking and email accounts.

In conclusion, 2FA is a valuable security measure that provides an added layer of protection against cyber-attacks. By using a combination of something you know and something you have, users can better secure their accounts and sensitive information. It is essential to stay vigilant and cautious when using 2FA and to enable it for all services that support it.

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