Why two-factor authentication is worth your time

Edward G. | September 09, 2020

Two-factor authentication (multi-factor authentication or 2FA) reforms the way we approach accounts and their security. Linking them to an external source has become a routine for many businesses. While employers require staff to perform multi-factor authentication, the global incorporation of individual users is miles away. Users frequently regard an additional step as a hassle, irrelevant to their accounts. However, two-factor authentication is beneficial for anyone and you need to recognize its main strengths.

What is two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication is an account security boost that requires users to provide additional proof during the sign-in process. Traditionally, you give a one-time password to access the account, but the evidence might be any digital token you set. It is enough to check “Yes” on a push notification presented on their smartphone for some.

Others use unique services such as Google Authenticator App, LastPass, Authy, or Microsoft Authenticator. These apps show temporary tokens that you need to type into the service. An SMS verification still exists, but many write it off from available options due to security concerns. Other than that, two-factor authentication follows a standard procedure:

  1. Users attempt to log in to their accounts and provide correct credentials: password and username/email address.
  2. The system requests users to supply the additional token as proof of authorized access.
  3. Users provide the evidence either by typing in a one-time password or clicking on a push notification.
  4. If correct, the website or app approves the login.

2FA: the backstory

Google first introduced two-factor authentication for the general public in 2011. Currently, thousands of people use the Google Authenticator App that links devices to specific accounts. Besides the robust growth in the user base, the 2FA struggles to become a mainstream feature. Many still neglect the necessity and use two-factor authentication out of obligation, not conscious decision.

According to 2019 statistics, mobile push notifications were the most prevalent authentication method. However, verification via SMS showed a significant decline, mostly due to its unsecured nature. Security researchers began trumpeting over the possible hijacks facilitated by flaws in the cell network. SIM swapping and interception of incoming text messages allows cybercriminals to take control of accounts.

Hence, you should revoke verification via SMS messages and choose alternatives instead. For instance, Google Authenticator App presents temporary tokens to use for the two-factor authentication. Specialists calculated that such verification could be the ultimate solution to automated attacks.

Data breaches happen unexpectedly and might occur due to ill-framed security infrastructure at companies. Hence, it is essential to stay alert and apply all the necessary techniques to protect oneself. Imagine if you use the same password for multiple accounts, and one of these services suffer a data breach. Then, your password could be put to the test by numerous attempts of credential stuffing. Luckily, two-factor authentication can help prevent unauthorized access. In the past, security questions were the preferred option. However, not every service offers it.

Shortcomings of 2FA

While useful to an extent, two-factor authentication has room for improvement. Also, consider passwordless authentication that does not require credentials.

  • Not all 2FA options are the same. Incorporating an extra verification factor is the right thing to do. However, not all 2FA options are equally effective and secure. For instance, receiving one-time codes via SMS brings an array of issues to the table. Hence, choose a two-factor authentication app to retrieve verification tokens.
  • You might lose the external source. Typically, 2FA relies on smartphones and email accounts. If you lose your phone or forget credentials, you might no longer have the means to authorize login attempts. Luckily, two-factor authentication apps offer backup and migration options.
  • Limited integration. Two-factor authentication is only available on the services that choose to integrate it. While you might set it for Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or another popular service, others lack behind in this area. However, more and more digital providers opt to integrate 2FA. TikTok owners recently decided to incorporate this option, and Tesla’s Elon Musk reported the 2FA options to be in the final validation stage.
  • Flaws in 2FA technology. Two-factor authentication is not magic: it has its drawbacks and vulnerabilities. Researchers raised red flags over the flaw in Google Authenticator App, potentially allowing hackers to snatch the one-time codes. Surprisingly, Google neglected this flaw for years, with its first sightings reported in 2014. Therefore, do not dismiss the use of additional security layers. Have antivirus or VPN tools secure your device and internet connection. With such a well-oiled defense mechanism, your devices will be out of harm’s way.
Edward G.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.


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