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what is 2fa 2 factor authentication and should i use it what are the benefits of 2fa

What is 2FA? Should I use it? What’s the benefit?

Over the past few years, many companies have launched 2FA (two-factor authentication or two-factor verification). But you might be wondering what 2FA is and what are its benefits. More importantly, should you use 2FA?

Let’s discuss.

What is 2FA?

2FA or two-factor authentication is an authentication mechanism to double-check the legitimacy of your identity. Simply put, it is an added layer of protection to your account, app or service. Its purpose is to prevent fraud risks and hacking.

It is primarily a phone SMS containing a code you need to put in for access after entering your credentials. An increasingly popular authentication method is a notification sent to your device with the confirmation number. Some services simplified the verification process even further by sending you an interactive notification on which you can tap to verify your identity.

The most common methods of two-factor authentication are –

  • Knowledge: A knowledge factor is something that only the user knows, i.e., password, PIN, security questions.
  • Possession: A possession factor is something the user possesses, such as an ID card, security token, a mobile device to authenticate the login or access to an email address.
  • Inherence: The inherence factor consists of things that are unique to the user. Usually, biometric factors include fingerprints and behavioural biometrics, such as keystroke dynamics, gait, or speech patterns.

How Does Two-factor Authentication Work?

The operation of two-factor authentication varies depending on the specific application or service provider. In general, the 2FA process involves a multi-step process –

  1. The user initiates the login process via the application or the website
  2. The user enters their credentials
  3. If the process does not require passwords, the website generates a unique authentication key. The authentication tool processes the key, which the site’s server then validates.
  4. The site then initiates the second step of the authentication process. It can be of different forms, such as biometrics, a security token, an ID card, or a mobile device.
  5. After providing the second authentication factor, the server again validates it and grant access to the user.

Benefits of Using 2FA

The main benefit of implementing a 2FA protocol is added layer of protection. A recent report showed that most of the stolen passwords were embarrassingly simple such as “111111”, “123456”, or “qwerty”. Credentials with predictable passwords are not only a threat to the user but also threaten the entire website or app security. Attackers use these passwords with different username combinations to launch a Brute Force attack. The two-factor authorization is a simple yet effective tool to prevent such cyber attacks.

Two-factor authentication also makes it nearly impossible for hackers to access your account, even if they manage to get your login credentials. SMS-based or PIN-based 2FA is beyond the reach of anyone who doesn’t have access to your devices.

With the rise of remote work in 2021, employees need to access documents, applications, data, and back-office systems from home. Mobile 2FA allows them to access the enterprise IT framework from any device or location without risking the corporate network and sensitive information.

Should You Use 2FA?

Two-factor authentication is becoming popular with each passing day as it can boost your web security when used alongside other security protocols. According to Verizon’s Data Breach Report, the use of two-factor authentication could eliminate 80% of data breaches. To increase your web security, 2FA is a simple yet effective tool. With the concerning cyber threats nowadays, you should turn on 2FA wherever possible.

However, keep in mind that 2FA is not a supplement to strong passwords or other web safety practices. If you use the protocol, make sure you have a backup, so you don’t get locked out of your accounts if you lose your phone. Generally, most service providers offer more than one authentication methods for you to choose from. These methods can be online (email, SMS or phone call) and offline (generating the passcode offline on a hardware device). Choose whichever is the most convenient and accessible to you.

2FA or two-factor authentication is a simple yet effective tool to protect you against online threats. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that it is not unbreachable. Hackers can still gain access to your accounts using phishing attacks via spam email. If you use email as your second step of authentication, then any threat to your email will compromise security for other user accounts as well. To ensure robust online safety, limit your email address exposure online.

To check your email address visibility, go to Sniff Email — an online platform dedicated to finding out if your email address exists on the Internet. Enter your email address in the search field and click fetch to find out if your email address exists on the web within a few seconds. Based on the results, you can take appropriate action to remove it.

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