Two-factor authentication (or two-step authentication) is an important security measure that adds a second layer of protection in addition to your password.
Adding this additional security layer makes it much harder for hackers to break into your accounts. Learn how two-factor authentication (2FA) works and how to implement it to dramatically improve your digital security.
How does 2FA work?
Two-factor authentication works by adding an extra layer of security to your account — an additional login step — to prevent someone from logging in even if they have access to your password.
When you sign into any of your online accounts, the basic level of authentication requires only your password to log in — that’s one step to verify your identity. 2FA adds a second piece of info (or a second layer) that you need to provide before you can get access to your account.
Why passwords aren't enough.
You may be wondering: Why should I use 2FA? Isn’t a password good enough to protect my online accounts? Hackers can use brute force attacks or “password spraying” (trying out a list of the most common passwords) to easily crack weak passwords. So you should avoid using anything too obvious, like words found in the dictionary.
Even if you do have a highly complex password, there are still several ways crafty hackers can figure it out:
Data Breaches: When a large organization is breached, millions of people’s usernames and passwords (and other sensitive data) can wind up for sale on the dark web. Cybercriminals can buy lists of these usernames and passwords and attempt credential recycling, where they try to use these credentials all around the web to see what accounts they can access. That’s why you should never reuse passwords for multiple accounts.
Spyware: This insidious type of malicious software can spy on you. Specifically, keylogging software can discreetly record everything you type — including your usernames and passwords — and send it back to the hackers who secretly installed the malware on your device
Phishing: Phishing is a type of social engineering scam in which cybercriminals impersonate a business or trusted contact in order to trick you into revealing personal information. In this case, it could be a fake email asking you to confirm your username and password for an online service you use — but typing it in sends your info straight to the scammer.
If your password is exposed and winds up with a hacker, but you use 2FA, they still can’t breach your account. That’s what makes 2FA such a powerful security measure.