PC Magazine

Two-Factor Authentication: Who Has It and How to Set It Up

In 2014, the Heartbleed exploit left everyone’s login information potentially up for grabs, thanks to one itty-bitty piece of code. In the past few years, our security nightmares have only gotten worse. What can you do to stay safe? Well, you should definitely change your passwords—on a regular basis. Even so, whether compromised by sheer brute force or simple phishing, passwords alone aren’t enough protection.

That’s why many internet services have embraced two-factor authentication for their users. It’s sometimes called 2FA and can be used interchangeably with the terms “two-step” and “verification,” depending on the marketing. But what is it, exactly?

As PCMag’s lead security analyst Neil J. Rubenking puts it: “There are three generally recognized factors for authentication: something you know (such as a password), something you have (such as a hardware token or cell phone), and something you are (such as your fingerprint). ‘Two-factor’ means the system is using two of these options.”

Biometric scanners for fingerprints and retinas or faces are on the upswing thanks to innovations such as the iPhone X’s Face ID and Windows Hello, but they’re still far from ubiquitous. In most cases, including 2FA for your Google account and other popular services, the extra authentication is simply a numeric code—a few digits sent to your phone that can be used only once.

Many services support a specialized app on the phone called an “authenticator” that will do that same job. The app, preset by you to work with the service,

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