According to research conducted by Dashlane back in 2017, the average American internet user had 150 online accounts that required a password, with the number expected to reach 300 accounts by 2022. This is one of the main reasons that password management is so difficult: even if people wanted to use unique and complex passwords for their online accounts, they often have too many of them for this to be feasible. This leads them to use simple or redundant passwords, which often results in accounts getting hacked and private information being stolen.

There are ways to counteract this though, and one of the simplest yet most effective options is to use two-factor authentication. By adding an extra step to the log-in process, you can make it harder for cybercriminals to access your vital accounts while keeping it relatively easy for you to access. However, many people either don’t realize the benefits of two-factor authentication and don’t take advantage of it. This is a quick guide to explain how two-factor authentication works and why you should consider using it!

What Is Two-Factor Authentication?

When logging onto their online accounts, most internet users employ a simple username and password system, which is referred to as single-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication (2FA), also called two-step authentication, is a security strategy that adds an additional step to the log-in process. This typically involves some combination of the following:

  • Something you know (e.g., your password or your username)
  • Something you have (e.g., your ATM card, mobile phone, or an access token)
  • Something you are (e.g. biometrics, such as iris scans, fingerprints, or facial recognition)

If the authentication process involves more than two steps, it is referred to as or multifactor authentication. The most common combination of “factors” is entering a username and password, then receiving a code that is sent to your mobile to confirm your identity.

Though this method is relatively new for online accounts, it’s something that most of us use when accessing important accounts in person. After all, when you go to the bank, you have to offer some personal information along with your card number. Two-factor authentication is the same concept: two separate “factors” that you have to provide in order to access your account.

What Are The Benefits of Two-Factor Authentication?

The advantages of two-factor authentication should be fairly obvious: adding an extra step to the log-in process makes it harder for cybercriminals to access your account. Passwords can be easily cracked, especially if they are used across multiple sites and accounts, and while some websites have toyed with using security questions like “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” or “What was the city where you were born?” as a method for backing up an account, with so much public information available for those who know where to look, a determined hacker can often figure out the answers themselves.

True two-factor authentication is much harder to crack, as while a hacker might be able to figure out your password, they probably won’t have easy access to a second factor if it’s based around something you physically have on your or some type of biometric data. Granted, no security strategy is unbeatable, but cybercriminals often operate under the same mindset that most thieves do: if it takes too much effort to steal from one person, they’ll move onto an easier target. Some might argue that two-factor authentication is inconvenient, but that’s only because we’ve become so used to quickly entering a simple (and easily broken) password to get what we want. In most cases, the additional factor in second-factor authentication only adds a minute to the log-in process, and such a minuscule amount of time lost is more than worth it to keep your accounts safe.

How Do I Use Two-Factor Authentication?

Not every website has two-factor authentication, but it’s becoming increasingly common, with websites like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal all having the option to activate two-factor authentication. It’s usually quite easy to turn on 2FA as well, as it usually involves going to your account settings. There are also often multiple ways to receive authentication codes: most simply send a text message to your phone, but others can use a designated authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy. These are considered a bit more secure and flexible than a text message, adding a bit more security.

Keeping Your Accounts Safe

With cybercrime having seen renewed vigor as more people work from home, it is important to take steps to secure your most vital accounts. Two-factor authentication is one of the best options available given how little additional effort it requires. It might take some time to get used to doing an additional step when logging in, but once becomes a part of your regular routine, it will seem like second nature, and you will quickly learn to appreciate the added layer of safety it provides.