Passwords are the most used security mechanism to log in to any of our online services. But passwords, especially if they are not unique, robust and difficult to guess, may not be enough to stop cybercriminals who want to unlawfully access our services.
That's why many online applications have started to offer two (or multiple) factor authentication: an additional security layer in addition to use of a password when we want to access our accounts.
How does it work?
Something you know, something you have, something you are... even if it seems like the beginning of a riddle, it is one of the pillars of two (or multiple) factor authentication. Let's see what authentication methods are available:
- Something you know: when we try to access our accounts, we usually need to enter our username and password.
- Something you are: almost all current mobile devices offer authentication based on biometrics, using, for example, our fingerprint or facial recognition.
- Something you have: our devices (such as a smartphone) are something we have. Receiving a unique code via app or SMS is therefore another possible authentication method.
Two or multiple factor authentication is based on combining two or more authentication methods from those described above. The usual combination is to use your password (something you know) and a code sent to your mobile device (something you have). It is also common to use biometrics (something you are) combined with a code (something you have).
Why is it so important?
Although a two-factor authentication does not guarantee total protection from attacks, it is a much safer method than having a single factor such as a password. Cybercriminals will have to work much harder if they want to access our accounts.
With the second factor enabled, even if the password is compromised, the accounts will continue to be protected. The potential intruder will not only have to obtain the password but the device used for the second factor of the authentication.
Do I need to use it for all accounts?
Yes, that is safest. Although two-factor authentication is currently not offered by all online services, it is recommended to use it whenever possible, especially for valuable or sensitive accounts that may contain work, personal or financial information..