Two factor authentication also known as TFA and multi factor authentication (for when more than two factors are used)—is not a new technology. In its basic form, it’s been around since even before the digital communications era came into being.
In essence, the basic idea behind this method of securing access to sensitive areas and sensitive information consists of a system in which two completely distinct entry access factors are created, both of which have to be used when someone wants to open or log into a certain place.
Thus, through the most basic example we can give: a person who wants to open an email account must first type in their regular password and then follow this up with a one-time passkey that is either phoned into him, sent to him as a text message, or even written down on a piece of paper as part of a list of other one-time passcodes that were created when the two factor protocol in question was first set up.
This basic methodology can also vary in many ways: In some cases, two factor authentication is applies every time a login attempt is made, and in other cases, it’s only prompted when someone tries to log into an account from a machine that has never been used for that account before.
Additionally, some two-factor systems don’t depend on texted or written one-time access keys and instead use a physical token that generates a new key every time it’s activated. In addition to these systems, there are two factor protocols that rely on passwords and a biometric reading of some physical feature in the accessing user.
As you can see, the creative variation that exists with two factor security technology is quite broad and can be deeply complex, making an introductory guide to its use somewhat difficult to cover quickly. However, at least for the basic applications that most of us use on a daily basis; such as out email accounts, cloud storage systems, social media pages and mobile phone operating systems, all sorts of two factor options exist that can be implemented quickly and easily for maximal personal security.
Let’s cover the basics of some of these now.
Some email services of two-factor authentication to their users as an optional or even mandatory layer of protection from intrusion. Though how it’s offered will depend on who is offering the TFA option, the most basic TFA delivery method follows the type of authentication system set up by Google for their extremely popular (and highly recommended) Gmail service.
In essence, if you want to create an extra authentication layer in Gmail, you simply go into your “account” tab under your email address icon on the upper right hand side of your mail inbox, slick on it, enter the “security” area and click on the 2 factor authentication tab to start the process of giving Google your country of residence, a mobile phone number and setting up several future one-time passkeys for access access to your Gmail account in case you ever lose the mobile number you gave to Google, which is where your future two factor access keys are sent via text message.
That’s the basic process and from then on, any time you log into a Gmail account or any other account tied to that particular Gmail address from a device that’s not recognized, Google will prompt you to type in the access key they’ve texted to your phone or type in one of the other advance keys you’d set up when creating TFA access. Like we said, some other email providers offer TFA as well, but Google’s is the most widely used and quite robust.
Social Media and TFA
When it comes to social media, your two factor options are somewhat limited but do at least exist for the three major networks, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. In the case of Google+, you simply follow the process outlined above for creating a TFA layer over your Google account and it then automatically applies to whichever Google+ account you also have connected to that email address.
As for Twitter and Facebook, the latter is just now unrolling its own TFA system in the wake of large recent hacks to the social network. This new system can be set up in a way that’s very similar to how Google’s activation process works: When you open your Twitter account, simply go into your “Settings” tab, scroll down to the “Security” section and from there on follow the step by step process which will ask you for to verify an email address and phone number in case you haven’t already done so. After that, you simply click to accept passkey verification every time you sign into your Twitter account.
Once this is done, your phone will have a one-time passcode sent to it every time you open your Twitter account and then enter your username and password.
Facebook’s system is nearly identical and goes by the name of “Login Approvals”. It can be accessed through the “security” tab of your “Account Settings” area inside your Facebook account page. With their system, Facebook also requests a mobile device number and asks that you tick off any “trusted” devices from which you won’t need to type in a TFA code when you try to log on.
Cloud Storage and Other Devices
When it comes to cloud storage applications such as DropBox or the also popular Google Drive, the process is once again pretty much the same as the protocols described above. In fact, for Drive accounts, you simply need to make sure your cloud is connected to an email address for which you’ve already enabled TFA.
As for mobile devices, things get a bit different. Since the mobile phone is the basis of most online TFA systems, a mobile device security two-factor solution obviously can’t depend on text messages sent to your phone for granting you access to that same phone!
Instead, thanks to newly emerging applications that are either already being built into or soon will be compatible with the major mobile OS platforms like Android, Blackberry and iOS, smart phone users will have access to biometrics based TFA, which either works by using the phones camera to scan your face before granting access or forces you to place a fingerprint against your phone’s screen for access, in addition to a password prompt.
In part these features already exist in some phone models and mobile OS, but their popularity still needs to grow further.