Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), otherwise known as Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), has become deeply ingrained into the daily lives of individuals around the world over the years. And more often than not, people are participating in forms of Two-Factor Authentication without truly being cognizant of them. Although most of us have come to associate Two-Factor Authentication with web security, this double-layered protective tactic has existed for decades. For instance, individuals take part in Two-Factor Authentication regularly when they input their bank PIN into a keypad in order to finalize a transaction made by swiping their debit card. However, Two-Factor Authentication has been quite newly adapted for online use, with institutions worldwide embracing this technology in their own ways. As explained by experts at Ohio State University, “if you have FA set up for a given account (website, application or device), when you log in with your username and password, that account server is going to ask for a second, independent form of authentication before it will actually let you into the system.” Thus, by requiring individuals to supply two forms of identification, Two-Factor Authentication -- although not entirely foolproof -- is a wonderful step in maintaining the security of one’s email account.
Two-Factor Authentication provides individuals with greater security by making hacking attempts virtually impossible. This is due to the fact that “the second layer in two-factor authentication means a hacker or other nefarious individual would need to steal your password along with your phone in order to access your account.” In other words, malicious actors would need not one but two different ways to prove that they are actually the person that the account in question belongs to.
Methods of Two-Factor Authentication on the Web
As Two-Factor Authentication manages to become more deeply ingrained in the daily routines of most individuals who utilize technological devices -- like smartphones and laptops -- with each passing day, it has also become increasingly important for those same individuals to develop a clear understanding of the different methods of this web security measure that may be available to them. There are three different options for identity authentication that users can choose from. The first is something that the user knows; this is typically a password, zip code, security question response, or PIN. The second is something that the user has; this often takes the form of a smartphone, credit card, or key fob. And the third and final option is something that the user is or something that is a part of the user; this is usually a biometric and most commonly refers to the scanning and subsequent recognition of the user’s fingerprint, face, retina, or voice.
When a user registers for a Two-Factor Authentication application or device, the result is the combination of two of these authentication methods. Following the input of the individual’s password (which serves as the first method of authentication), a text message or push notification will typically be received (which serves at the second method of authentication). Each time the user logs into a Two-Factor Authentication equipped email account, they will be required to complete this short series of actions. This extra layer of security makes the account less appealing to malicious actors, as they traditionally seek out the least amount of barriers to entry. Hackers looking to carry out an effective attack may be able to do so with access to the account password, as well as the user’s smartphone. If the smartphone is unobtainable, hackers might leverage phishing attacks or malware to acquire tokens placed on the device by the authentication service, or activate account recovery, disabling Two-Factor Authentication. Thus, a successful attack on an email account that requires Two-Factor authentication requires a lot of extra effort on the part of the cybercriminal, making this type of attack quite unlikely.
Although there are numerous methods of setting up Two-Factor Authentication, the most prevalent is the use of an application installed onto the user’s device that requires user approval in response to all log-in attempts -- typically referred to as a “push” notification. The “push” notification model is incredibly user-friendly and allows for quick action to be taken if a log-in attempt is made by an individual who an email account does not actually belong to. With real-time notifications of log-in attempts, account owners can rapidly deny suspicious attempts with the simple push of a button.
Another popular method of mobilizing Two-Factor Authentication is an application installed onto the user’s device that sends through a unique code that must be typed in at each log-in attempt. These codes, although typically pretty short in length, are generated by an algorithm created by the authentication app and are usually updated every 60 seconds, so they are incredibly difficult for hackers to steal. Similar to the “push” notification model, hackers would need to obtain the email account owner’s device in order to gain access to this short, protective code. So, given that this code changes with each minute, hackers have extremely limited time to carry out their attacks even if they are able to get their hands on the user’s device. And most authentication applications will support both “push” notifications and unique code generation. In addition, there is also an SMS-based code method that operates without an application. This method is compatible with all cellphones and device owners are sent codes via text message as a result of account log-in attempts. Aside from having to physically type in the code provided, the SMS code method offers all of the same benefits as “push” notifications.
Bolster Security, Flexibility, and Productivity with Two-Factor Authentication
Enabling Two-Factor Authentication, specifically on accounts associated with your business, offers many benefits and is considered as “the gold standard” by Ohio State University. In necessitating a form of identity verification in addition to one’s account password, Two-Factor Authentication undoubtedly provides heightened email account security, decreasing the overall likelihood of malicious actor impersonations that have the potential to result in the theft or compromise of a user’s sensitive data. Moreover, Two-Factor Authentication is a wonderful security tool for companies moving forward, as remote work has become something of a new normal. With Two-Factor Authentication enabled, corporate devices, accounts, applications, documents, data, and systems remain safeguarded and can be accessed from virtually anywhere at any time.
Elliott, Matt. “Two-Factor Authentication: How and Why to Use It.” CNET, 28 Mar. 2017,
“Multifactor Authentication.” Cybersecurity, 26 Mar. 2019,
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