What is Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication, also known as "two-step" or "multi factor" authentication, is a method of confirming your identity using two different types of identification. It uses something you know, such as your username and password, and then requires:

  • something you are (like a fingerprint), or
  • something you have (like a smartphone configured to receive codes via text message)

Why Should I Use Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication helps protect you in the event that your username and password are compromised. Without access to the second factor, an attacker's attempts to access your account will fail. Basically, it's an easy way to keep your accounts safe. This article also covers:

How does it work?

Let's say you set up two-factor authentication for your email account. You'll enter your username and password as you normally would. Next, you'll receive a prompt from the second factor for authentication. The following are commonly used second factors:

  • SMS passcodes: You are sent a unique passcode via text message to your phone. You'll enter that passcode to log in.
  • Mobile passcodes: These work like SMS passcodes, but instead of receiving a text message you open a mobile application which constantly generates new, unique passcodes.
  • Push notifications: Like mobile passcodes, push notifications use an app installed on your mobile device. Instead of a passcode, you'll receive a prompt to verify or deny the login attempt.

After you've entered in your passcode or answered your push notification, you'll be logged into your email.

Setting up two-factor authentication

Google and Microsoft both offer great apps for two-factor authentication. For specific instructions on how to set this up on your Smartphone, see the following articles:

A Note About Backup Codes

While setting up two-factor authentication, you'll be prompted to print or save backup codes. Don't just click through that screen. If you lose your phone or forget to configure your authenticator app for a new phone, you'll need one of these codes to access your account. Keep these backup codes in a safe place!


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