Every day, life for many consumers has become more “digital” than before—this has made day-to-day tasks easier for many of us, but it also creates new challenges. From online banking to medical records, protecting our private, personal information is imperative.
Too often, the same password is used for multiple online accounts—for instance, you might log in to your online banking site with the same password you use for your personal email account. In a McAfee survey, 34% of people reported that they use the same password for multiple online accounts. Using identical passwords is convenient for us as users, but it’s also convenient for any hacker trying to steal personal information—once a hacker has access to one of your accounts, he can use a recycled password to snoop around at will.
Addressing Password Reuse and Complexity
Certainly, using more than one password and passphrases that include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols and is at least ten characters in length goes a long way towards keeping malicious people at bay, but unfortunately, merely adding variety to your login information doesn’t guarantee security. In The Easiest Ways to Not Get Hacked, author Rebecca Greenfield included this chart showing just how much difference one character in length makes:
One of the most important accounts to keep secure is your primary email account—and here’s why: sooner or later, we all have to use the “I forgot my password” option, which typically sends a password reset email.
A hacker only needs to crack the password for your primary email account, and he’ll be able to access any of your other secure accounts simply by clicking the “forgot password” button when he sees it. This is known as a single point of failure, meaning it’s the one piece in any system that can bring down your whole system.
McAfee Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble remembering all your complex passwords on multiple accounts, a password manager can help you save time and effort while securing your accounts and devices. Learn more about McAfee’s password manager.
The Power of Two-step Verification
Establishing a separate email account for registration is one idea—in other words, your “I forgot my password” emails would all be sent to an account other than your primary email account. But even in that situation, there’s still only one password between a hacker and most of the data you want to keep from a hacker’s hands—from financial accounts and bank access to your weekly grocery delivery service. So the real question, even if you’re savvy enough to have a separate email address for password rescue, is: how do you make any email account more secure?
Two-step verification (often referred to as two-factor authentication) is a system designed to give you an extra layer of security that’s easy to use and indispensable for commercial or highly sensitive accounts. Two-step verification protects your email with not only a password but also by associating your account with a specific device or devices. A recent example of how this works comes from Google. In the case of Google’s two-step verification for Gmail accounts, a user simply re-authorizes the account every 30 days, by providing a numeric code that confirms the account.
How does it Work?
The extra step and learning a new system of security sounds like an enormous hassle, but Google has taken the pain out of the process by allowing you to obtain the code in one of three ways:
- Via Text: Google can send you a text message containing the code.
- Via an Authenticator App: You can download a free app that will generate a randomized code at the time of sign-in
- Via a Phone Call: You can receive an automated voice message to a non-mobile phone that tells you the code.
This means that a hacker who wants to access your email account can only do so if he has access to your text messages or your landline phone. It might not stop every cybercriminal, but it does make the average hacker’s job a lot harder.
McAfee Pro Tip: Some hackers may go as far as calling your personal numbers, if they have access to them, and ask for your two-factor verification code to access your financial accounts, citing that they need it for their ongoing promotions or measures to improve your account security. This is a social engineering tactic that you should familiarize yourself with. Learn more about social engineering.
Adoption and Future Trends
This two-factor authentication, while not new, is making major inroads among websites, apps, and services that process critical information. Many corporations have used hardware-based secondary authentication codes for years, but Google and others (including Twitter) are working hard to make this enhanced authentication flow a more practical and accessible part of our working lives.
New biometric verification options, such as a retina or fingerprint scan, are also catching on among security-conscious consumers, and will likely be a feature on more devices in the future. As times change, and more sensitive information flows through these sites, we can be sure to see more of these processes put into place.
Understanding the Benefits of Two-step Verification
Two-step verification offers multiple benefits in the world of digital security. The key merit is that it presents an extra hurdle for hackers to overcome. If a hacker has breached your password, they still have to pass the second level of verification. As such, two-step verification makes your information harder to access, giving you added peace of mind.
Apart from enhancing security, two-step verification simplifies the recovery process if you ever forget your password. Since you have set up a secondary recovery method, you can use it to reset your password. This reduces the risk of losing access to your account due to forgotten passwords.
→ Dig Deeper: Let’s Make Security Easy
Implementing Two-step Verification: A Step-by-Step Guide
Setting up two-step verification on your accounts is relatively straightforward process. The first step is to go to the account settings of the platform where you want to enable this feature. Once you are there, locate the two-step verification or two-factor authentication option. Click on it, and follow the prompts. Typically, the system will ask for your phone number or an alternative email address to send the verification code to complete the process. Once that is done, you are all set.
From then on, every time you log in, you will need to input not only your password but also a unique code sent to your phone number or alternative email. Remember to choose a method that is convenient for you. For instance, if you are always on your phone, it may be easier to opt for the text message verification code option. This ensures that you can always promptly complete the second step of verification whenever you log in.
→ Dig Deeper: Protect Your Social Passwords with Two-Step Verification
Challenges and Limitations of Two-step Verification
While two-step verification offers an added layer of security, it is not foolproof. One potential challenge is that a hacker could intercept the verification code. Despite its rarity, this type of security breach is possible and has occurred. Furthermore, you might face issues if you lose the device used for verification. For example, if you lose your phone and have set it up for receiving verification codes, you might struggle to access your accounts.
Moreover, two-step verification can be inconvenient for some people. It adds an extra step every time you log in, and if you do not have immediate access to your verification device, you might be locked out of your accounts. Despite these challenges, the benefits of two-step verification far outweigh the potential drawbacks, and it remains a robust and recommended security measure in the digital era.
In conclusion, two-step verification offers a critical layer of security in protecting your digital assets. As life becomes increasingly digitized, and we continue to store more personal and sensitive information online, it is crucial to employ strong security measures like two-step verification. While it might seem like a bit of a hassle at times, the added security it provides, the peace of mind and the protection of your personal information make it a worthwhile endeavor. As the old saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Therefore, embrace two-step verification and make it harder for hackers to gain access to your information. After all, security in the digital sphere is not a luxury, but a necessity.
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