Getting started with 2FA: Secure your accounts now or regret it later!

Millions of users have their online accounts compromised every day. Password lists are traded on the dark web, and bad actors use automated processes to try them against lots of accounts and services. Sophisticated phishing attacks attempt to trick you into giving away your password (or the info necessary to reset it) by posing as legitimate services or customer support.

Obviously, the best defense against this sort of thing is to have a different, strong, hard-to-guess password for every single account you own. A good password manager like 1Password, LastPass, or Dashlane is a key component in managing that.

But good passwords are not enough! Not a month goes by without another report of millions of passwords potentially compromised, and a computer infected with a virus can simply watch the passwords as you type them in. You need another layer of protection. You need 2FA.

We’ve already told you how to enable 2FA on your Apple account, but what about all your other accounts? Those should be protected with just as much care. Here’s how to get started.

What is 2FA?

Two-factor authentication (usually abbreviated 2FA) is a way to prove that you actually are the owner of a particular account by providing two “factors” of evidence. One factor is a piece of knowledge—your password or PIN, for instance. Another factor may be possession of a particular object—a phone that receives texts sent to a certain number, a USB key fob, or access to an email address. A another factor may be inheritance—something inherent to you, like your fingerprint or a retinal scan.

In other words, 2FA secures your account by making you provide something you know (your password or PIN) along with something you possess (your smartphone, fingerprint, or a physical key) or something you are (your fingerprint or a detailed face scan).

Consider the front door to your house. If you can open it with just a key, that’s one-factor authentication; you only must possess that specific object. If you had to open your door with both a physical key as well as dial in a four-digit pin into an electronic lock, that would be two-factor authentication.

Some companies call this sort of security MFA (multi-factor authentication) or two-step verification. While these terms are a little different than 2FA, for most consumer applications they essentially mean the same thing.