Two-factor authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA), sometimes referred to as two-step verification or dual-factor authentication, is a security process in which users provide two different authentication factors to verify themselves. This process is done to better protect both the user’s credentials and the resources the user can access. Two-factor authentication provides a higher level of security than authentication methods that depend on single-factor authentication (SFA), in which the user provides only one factor — typically, a password or passcode. Two-factor authentication methods rely on a user providing a password, as well as a second factor, usually either a security token or a biometric factor, such as a fingerprint or facial scan.

Two-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security to the authentication process by making it harder for attackers to gain access to a person’s devices or online accounts because knowing the victim’s password alone is not enough to pass the authentication check. Two-factor authentication has long been used to control access to sensitive systems and data, and online service providers are increasingly using 2FA to protect their users’ credentials from being used by hackers who have stolen a password database or used phishing campaigns to obtain user passwords.

2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. First, a user will enter their username and a password. Then, instead of immediately gaining access, they will be required to provide another piece of information. This second factor could come from one of the following categories:

  • Something you know: This could be a personal identification number (PIN), a password, answers to “secret questions” or a specific keystroke pattern
  • Something you have: Typically, a user would have something in their possession, like a credit card, a smartphone, or a small hardware token
  • Something you are: This category is a little more advanced, and might include biometric pattern of a fingerprint, an iris scan, or a voice print

 

With 2FA, a potential compromise of just one of these factors won’t unlock the account. So, even if your password is stolen or your phone is lost, the chances of someone else having your second-factor information is highly unlikely. Looking at it from another angle, if a consumer uses 2FA correctly, websites and apps can be more confident of the user’s identity, and unlock the account.

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