How to avoid hacking – two-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) makes it much harder for hackers to access your online stuff, and the most common form of consumer MFA is two-factor authentication (2FA). A very common form of 2FA is the debit card. One factor is the card itself, which contains magnetic identifying information (a chip these days) and a PIN that you provide when you insert the thing into an ATM. It’s simple and reasonably good at keeping others out of your available ATM cash. 2FA is important for your online accounts, such as email and your iCloud accounts.
While I admit it can be a bit of a pain to have to do something extra to log into your account, it’s a lot less of a pain than having your identity stolen, losing access to your email or replying to friends who wonder why you said such crazy things about them (unless, of course, you really said those crazy things!). Or, for the heck of it, have someone log in as you into one of your game accounts.
Here’s how 2FA, or two-step authentication, works for several different types of online accounts. (Note that these services change things from time to time, so it’s a good idea to stay up to date with such changes.)
Set up Google two-step verification
First, you sign in with a username and password (we’ll get to choosing smart passwords in Part 3) on your Gmail account. There should be an avatar in a circle near the top left corner of the window. It could even be a picture of you. Click on it and you will see “My Account”. (By the way, this changes every two years) In the new window that opens, click on “Login and security”. Click Two-Step Verification, then Get Started. It’s time to enter your username and password again. Enter a phone number and click whether you want to receive a text message or a phone call. You then magically receive a text message or phone call with a 6-digit verification code. Enter it and select the option to turn on 2-step verification. It is so easy. OK, it’s a few steps, but not that hard.
You may prefer to collect your Gmail with another application, such as Outlook, rather than using a browser to go to the Gmail page for your mail. If so, it could be that after you’ve turned on two-step verification, your Outlook (or other application) keeps telling you that you have the wrong password, even though you damn well know it’s correct. This has happened to me. You should probably get Google to give you a specific app password that Google will generate for you. You’ll need to go to the App Passwords page, which at the time of writing is here.
Choose the app you want it for (if Outlook, then you’ll choose Mail), then the device you’re using (Google magically presents a list of the devices you use with their services). Then select “Generate”. It will show you a 16-digit number in a yellow bar to use as the new password for this application (eg Outlook) on this device (don’t enter the spaces). You can save this password in your application and you may need this number again in the future.
Yahoo! is similar: sign in to your account, go to the account security page, click “two-step verification” and toggle the button there to turn it on. Choose an option to receive a confirmation text message or phone call. Enter the code you will receive via text message or phone call. At this point, you can create an app password similar to Google’s process above for your various apps like Outlook or Apple (iOS) Mail.
Now let’s set up 2FA on your iCloud account. First, you need to have a passcode set on your iPhone or iPad.
Click on the Settings app. If your device is running iOS 10.3.3, click your name (or the name of the account you use to sign in), then “Passwords & Security.” Did I mention that this will change as Apple keeps us on our toes by changing everything once we get comfortable with the previous version? In the most recent previous version, you would have clicked on Settings, then iCloud, then your name, then Password & Security. But I digress…
Now tap on “Turn on two-factor authentication”. Be prepared to answer some security questions – which we’ll discuss in a future article – and then enter the phone number you’d like to receive the 2FA code on, and as before, choose whether you want a phone call or a text message.
For Mac, open System Preferences and select iCloud, then Account Details. You may need to sign in with your Apple credentials. As above, answer your security questions, if it asks, enter the phone number you want to receive calls or text messages for confirmation. Once again, a magical robot immediately sends you the code, and you must enter it in the field that awaits your response.
Once it’s turned on, you’ll get a message asking for approval if an unknown device or location accesses your account. Note that on a Mac, this notification can sometimes be in a window that’s hidden behind another, so look for that if you find you’re having trouble getting the approval request.
Speaking of problems, it seems like a lot of work to have two-factor authentication, but once it’s set up, it’s not too difficult and will add significant security to your accounts, as well as significant barriers to potential hackers. So, do it!
Next time we’ll discuss passwords, passcodes, and why you shouldn’t take those funny quizzes all your friends send you.
Then, in Part Three: Choosing Smart Passwords and Secret Questions (aka handing out the form).
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