Two-step verification or 2FA: what it is and how it works

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Two-step authentication, also called “Two Factor Authentication” or 2FA (2 Factors Authentication) is a more secure authentication method that requires two different forms of verification to allow access to an account or system.

2FA is an added layer of account security beyond just a username and password. A second credential, in addition to the password, is required to gain access to the account. Every time an account is logged in with a password, and the app sends a code to the phone to confirm the identity of the logger, 2FA has been used. Other examples of 2FA in the real world are: 

  • ATM transactions that require both card and PIN
  • Service stations where a credit card is used and to pay you have to write the postal code

Agreeing to two-factor authentication can help prevent data vulnerabilities that are costly mitigations and could potentially damage an organization’s reputation. Rather than just relying on passwords, 2FA increases protection for both user identity and sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or medical records. Adding a second factor of authentication creates a safety net for databases of stolen passwords and phishing scams.

Advantages of two-factor authentication 2FA

Mainly, greater security by providing one more layer of security.

  • Increased security: By combining two factors of authentication, the probability of an account being hacked or accessed without authorization is reduced. For companies that work in the cloud, mobile authentication is an important benefit since employees can access company systems from any device without compromising their security.
  • Protection against hacked passwords: If an attacker gains access to a password, they will still have to pass the second form of authentication to gain access to the account or system.
  • Ease of use: no extra computer knowledge or being a cybersecurity expert is required to get that extra layer of security.
  • Protection against phishing attacks and fraud: By requiring two factors, it becomes more difficult for an attacker to obtain sensitive information such as passwords or tokens.
  • Reduced risk of compromised accounts: Two-factor authentication helps prevent unauthorized use of accounts by third parties.

Disadvantages of two-factor authentication 2FA

  • Reliance on additional devices: Two-factor authentication requires users to have access to an additional device, such as a mobile phone, which can be a hurdle for some users.

How 2FA works

Two-factor authentication works as follows:

  • The user enters their username and password into an app or website that requires 2FA.
  • The system sends a text message or push notification to a pre-registered device, such as a mobile phone, to verify the user’s identity.
  • The user enters a sent code or accepts the push notification on their device to confirm their identity.
  • If the information provided matches the previously recorded data, the user is authenticated and allowed to access the protected account or system.

In short, two-factor authentication combines a password with a second factor, such as a code sent to a mobile device, to verify the user’s identity. This provides an additional layer of security and prevents unauthorized access to an account or system.

2FA verification methods

There are several common verification methods in two-factor authentication, including:

  • SMS: A verification code is sent to the user’s mobile phone to be entered into the site or application.
  • Authenticator app: A special app, such as Google Authenticator or Authy, generates a temporary code that is used to authenticate the session.
  • Email: An email with a link or code is sent to the user to be entered into the site or application.
  • Push Notification: A push notification is sent to a pre-registered device to be accepted or rejected.
  • Physical token: A physical device, such as a smart card or USB token, generates a temporary code to be entered into the site or application.

What are the best Apps for 2FA

Some of the best apps for two-factor authentication are

  • Google Authenticator
  • authy
  • Microsoft Authenticator
  • 2FAS Auth
  • 1Password