Two-factor authentication is one of the best things you can do to make sure your accounts don't get hacked. Here's a list of all the popular services that offer it, and where you should go to turn it on right now.
Image remixed from Boguslaw Mazur (Shutterstock).
What Is Two-Factor Authentication?
Passwords, unfortunately, aren't as secure as they used to be, and if someone acquires your password, they can easily access your account. Two-factor authentication solves that problem.
Google's anti-spam guru Matt Cutts explained it well for us recently: two-factor authentication is a simple feature that requires both "something you know" (like a password) and "something you have" (like your phone). After you enter your password, you'll get a second code sent to your phone, and only after you enter it will you get into your account. Think of it as entering a PIN number, then getting a retina scan, the way you've seen in every spy movie ever made. It's a lot more secure than a password that anyone can hack, and keeps unwanted snoopers out of your online accounts.
Where Can I Use It?
Unfortunately, you can't use two-factor authentication everywhere on the web just yet. But a lot of sites have recently implemented it, including many of our favourite services. Here are some services that support two-factor authentication, with instructions on how to enable it:
- Google/Gmail: Our Google accounts are filled with information, so you'll definitely want to protect it by turning on two-factor authentication. You can learn how to do it here, or check out Google's official documentation for more info.
- LastPass: If you use LastPass to create, manage and store your passwords for other sites (which we recommend you do), two-factor authentication is especially important. It uses the Google Authenticator app for Android, iOS and BlackBerry; you can read up on how to enable it here. Alternatively, you can use one of these password management apps that sync them between computers with Dropbox (which also supports two-factor authentication, as described below).
- Facebook: Getting your Facebook account hijacked could be more than a little annoying, and its two-factor authentication is very easy to use. You can find instructions on how to set it up here.
- Dropbox: Dropbox is useful for all sorts of things, not the least of which is storing your data and sending sensitive info across the internet. Do yourself a favour and enable two-factor authentication using these instructions. If you want another layer of extra security, you can encrypt the contents of your Dropbox with TrueCrypt.
- Some Microsoft Products: Microsoft hasn't enabled two-factor authentication for Outlook yet, but some of its services — including Xbox Live, its Billing pages and SkyDrive when you remote to another computer — require it by default. You can read more about it here.
- Amazon Web Services: If you use any of Amazon's web services such as S3, you can get the extra security of two-factor authentication via the Google Authenticator app for Android, iOS and BlackBerry. It also supports Windows Phone via the Authenticator app.
- WordPress: If you don't want anyone getting unauthorised access to your blog, WordPress also supports the Google Authenticator app for Android, iOS and BlackBerry.
If you use any of these services, you should head over and enable two-factor authentication right now — it's one of the best ways to keep your data (and, in many cases, your money) safe. Of course, you should also make sure you use a unique, secure password for each of your accounts; if you don't do that already, now's a good time to start.