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How to Avoid Being Hacked – 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 a bank card. One factor is the card itself, which contains magnetic identification data (these days a chip) and a PIN that you enter when you insert the thing into an ATM. It’s simple and pretty good at keeping others away from your ATM cash. 2FA is important for online accounts like email and iCloud accounts.
While I’ll admit it can be a bit of a pain to have to do something extra to get into your account, it’s a lot less painful than having your identity stolen, losing access to email, or replying to friends wondering why. they said such crazy things about them (unless, of course, you actually said those crazy things!). Or god forbid if someone logs in as you in one of your game accounts.
Here’s how 2FA, or two-step authentication, works for a few different types of online accounts. (Note that these services change things from time to time, so it’s a good idea to keep up with such changes.)
Setting up Google two-step authentication
First, log into your Gmail account with a username and password (we’ll cover choosing smart passwords in Part 3). There should be an avatar in a circle near the upper left corner of the window. Maybe even a photo of you. Click on it and “My Account” will appear. (By the way, this changes every few years.) In the new window that opens, click on “Login and security”. Click on “Two-Step Verification” and then “Get Started”. Time to re-enter your username and password. Enter a phone number and click to receive a text or phone call. You will then magically receive a text or phone call with a 6-digit verification code. Enter and select the option to turn on two-step verification. It’s that easy. Okay, it’s a few steps, but it’s not that hard.
You may prefer to collect your Gmail account with some other application, such as Outlook, instead of using a browser to open the Gmail page. If so, you may find that after you turn on two-factor authentication, Outlook (or another application) keeps telling you that you’ve entered the wrong password, even though you know it’s correct. This happened to me. You will probably need to provide Google with a specific app password that Google will generate for you. Go to the App Passwords page, located here at the time of writing.
Select the app you want (for Outlook, select “Mail”), then the device you’re using (Google will magically display a list of devices you use with its services). Then select “Generate”. A yellow bar displays a 16-digit number that you can use as a new password for that application (eg Outlook) on that device (do not enter spaces). You can save this password in the app and you may need this number again in the future.
Yahoo! similar: log in to your account, go to the account security page, click on “two-step verification” and turn on the button there to turn it on. Choose an option to receive an SMS or phone call for verification. Enter the code that you receive via SMS or phone. At this point, you can create an app password, similar to the Google process above, for your various apps, such as Outlook or Apple (iOS) Mail.
Now let’s set up 2FA on your iCloud account. First, you need to set a passcode on your iPhone or iPad.
Click on the Settings app. If your device is running iOS 10.3.3, click its name (or the name of the account you’re using 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’re used to the previous version? In the last 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 a few security questions – which we’ll talk about in a later article – then enter the phone number you’d like your 2FA code to be sent to and, as before, choose whether you want a phone call or SMS.
On a Mac, open System Preferences, select iCloud, then select “Account Information.” You may need to sign in with your Apple credentials. Answer your security questions as above, if prompted, and enter the phone number you want to receive a call or SMS for verification. Again, a magical robot will immediately send you the code, and you must enter it in the field waiting for your answer.
When turned on, a confirmation message will appear when an unknown device or location logs into your account. Note that on a Mac this notification can sometimes appear in a window hidden behind another, so look for this if you find you’re having trouble reading the approval request.
Speaking of problems, two-factor authentication seems like a lot of work, but once you’ve got it set up, it’s not too much of a pain and will add significant security to your accounts as well as significant barriers to potential hackers. Then do it!
Next time we’ll discuss passwords, passwords, and why you shouldn’t take those fun surveys all your friends send you.
Next, in Part Three: Choosing Smart Passwords and Secret Questions (aka Form Submission).
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