What Is Two-Factor Authentication? (With Examples and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Various industries use two-factor authentication to improve Internet security. Since many services are online now, it's important to protect personal data. You can use multi-factor authentications to protect yourself from cyberattacks and data breaches when handling sensitive information like personal data or bank details. In this article, we discuss the definition of two-factor authentication, list its benefits, explore the different types and share some tips when using it.

What's two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication means users provide two factors to verify their identities. Many online services that involve sensitive information like ID card numbers, bank details or personal information provide double authentication to add a layer of security. When you want to verify your identity to a certain website or application, you first provide your username and password. This is the first factor. Then, if the login requires a second factor for authentication, you may need:

  • An item: This can be a token, a smartphone or a mobile application.

  • A biological feature: This can mean a fingerprint, an iris scan or your voice.

  • A piece of information: This includes a second password, an answer to a security question or a personal identification number.

These factors can make it harder for hackers to get your personal information and protect you from data breaches. For example, if a bank suffers from a cyberattack and loses the login details of all customers, hackers still can't get the information because they also need the second verification factor, which may be the fingerprint of each customer. Some companies or websites even use multiple factors to verify the identity of the person who tries to log in, making the login process even more secure.

Benefits of multi-factor authentication

There are some benefits of implementing multi-factor authentication. Here are some common ones:

Protects personal data

The most significant benefit of multi-factor authentication is it protects personal data. Using multiple factors to verify the identity of a user makes it harder for hackers to have access to sensitive information. It requires people who start the cyber attack to hack into two or more systems before they can get any sensitive information.

For example, a bank may provide a token to their customers that generates a random number every time a customer wants to log in to the system. If hackers want to get the bank details of these customers, they want to hack into the system of the bank website and the token. This increases the difficulty of launching a cyberattack.

Builds brand reputation

Internet security is a concern for many people. That's why it's important for online businesses to secure their systems to protect their reputation. Setting up multi-factor authentication can protect user data and boost confidence in customers.

Related: Brand Design Definition (With Importance, Steps and Tips)

Prevents losing account access

Multi-factor authentication doesn't rely on only usernames and passwords to verify user identity, so it provides alternative login methods when users forget their login credentials. For example, if users forget their login credentials to a website, the website can send users an email or text message to confirm their identities and recover their accounts.

Minimises data loss because of lost devices

Multi-factor authentication helps to protect data on a lost or stolen device. Since it requires two or more factors to verify user data, the factor on the lost or stolen device isn't enough to log in to your accounts. That means even if someone steals your device, they only have access to one verification factor and they can't access your personal data.

Types of multi-factor authentication

There are many types of multi-factor authentication, and some websites and applications may use more than one type. Here are some common factors companies use to identify user data:

SMS or text messages

Using SMS or text messages as a multi-factor authentication requires users' phone numbers. When users log in with their login credentials, the system sends an SMS or text message to the user's registered phone number with a random code. Users then input this code into the login system to verify their identity. The code is usually four to six digits. This method is easy because it doesn't require any additional devices and applications.

Voice-based

Voice-based multi-factor authentication requires a working phone. When users enter their login credentials correctly, they receive a phone call where they receive a code verbally. They then input this code to the login page to verify their identity.

Push notifications

Push notification multi-factor authentication is user-friendly, but it requires an Internet connection. When users enter their usernames and passwords into a website, the website or application sends a push notification on their devices. The notification comes with a link where users can click to verify their identities and confirm the login attempt. This method doesn't involve any code, making it easy to use.

Hardware tokens

Hardware token is one of the earliest types of multi-factor authentication methods. It requires users to have a hardware token. These tokens usually generate a code regularly or when users prompt a login attempt. After users enter their login information, they generate a code with the token and fill in the code to complete the login process. Although this method is secure, it costs more to make and deliver these tokens to every user. Also, if users lose their tokens, it may compromise the security system.

Software tokens

The software token authentication method develops from the hardware token method. This requires a code generator or authenticator application on an electronic device. These applications generate new codes regularly to replace any old codes. When users log in, they can open the authenticator application for the latest code to verify their login attempt. Some applications allow users to add several login sites and they generate a unique code for each login attempt. This method is easy to use and ensures a certain level of security, which makes it popular.

Related: How to Become an App Developer (With Career Steps and FAQs)

Biometric information

Biometric information can also act as a factor for authentication. This includes face recognition, fingerprints, iris pattern and voice recognition. Users can use their body features to verify their login attempts. This method is more complicated and requires a higher cost for setup.

Email

Email multi-factor authentication requires users to have a working email address. When users attempt to log in, the system emails the user's registered email address. The email address may contain a time-sensitive login link or code. Users can click the link to verify the attempt or input the login code from the email on the login page. This method is less user-friendly because it requires users to have access to their mailboxes when they log in, including an Internet connection and the correct login credentials for their email addresses.

Related: How to Start an Email Professionally (With Tips and Examples)

How to set up a multi-factor authentication

Here are the steps to setting up multi-factor authentication for your logins:

1. Check your account settings

First, you want to check if the website or application you're logging into offers this option. You can usually find this under settings, account settings or security settings. Most websites and applications have a specific page to set up multi-factor authentication.

2. Enable multi-factor authentication

If the website or application offers a multi-factor authentication function, you can enable it. You may turn it on according to the instructions on the screen. Sometimes, the system asks you to fill in your login credentials before you make this change.

3. Choose your authentication factor

Websites and applications usually offer a few options for multi-factor authentication. Some common options include SMS, text message, email, software token and push notification. You can choose the option that's the most suitable for you. Consider the level of security you need for your login. You may also consider if you have access to your mailbox or Internet connection when you log in. If you choose software token or email, instal the designated authenticator application or the email provider's application so you can use them easily on your mobile device.

4. Complete the set-up

Confirm your choice and complete the set-up process. The system may ask you to log in once using your chosen method. You can then try to log in with multi-factor authentication.

Tips when using multi-factor authentication

Here are two tips for you when using multi-factor authentication:

Change your password regularly

While multi-factor authentication offers an extra layer of protection to your account, it isn't perfect. You want to change your login information regularly to protect your information. You can use a reliable password manager to create and store your passwords.

Choose a reliable authenticator

You can look up information about data breaches before you choose an authentication method. A reputable authenticator can secure your accounts. You can see if there's any previous data breach and the authenticator's response to the incident, like a security system update.

Explore more articles