I was just sitting down to write this article when I received this question from a reader:

“Please tell us about two-factor authentication, how to set it up and if there is anything else we should know about it.”

The reason I was preparing to write this article is that a friend of my lost a whole bunch of money because scammers got into her bank account. I asked if she had two-factor authentication enabled and she said, “What’s that?”

What’s two-factor authentication? Well, it is probably the best way to protect any account.  From email to your banking, to your social media. You’ll also sometimes see it referred to as multi-factor authentication.

social-security-two-factor

Two-factor authentication simply means that there are two steps you must go through to log into an account. Often times you’ll enter a password, then be sent a special code to via text, phone call, or email and enter that code to get into your account. Many times you’ll only have to get that code if you’re logging in from a different device or an unusual location. For example, if someone in Florida tried to log into my email account they’d have to request a code. That code would be sent to the email address or phone number that I have set up. Or there might be a security question to answer. I prefer the code because a hacker might be able to guess your security question.

Most accounts aren’t hacked by a human sitting there trying passwords over and over again. The passwords are cracked by automated programs. And even the most complicated password can eventually be cracked by a bot speedily working its way through passwords.

What types of accounts should you set it up for? I’d suggest all of them. Social media, email, store, and financial accounts. My friend whose bank account was drained didn’t perform online financial transactions, she normally just used the online interface for checking the account. But that didn’t stop crooks from performing several transactions and cleaning her out.

As to how to set it up, it depends on the account. In the next few articles, I’ll walk you through how to do it for many popular services.