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Two-factor authentication (2FA) is the technique of protecting an account with two different login methods. Imagine this: You are an explorer called Indiana, searching for a mysterious treasure. With the help of your map, you have found the secret cave where you will find the treasure. In order to enter the cave, however, it turns out that the one key you so heroically managed to get is not enough to open the steel gate. No, a second key is required.

Just after you, your great rival, Ruben Ival, arrives. Mr R. Ival has also managed to get hold of a key and comes to the same conclusion as you: In order to enter the cave, you will have to work together, and both give up your keys. Assuming that you work together and do not try to rob each other, you will need each other to gain access to the treasure.

Two Keys

This is how 2FA works: You always need two separate tools to unlock an account. Moreover, two tools have to work together, and both have to be present. In our real world, this is what it usually looks like: You log into an account using your strong (unique) password, and then your account asks you to verify your login attempt through the second method. That is usually your smartphone, where you receive a request via e-mail, text message, or via an authentication tool, which provides unique access codes every minute.

The best-known example of this is the Google Authenticator app. This app allows you to access government websites by confirming in the app that it was you who tried to log in. So, you should always have two login methods at hand to get into an account.

To get around this very strong security, hackers often use a two-step phishing attack. In the first step, they try to get you to log on to a fake page. Then, once they have that information, they will call you to “confirm your identity” using the second tool, and it is the only way for them to get both authentication tools together. That is why it is so important that you never give out your login details over the phone, by SMS, or by e-mail.

If possible, always use a 2FA method to make your data as difficult to steal as possible.