There are several ways cybercriminals can gain access to your personal accounts. 2-factor authentication helps to make it more difficult to access your accounts that were previously only protected with a password. In this article, we explain exactly how this works.
What types of authentication are there?
Basically, there are 4 possibilities, or 4 different factors, through which users can authenticate themselves:
- by something you know (e.g. a password)
- by something you have (e.g. a bank card)
- by something you «are» (e.g. a fingerprint)
- by the geographical place where one is located
Well-known example: paying by card
One example where almost everyone has been using 2-factor authentication for a long time is payment by card in stores: as a user, you need to have the card with you on the one hand and know the associated PIN on the other: You can do just as little with the PIN alone as if you have the card but no longer know the PIN. So you need 2 factors or elements to authenticate yourself for payment.
It works the same way on the PC, tablet or notebook
On the PC, 2-factor authentication has been promoted by various services for several years. In most cases, the first factor is a password and the second factor is a code that is displayed on one's cell phone, either as an SMS or also in a special authentication app.
The advantages are similar to the example of the payment card from above: If an attacker gets hold of your password, he still cannot log in to the service linked to the password, because he is missing the second factor (the code on your cell phone). And if your cell phone is stolen, this will not help the attacker even if you have protected your cell phone with a password, which is hopefully the case!
Where there is light, there is always shadow. For example, 2-factor authentication on the PC, notebook or tablet complicates the login process a bit. In addition, as a user you must always carry your cell phone with you, otherwise you will not be able to log in to services for which you have set up 2-factor authentication.
It is very important that you keep the emergency codes, which are normally sent when you set up 2-factor authentication, in a safe place. The best place for this is the password manager, which you protect with a particularly secure password. (For information on using a password manager, for example, see our blogarticle on the topic.)
Setting up 2-factor authentication for services (PC, notebook, tablet)
The way in which 2-factor authentication is set up varies from service to service. Normally, the corresponding settings can be found in the same place where the password can be changed.
|Die Dienste, welche die 2-Faktor-Authentifizierung aktuell unterstützen, finden Sie im 2fa-Directory (without guarantee for completeness).|
Setting up the authentication app on the cell phone
To be able to create the codes for 2-factor authentication, in most cases you need a corresponding app on your cell phone - 3 well-known and much-used examples are:
- Google Authenticator
- Microsoft Authenticator
Authy offers the possibility to synchronize the codes between different devices and thus saves you from accidentally locking yourself out of the only device on which you have access to Authenticator. However, which app you choose in the end is your decision! The main thing is to protect yourself and your accounts!
In conclusion: Am I 100% protected with 2-factor authentication?
No, there is no such thing as 100% security, not even with 2-factor authentication. However, this method increases the security of logins many times over and does so without any significant negative effects and with little technical effort. We therefore recommend every user to use this feature wherever possible.
If you have any questions on this topic, our security expert, Marius Dubach, will be happy to help.