Some of you may have heard about the recent targeted AppleID hack. Apple could have done more to protect user accounts but barring cases of negligence it’s silly to think that security is the sole responsibility of the service provider. If you appreciate the convenience of modern technology for accessing and sharing your data (like I do) then it’s on you to understand how your data is shared and where it’s stored.
The fact is, Apple and many other service providers provide a simple opt-in security setting that can drastically decrease the risk of data loss via brute force login.
Enter Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication for your online accounts involves you, as an Account holder, knowing two types of information:
- Something only you know (e.g., password, security questions)
- Something only you have (e.g., ATM card, smart card, mobile phone)
You’re already using passwords to sign into your accounts, the second factor is something you have. Two common options are Soft Tokens, time sensitive pin numbers presented to you via an app on your smart phone; and SMS tokens, one time use pin numbers sent to you via text message.
SMS tokens are the easiest to use, and will work as long as you can receive text messages at the configured phone number. Soft Tokens can be a bit of a pain when changing phones but work regardless of internet/cell connectivity. For most, SMS tokens are the best option but if you’re a power user consider using a Soft Token like Google Authenticator or Authy.
If you’re interested in more detail, Wikipedia’s Multi-Factor authentication article is a good start.
Take a moment to think about the personal data you keep online and consider enabling two-factor auth on all of your accounts that support it. Here’s a short list of common services that offer two factor auth:
- AppleID (ios devices, icloud, itunes, etc)
- Google (gmail, google apps, picasa, android devices, etc)
IMPORTANT! Any service that offers two-factor auth should also provide backup codes that can be used to restore access to your account should you lose (or break) the “something you have”. These codes should be printed and kept safe in a secure location, like a safe or a safe deposit box. (Remember those?)
The victims of the recent AppleID hack could have enabled two-factor authentication and saved themselves a lot of embarassment and grief. So what are you waiting for? Go enable two-factor auth!
If you’re wondering about Continuity supporting two-factor auth, we plan on adding it as a per-client or per-user feature by the end of this year. Keep your eye out for this feature announcement!
Ben pointed out that Two-factor auth may not be available for the Apple service used for the attack. I’ve tried to find a definitive answer on this but no luck. ↩