August 27, 2012, 1:28 PM —
You might know by now, or at least have heard about, how hard Mat Honan got hacked. All his devices, his email, his photos, all his social accounts—all gone, in large part because Amazon and Apple let him down. Immediately after his sci-fi-level erasure, the more helpful aspects of the web came out to suggest that you, the next potential target, do a few things to improve your security with remote services. Chief among them? Turn on two-factor authentication for your Google account, and any other service that offers two-factor security.
As it relates to your Google account, two-factor authentication is an extra step in logging into your account from a device you haven’t logged in with before. After the usual email/password entry, you’ll also be asked to enter a code generated by Google for you, which only you can see in a secure smartphone app, over text message, or from a list of pre-generated codes you’re supposed to print and keep in your wallet. Google’s smartphone app for handling two-step codes, Authenticator, isn’t exclusive to Google accounts. You can use Authenticator to add another security layer to LastPass and, just recently and in an early test, online storage service Dropbox. Once you authenticate with the app, the device or browser you’re logging in through is given the green light for about 30 days of access.
Google’s Authenticator is just one form of two-factor authentication, however. It’s called two-factor because it requires someone attempting to enter an account to have at least two of three security factors: knowledge, or “something you know,” possession (“something you have”), and/or inherence (“something you are”). That might seem complex, but you’ve been using two-factor authentication at ATMs for years: your bank card is something you have, and your PIN is something you know. Spy thrillers use all three factors to show how valuable the thing in the vault is, as officials enter a PIN, swipe a card, and have their “inherence” factor proven with eyeball or fingerprint scanners.