Some time ago, I wrote a blog post on hacked Yahoo!, Dropbox and Battle.net accounts, and how this can start a chain reaction. Companies seem to begin recognizing the threat, and are starting to protect their customers with today’s cutting edge security: two-factor authentication.
A word on two-factor authentication. In Europe, banks and financial institutions have been doing this for decades. Clients needed to enter an extra piece of information from a trusted media in addition to their account credentials in order to authorize a transaction such as transferring money out of their account. For many years, bank used printed lists of numbered passcodes serving as Transaction Authentication Numbers (TAN). When attempting to transfer money out of your bank account, you would be asked to enter a passcode number X. If you did not come up with the right code, the transfer would not execute. There are alternatives to printed TAN’s such as single-use passwords sent via a text message to a trusted mobile number or interactive TANs generated with a trusted crypto token or a software app installed onto a trusted phone.
Online services such as Microsoft or Google implement two-factor authentication in a different manner, asking their customers to come up with a second piece of an ID when attempting to access their services from a new device. This is supposed to prevent anyone stealing your login and password information from gaining access to your account from devices other than your own, verified PC, phone or tablet.
The purpose of two-factor authentication is to prevent parties gaining unauthorized access to your account credentials from taking any real advantage. Passwords are way too easy to compromise. Social engineering, keyloggers, trojans, password re-use and other factors contribute to the number of accounts compromised every month. An extra step in the authorization process involving a trusted device makes hackers lives extremely tough.
At this very moment, two-step authentication is being implemented by major online service companies. Facebook, Google and Microsoft already have it. Twitter is ‘rolling out two-factor authentication too.
A recent story about a journalist’s Google, Twitter and Apple accounts compromised and abused seems to have Apple started on pushing its own implementation of two-factor authentication.
Two-Factor Authentication: The Apple Way
Apple’s way of doing things is… different. Let’s look at their implementation of two-factor authentication.