Do you feel that you don’t spend enough of your time authenticating to online services? Maybe it’s time to take some of the security measures we might use at work and apply them to our home accounts too. As any fule kno, work and home usually blend seamlessly. Usually.
Passwords are going out of fashion – they’re too easy to guess or hack. We now have a variety of ways to unlock our phones or sign in to services we use, from biometrics to certificates, or even a mixture of methods including behaviours. When you have a username & password, there are two things you need to know but it’s not inconceivable you could lose one or both by being coerced or tricked into action you didn’t expect.
Using a mixture of “something you know” (like a username & password) and “something you have” (like a physical token or maybe something on your phone), including even “something you are” (like your face, voice or fingerprint), is arguably more secure, since needing several “factors” means it’s harder for a potential baddy to steal your credentials and impersonate you. With identity theft becoming an ever-present problem, anything you can do to tighten access to commonly-used applications should be considered.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the umbrella term for using a combination of several means of authentication, but commonly used scenarios are often just 2FA or two-factor authentication. Twitter, for example, launched 2FA via text to your phone – meaning you need a username/password, the phone number you’ve already registered, and the one-time message they just sent you, to log in.
It’s easily possible to enable 2-factor authentication for your Microsoft Account, ie. the credentials you might use to log in to apps on Windows 10, Outlook.com/MSN/Hotmail, Azure Portal etc.
When you sign into your Microsoft Account (MSA) for the first time since enabling 2FA, or you try to access it from a “non-trusted device”, you’ll need to use your phone to confirm your identity.
Older devices (like Xbox 360) or older software may not have awareness of 2FA, in which case a specially-created “app password” is required. More recent apps which recognise MSA authentication should support the Authenticator App (available for Windows, iOS and Android).
This means when you go to access the application and sign in with your MSA, after entering your username & password, you’ll be prompted to approve the two-step verification request.
You’ll get a notification on your phone to approve access (seen here on Android).
If you check the “sign in frequently” box on the prompt within the app or service (before tapping APPROVE on your phone), this phone notification will be a periodic or even one-time option – invoked when you’re setting up a new app or access to a service from a new device like a shared computer.
It’s easy enough to turn off two-step verification if you don’t like it, and frankly, the first few hours after switching it on might make you feel you’ve made a big mistake – but the blizzard of authentication requests soon dies down and it becomes an occasional thing you need to do, but you’re safe in the knowledge that your Microsoft Account is a little more protected from hackers.