Why and How to Use Authenticator Apps
An authenticator app allows you to use two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts without relying on texting. Let’s unpack what that means.
What Is Two-Factor Authentication?
Two-factor authentication is when you use two elements to prove who you are. A good example is the chip and PIN system on your credit card. The chip by itself is no good; you need the PIN to use the card too.
Also, many people have two-factor authentication enabled on their email. In this case, you type in your password, but you can’t access the account until you get a text with a number and then input that number. The number is the second factor.
Why Is Two-Factor Authentication Important?
A second factor is a second layer of defence for your accounts. A bad actor could somehow get your password (or your credit card). It’s unlikely that they’ll also get the second factor, your phone (or your PIN).
So What’s Wrong with Text?
Getting a text with a number to input is a common form of two-factor authentication. However, it’s possible for hackers to reroute your text messages. The second factor is useless if it’s stolen.
Enter Authenticator Apps
An authenticator app lives on your phone. You can link it to an online account that has the option for 2FA. Your authenticator app generates one-time-use passcodes of six digits every 30 seconds. When you log into an online account linked to your authenticator app, it’ll prompt you to enter one of those codes. The site talks to your authenticator app once and then you input the passcode. All your authenticator app does is generate codes, dump them, and transfer codes only if prompted. The codes never travel over your mobile network, thus eliminating the danger.
What Can I Use with My Authenticator App?
Most major financial sites allow 2FA, along with most email providers, social media sites like Facebook, major online stores like Amazon, gaming sites like Epic Games, business utilities like Evernote, and more. In fact, 2FA is becoming more and more common.
What Should I Use with My Authenticator App?
If an account is major—in that you use it every day, it’s linked with a lot of other accounts, or it’s linked with your finances in some way—use 2FA and use your authenticator app. If it’s an account that isn’t daisy-chained to other accounts, has none of your financial information, or is something you don’t use often, you can get away with not using 2FA. But using 2FA is so easy, why not use it if you have the chance?