Why Two-Factor Authentication isn’t as Safe as You Think?

Last updated on February 6th, 2023 at 02:00 pm.

Description: Every phone has a Subscriber Identity Module, or SIM. Hackers may try to transfer your account to their SIM card. In that case, the hacker would be able to read all of your authentication codes. Don’t give up on two-factor authentication just because it’s not perfect.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an additional layer of security that helps confirm your login details on apps and websites wherever you’ve enabled it. For example, if you want to deposit money with PayPal to play Amazon Quest, you will receive an authentication token through SMS that you must enter before the payment will transfer. 2FA prompts users to validate their login through a separate channel, usually by text message or through an app. Two-factor authentication has definitely made cybercriminals’ lives harder, and it surely adds an extra layer of security that’s difficult to penetrate. The problem is that most of us believe the process to be completely foolproof. The reality is that there are still ways to circumvent these measures that leave us open to fraud and identity theft. Let’s look at just how secure two-factor authentication really is, and what we can do to protect ourselves from the vulnerabilities it continues to present.

What is Two-Factor Authentication?

The base login requirements for the vast majority of websites are username and password. If your login credentials are water-tight, then this offers solid security. The danger comes from your details being compromised on one website, which the hackers can then exploit to gain access to other services you use. A short or simple password can often be guessed by hackers with sufficient time, in what is known as a “brute force” attack. Soon they could be doing untold damage to your personal information. Two-factor authentication is meant to mitigate the danger of this occurring. A form of multi-factor authentication, two-factor authentication requires an additional piece of verification along with your username and password to successfully access an account. Some methods of using two-factor authentication might include:

  • Confirming with an app on your smartphone
  • Entering 2FA codes sent by SMS
  • A security token featuring a long, randomized password that you’ve saved beforehand
  • An encrypted USB drive
  • An access fob
  • A personal key card

Smartphones have made it easy for most of us to utilize two-factor authentication for secure logins, but is it as secure as we think?

The Problems With Two-Factor Authentication

While two-factor authentication certainly increases your login security, its main vulnerability still lies in human error in the case of authentication vs authorization. Cases have been reported of users finding that their cell phone service suddenly dropped off in what was the first sign of a highly sophisticated bypass of two-factor authentication.

Fraudsters have successfully misled cell providers into sending them new sim cards for a person’s account. This resulted in sending the 2FA code to the hackers, enabling them to illegally withdraw money from PayPal and other financial sites. It may have taken these criminals repeated attempts to find an agent at the cell company that neglected to follow the correct security procedures. But one moment of human error was all they needed to succeed. 

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Possible Security Dangers

Hearing such stories, most of us are likely to ask whether this proves that there’s an authentication problem with the technology. The answer is “no”, since theoretically, the technology itself is impossible to trick. However, human error still leaves it vulnerable to exploitation. 2FA methods can fail when:

  • Your cell phone provider fails to follow security procedures
  • The security code you’ve provided isn’t strong enough
  • Your passwords are too weak
  • Your passwords aren’t securely stored
  • Your devices get lost or stolen
  • You leave your devices unlocked
  • You become the victim of phishing scams by phone or over email
  • You reveal your financial interests over social media, like a screenshot of an online casino download of your recent winnings.

Ultimately, there’s no piece of technology that can completely negate the threats posed by human error. The good news, however, is that we can all take steps to limit our exposure to these dangers as much as possible.

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How to Improve the Security of Two-Factor Authentication

The ways we can strengthen the power of two-factor authentication mostly boil down to exercising common sense and establishing security procedures with a worst-case scenario in mind. These measures include:

  • Furnishing cell providers with a security key, and letting them know if you call and they don’t demand it from you.
  • Using strong passwords with randomized alphanumeric sequences
  • Using different passwords for every website and account you use
  • Putting locks with bio readers where possible on all your devices
  • Not saving login information in your web browser
  • Using a secure password storage service
  • Distributing physical security keys across different locations
  • Looking out for notifications for password reset requests that you never made
  • Following advice on how to spot and avoid phishing attempts
  • Limiting the amount of personal data you post online and through social media
  • Keeping your different devices secure when in public

The less personal and login information you leave lying around online or physically, the fewer openings fraudsters have to successfully access your accounts. 

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Final Thoughts

Obviously, it may be unrealistic to try to memorize multiple long randomized password sequences. However, you could, for example, encrypt the data file where you keep them stored. By following the different steps, you’re adding more and more layers of protection to your data, reducing the likelihood of falling victim to a successful fraud attempt. You may view these extra measures as a waste of time and effort. However, an experienced fraudster can empty your online accounts and make dummy purchases within minutes of successfully bypassing two-factor authentication. Have you ever been the victim of a scam? Or maybe you know some foolproof tips to protect yourself that we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments section below.

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