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Two-Factor Authentication versus Two-Step Verification: the Difference and its Significance


Most people are accustomed to creating online accounts that require a distinct username and password. This security method is used on virtually every type of account that a person accesses, both personally and professionally. Although security experts and IT teams always advise against using the same password for multiple accounts, most people do this anyway because of the number of username and password combinations they must try to remember.


Of course, there are several other bits of advice that people also like to ignore. People are generally advised to refrain from creating passwords that contain any part of the person’s full name, date of birth, children’s names, and other personally identifiable information that may be easily compromised. Unfortunately, this advice usually goes unheeded because people are more concerned with remembering the information and being able to access the account without issue than they are with the remote possibility of a breach.

Although this is an understandable concern, it is extremely important for company-related accounts to employ stringent security standards to ensure the protection of important data. Even though company leaders cannot control an employee’s password selection, they can invest in technology with robust security features. An example of a strong security feature is two-factor authentication, which should not be confused with two-step verification. They certainly sound similar, but they are quite different. Here is how they differ and why those differences are significant:

Two-Step Verification

A lot of people have probably engaged in two-step verification without even realizing that they were doing so. This security procedure entails establishing an account with a legitimate email address and the creation of a unique password. There are usually certain requirements and restrictions related to password creation, such as the use of both uppercase and lowercase letters, at least one number, and the inclusion of a special symbol.

Once the account has been created with this information, an automated email is normally generated and sent to the email address that was used during registration. This is the step that allows the person to “verify” that the email address is valid and the person has access to it. In essence, a person must simply verify the information one time, and then s/he will subsequently have access to the particular account by merely entering the email address and password. Although a password prevents unwanted access to an account to some degree, it is a simple piece of information that may be stolen or intercepted. Thus, it is not the strongest security measure available.

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication, on the other hand, takes the security aspect a step further. A “factor” is still a piece of information, but it is not merely a word that a person happens to know. Although one factor may pertain to a piece of knowledge that the account holder has, a factor may also include something that a person possesses, such as a key card or other chipped device. In addition, a factor can be associated with an inherent trait, such as a fingerprint.

Thus, two-factor authentication may require the inputting of a password, along with the swipe of a card. Or, there may be the inputting of a password, followed by a fingerprint scan. Savvy hackers may be able to figure out a person’s password, but it is much harder, if not impossible, to replicate a fingerprint or get their hands on a special device. Therefore, this security method is significantly stronger than the traditional manner, and thus far more appropriate for corporate accounts.

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