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Two-factor authentication is a mess


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It was supposed to be a one-stop security fix. What happened?


For years, two-factor authentication has been the most important advice in personal cybersecurity — one that consumer tech companies were surprisingly slow to recognize. The movement seemed to coalesce in 2012, after journalist Mat Honan saw hackers compromise his Twitter, Amazon, and iCloud accounts, an incident he later detailed in Wired. At the time, few companies offered easy forms of two-factor, leaving limited options for users worried about a Honan-style hack. The result was a massive public campaign that demanded companies to adopt the feature, presenting two-factor as a simple, effective way to block account takeovers.


Five years later, the advice is starting to wear thin. Nearly all major web services now provide some form of two-factor authentication, but they vary greatly in how well they protect accounts. Dedicated hackers have little problem bypassing through the weaker implementations, either by intercepting codes or exploiting account-recovery systems. We talk about two-factor like aspirin — a uniform, all-purpose fix that’s straightforward to apply — but the reality is far more complex. The general framework still offers meaningful protection, but it’s time to be honest about its limits. In 2017, just having two-factor is no longer enough.


For much of the last five years, the center of the campaign for two-factor has been twofactorauth.org, a site run by Carl Rosengren that’s dedicated to naming and shaming any product that doesn’t offer two-factor. At a glance, it can tell you which sites offer more than just a password login, and offers you an easy way to tweet at companies that don’t. Today, the site sends out hundreds of thousands of shaming tweets a day.


The campaign seems to have worked; nearly every company now offers some form of two-factor. Netflix is the biggest holdout — “I feel like I should buy a cake or something when that happens,” Rosengren says. Late adopters like Amazon and BitBucket have caved to demands, and every single VPN or cryptocurrency product listed by the site offers two-factor. The only email services without it are obscure players like Migadu and Mail.com. There are still a few problem sectors like airlines and banks, but most services have gotten the message: consumers want two-factor. If you don’t offer it, they’ll find a service that does.


But victory has been messier than anyone expected. There are dozens of different varieties of two-factor now, expanding far beyond the site’s ability to catalog them. Some send verification codes over SMS text, while others use email or more hardened verification apps like Duo and Google Auth. For $18, you can get a special USB drive to serve as your second factor, supported by most major services. It’s one of the most secure options available, as long as you don’t lose it. Beyond hardware, services can deposit long strings of code that provide an effectively invisible second factor — provided no one intercepts it in transit. Some of these methods are easier to hack than others, but even sophisticated users often can’t tell you which is better. For a while, TwoFactorAuth tried to keep up with which services were better or worse. Eventually, there were just too many.


“If it’s hard for us to evaluate the hundreds of two-factor services,” Rosengren says, “I can’t begin to imagine how hard it would be for a consumer.” ...


Please, if interested, read this long article < here >.

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