I’ve written a backgrounder on multi-factor authentication at the Network for Learning blog. It’s written for teachers and people working in the educational sector, which means it’s accessible for non-technical readers.

You’ll see 2FA when you use popular online sites and services. Google’s G Suite for Education uses it. You’ll see it when you use Gmail, Apple or Microsoft cloud services.

There are a couple of points the N4L blog post doesn’t make, mainly in the interest of keeping things simple and not taking sides.

Easier with Apple

The first is that multi-factor or two-factor Authentication is much easier if you live in Apple’s world. When you get a txt confirmation during the sign-in process on your iPhone, your Mac or iPad will automatically insert this.

Apple calls this feature ‘continuity‘.

There is no racing to copy the code down, no risk of mistyping those codes.

At the time of writing there is no direct comparison for this if you choose to work with Windows and Android devices although some geekier types do have workarounds.

Safer option

This level of integration and convenience is often overlooked by Apple’s critics, but it saves time and keeps you safer.

Likewise, biometric log-ins are dependent on your hardware choices. In this case it is far wider than Apple. Not every brand of phone or computer deals well with fingerprint or face recognition.

There are workarounds, but it is worth checking on the biometric options before you buy a laptop or a phone. You may pay a little more for a device with face recognition or a fingerprint reader. It’s worth it.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Multi-Factor Authentication

  1. When using an Android (10 or 11 – maybe 9 too, I can’t remember) with text-based multi-factor auth, the text message, when it first arrives and shows as a pop up notification, has a copy button in the notification which enable the user to copy the code and paste it into the auth box. If the app you’re authenticating is on the same device, just the act of copying it will automatically paste it into the auth box in many instances.

    However I was of the understanding that text-based auth was less secure than a specific authentication app like Microsoft Authenticator or Google Authenticator. I use an app wherever I need 2FA – mainly because my clients have this as their default, but I find them easy to use and reliable.

    • With Apple, a text code sent to your iPhone can go immediately to the Mac, that’s a whole extra level of integration.

      Texts are considered less safe because they can be intercepted, but if you’re up against an attacker capable of doing that you’re in a lot of trouble.

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