When creating accounts, you may have the option of using two-factor authentication. Also known simply as 2FA, it’s offered by cloud storage services, email services, online banks and more. A form of multi-factor authentication, two-factor authentication is designed to protect against intrusion add, therefore, data theft. But unless you’ve used it in the past, you’ve might be wondering whether two-factor authentication offers any real protection benefits.

What Is Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication is a security feature offered by online services that force you to the take some additional step, in addition to entering your username and password, to access your account. More specifically, it requires to “know something” and “have something.” If you don’t know your username and password, or if you don’t own the object needed for the two-factor authentication, you won’t be able to access your account.

The Mechanics of Two-Factor Authentication

With two-factor authentication enabled, you’ll need to do more than just enter your username and password to access the respective account. After submitting your login, the service will typically prompt you to enter some other information to verify your identity — and this information can only be accessed by something that you own. For example, the service may send a PIN to your smartphone. After entering your username and password, you’ll have to check your smartphone for this PIN. If you don’t have your smartphone, you won’t be able to access your account.

ATMs use two-factor authentication. When using an ATM, you’ll have to insert your bank card, which is something you own, as well as your PIN, which is something you know. The combination of these two elements means ATMs, by default, use two-factor authentication.

Why Should I Use Two-Factor Authentication?

If it’s offered with any of your online services, you should take advantage of two-factor authentication to protect against your accounts from intrusion and data theft. Two-factor authentication is a simple yet highly effective way to safeguard your online accounts from cyber threats. While creating strong and unique passwords can certainly help, there are ways for hackers to crack your logins, such as executing a brute-force attack. Two-factor authentication nearly eliminates the risk of intrusion by adding another step to the login process.

Even if a hacker or some other nefarious individual has cracked your account’s username and password, he or she won’t be able to log in — not without the extra information required, at least. Therefore, two-factor authentication is almost always a good idea, especially for accounts containing sensitive or otherwise important data.