What is two-factor authentication & why do I need it?

What you need to know about two-factor authentication and adding an extra layer of security to your online accounts.

By ATB Financial 16 December 2021 2 min read

Illustration of person holding cellphone  alongside laptop, with key lock icon

True or false: as long as you keep your username and password secure and confidential, your online account is safe from cyber attacks. The short answer? Both.

Usernames and passwords can be secure, but reused or weak usernames and passwords, shared login credentials, cyber security scams and information leaks from data breaches can compromise their safety.

Short and simple passwords can be guessed and tested by bad actors and technology within seconds, and phishing scams looking to steal your credentials are more sophisticated than ever.

The good news is that there’s an extra layer of security you can add to protect your accounts and reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your data and savings. That’s where two-factor authentication (2FA) comes in.


What is two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication is a form of multi-factor authentication and uses a combination of two or more of the credential types below to authenticate a user and allow access to your account.

Something you know:

  • Password
  • Security question

Something you have:

  • An authentication app
  • SMS or a call to your phone
  • Security dongles or tokens

Something you are:

  • Fingerprint
  • Retina scan
  • Facial recognition

Two-factor authentication can be more than 99.9% effective in blocking cyber attacks—that’s great news for you! No wonder financial institutions (FI) across Canada have made two-factor authentication mandatory for account access and moving money. It’s becoming so standard that any FI not making the switch is announcing itself as a target for cyber attack.

Just keep in mind that, like any security measures that involve human interaction, 2FA isn’t perfect and can be compromised. ATB or any other established company would never ask you to provide your two-factor authentication code over the phone. If someone is asking you for this, claiming to be from ATB or another company, hang up and call that organization directly to report the suspicious activity.


Is two-factor authentication inconvenient?

While 2FA is incredibly effective, the issue that gets brought up again and again is user experience. Two-factor authentication takes extra time and effort to login to your accounts, something that no one wants in their already busy lives. It’s part of the reason it’s taking so long for companies to add 2FA to their login process—despite how effective it is compared to traditional security questions. 

True, two-factor authentication does mean an extra step to access your online accounts. But in time, it will become second nature. Depending on the 2FA you use, it can be as easy as unlocking your phone and entering a code to confirm your login. The few extra seconds spent are well worth keeping your hard earned money and other important information safe.

We at ATB want to make sure that your accounts are as safe as possible. We’re offering the opportunity for you to add 2FA to your bank accounts today. It’s one small step that can have a big impact on account security and prevent criminal activity.

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