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When you sign into your online accounts that is a process called “authentication” – you’re proving to the service that you are who you say you are. Traditionally that’s been done with a username and a password. Unfortunately, usernames are often easy to discover; sometimes they’re just your email address and since passwords can be hard to remember, people tend to pick or reuse simple ones.

That’s why almost all online services like banks, social media, shopping, and Microsoft 365, have added a way for your accounts to be more secure. It can be called “Two-Step Verification” or “Multifactor Authentication” but the good ones all operate off the same principle.

A factor in authentication is a way of confirming your identity when you try to sign in. For example, a password is one kind of factor, it’s a thing you know. The three most common kinds of factors are:

  • Something you know -password, or a memorized PIN.
  • Something you have – a smartphone or a secure USB key.
  • Something you are – fingerprint or facial recognition.

How does Multifactor authentication work?

Let’s say you’re going to sign into your work or school account, and you enter your username and password. If that’s all you need then anybody who knows your username and password can sign in as you from anywhere in the world!

Having multifactor authentication enabled, things get more interesting. The first time you sign in on a device or app and enter your username and password. You then get prompted to enter your second factor to verify your identity.

Important Things to Know.

You won’t have to do the second step very often. Some people worry that multifactor authentication is going to be inconvenient, but generally it’s only used the first time you sign into an app or device, or the first time you sign in after changing your password. After that you’ll just need your primary factor, usually a password, like you do now. The extra security comes from the fact that somebody trying to break into your account is probably not using your device. They will need to have that second factor to get in.

Multifactor authentication is not just for work or school. Almost every online service from your bank to your email, to your social media accounts, supports adding a second step of authentication and you should go into the account settings for those services and turn that on.

Source: Making accounts more secure with multi-factor authentication. Microsoft Support. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2023, from