April 17, 2013

Two-Factor Authentication Making its Way to Microsoft


One of the biggest new developments in security of late is the two-factor authentication system, which uses one kind of security – a thumbprint, biometrics or even a password – to grant access to a second point of security that can even be on a separate device.

Now, Microsoft is looking to join in the fray, opening up two factor authentication for the entirety of its product line, from Windows to Xbox to Windows Phone and beyond.

Over the “next couple of days,” according to Microsoft, the two-factor authentication system – which Microsoft is referring to instead as "two-step verification" – will allow users to set up the second step system when logging into their accounts from a variety of apps or different devices. Once the two-step verification system is set up, users will start by typing in a password, then being prompted to enter a security code generated via a matching Authenticator app on a smartphone.

Those who don't have or don't want smartphones will not have to set up the two-step verification system; Microsoft is simply making the option available.

Microsoft is also going to great lengths to handle any potential conflicts that may come up along the way. For instance, the two-step verification process won't work with linked accounts, so those interested will have to unlink any accounts before activating the process.

Others may want in on the two-step verification process, but don't have a phone that can handle the Authenticator app. For them, Microsoft reportedly has a feature on the Microsoft Account Website called "app password," which will act as an Authenticator app but on a Web platform instead, which should take care of the users who want in but can't get in.

Indeed, some Microsoft features already have something of a second layer involved, like setting up SkyDrive or dealing with billing.microsoft.com, so it's not like this is unheard of for Microsoft. That should make getting everything set up for this system a comparatively smooth process, as Microsoft already has some experience in the field.

What's great about this is that Microsoft is just putting the option up for those who want it, rather than making it a requirement. While there are those who want the extra security, not everyone wants to – or is even equipped to deal with a two-step system. Whether it’s an issue of smartphone compatibility or just an issue of too much trouble for comparatively limited use, those who don't want the extra layer can work without it.

That covers the waterfront here and should leave all users satisfied.

It's good to see Microsoft is offering the option to bulk up its security, but it's just as gratifying to see that it's leaving the bulking up as an optional feature rather than an enforced requirement. Respecting users' decisions is seldom a bad strategy, and Microsoft is showing off the value of doing just that right here.




Edited by Braden Becker




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