The Best Two-Factor Authentication Apps for iOS and Android
You’ve heard it before: strong passwords help secure your accounts. But even a strong password might not be enough. If there’s a data breach and your info gets published online, it won’t matter if your password is “password123” or “q35Hiu%iL18.” Hackers will still be able to use it to get into your account.
To make your online accounts truly secure, you may want to focus on two-factor authentication. We’ll go over what two-factor authentication is, why you need it, and review six two-factor authentication apps to use on your smartphone.
What is two-factor authentication?
Logging into an account usually requires a username and a password. This method is considered one-factor authentication because your password is the only factor you use to log in. With two-factor authentication (2FA), you log in with a password and one other factor, usually a one-time code you receive by SMS or via email.
Adding a second factor to the authentication process makes it harder for cyber attackers to hack into your account. Even if there’s a data breach and your password gets exposed online, your account will still require a second factor to log in.
Most apps and websites support 2FA, so you can activate it by providing a phone number or your email address. Activating 2FA requires going to your account’s security settings and enabling it, along with choosing the method to authenticate. If 2FA is available for an account you have on any app or website, you should activate it. It takes a few more minutes to log in, but protecting your data is worth any hassle.
For logging into accounts (known as authentication), most services use one or more of these three factors:
- Something you know (your password)
- Something you own (a mobile device or 2FA app)
- Something you are (fingerprint or face scan)
If you don’t want to receive an SMS or an email to input your second factor, you can download a 2FA mobile app. You’ll typically connect the app to your account by scanning a QR code. Whenever you attempt to log in, the app will automatically generate a one-time code that’s time-sensitive.
Features to look for in 2FA apps
What does a good 2FA app look like? The top features are:
- Easy to use
- Syncs across multiple devices
- Uses time-based, one-time passwords (TOTPs)
- Backs up account info and encrypts it
- Generates tokens without an Internet connection
Price could also be a factor when choosing a 2FA app, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. However, most of the major 2FA apps are free.
Best 2FA apps for smartphones
Microsoft Authenticator hits many of the marks for what to look for in a 2FA app. It has a simple user interface and lets you log into your Microsoft accounts by just pressing a button. You can also sync other online accounts to get secure TOTPs when you need them. The app also works as a password generator and saver for apps and accounts on your phone. You can use Microsoft Authenticator with Apple Watch as well. Finally, the app has an account recovery feature, which is useful when you switch phones.
Google Authenticator is a no-frills 2FA app that works with almost all online accounts. It was one of the first authenticator apps on the market so it’s the baseline for 2FA apps. You connect accounts through a QR code and Google Authenticator will generate a TOTP for you without an Internet connection. Although it’s simple and easy to use, the app lacks some of the features of other authenticator apps; it doesn’t do password management or account recovery. Also, if you have an Android device, the built-in 2FA is more useful than the Google Authenticator app anyway.
Duo Mobile is an enterprise 2FA app that manages authentication for multiple users. The free version works well for individual consumers, too. The app is available on watchOS, Windows, and macOS as well as mobile, so you can use it just about anywhere. Duo Mobile also has a nice security feature that prevents you from taking screenshots (on Android only). Backups are encrypted as well, in Google Drive for Android and iCloud for iPhone. Duo Mobile lacks some of the more advanced features of other 2FA apps, but it supports more services.
Authy is a favorite among authenticator apps because it’s rich with features, supports all the same services as Google Authenticator, and supports encrypted backups for free. Authy provides two-factor authentication on iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, macOS, Linux, and as a Google Chrome extension. The app also syncs across devices, although you have to download it and set it up first on a smartphone. The user interface is simple and the app is straightforward to navigate. On top of all that, Authy also supports crypto wallets.
The LastPass Authenticator app comes from LastPass, the free password management tool. Naturally, the two integrate well together so if you already use LastPass for password management online, the LastPass Authenticator is a good choice. You can create backups of your authenticator accounts in your LastPass vault, making it easy to move to a new phone. Unlike other authenticator apps, the LastPass app provides verification with push notifications. While LastPass Authenticator is a little light on features, it’s useful if you want a password manager and authenticator in one.
andOTP makes the list because it has all the same features as other authenticator apps, but it’s open-source. You can use it with any service that supports TOTP and the app is easy to use. andOTP also does encrypted backups, which requires a password that you set to decrypt. If you ever need to restore your account, you can do so through OpenPGP or with a tool from the andOTP community on GitHub. Being open-source, andOTP has a few more security features than other authenticator apps, such as tap-to-reveal and a panic button that will wipe everything on your device with just one tap. The downside to openOTP is that it only supports Android.
Stay secure with 2FA apps
There’s no reason not to use a 2FA app. It’s free, takes minutes to set up, and most apps are very easy to use. If a few minutes of your day and an extra app on your phone is all it takes to add another layer of security to your online accounts, it’s worth it.
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