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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Protect your Gmail account with Google's two-step authentication

If you want your Gmail account to be as safe as possible, using the optional two-step authentication is the way to go. We'll show you how it works and what it involvesSecurity pays off – especially when it comes to your email account. What surprisingly few users realize is that if it falls prey to a hacker, almost your whole existence on the web can be compromised.

After all, even if your passwords can't be found in your mails per se, most online services are quite keen on sending out a new one to your mail address if the hacker claims to have lost it. This typically concerns forum accounts, social networks and online games just as much as it does services directly associated with your bank account like on-demand streaming sites and online shops. Easily reason enough to warrant a few precautions.

For starters, users with run-of-the-mill or global passwords should take a second, more scrutinizing look at their basic security, while more delicate mail accounts with important information might even qualify for additional safety measures. Luckily, Google's webmail service Gmail provides just that with its built-in two-step authentication. Here's how it works and how you can activate it.

Gmail two-step authentication: The mechanics behind it

To gain access to your mail account whilst using the two-way authentication, you will first need to enter your regular password just as usual. After doing so, a second prompt will pop up, asking you to enter yet another password that won't be provided on your current computer. Instead, Google will send it to you by means of an SMS, voice mail or a smartphone app, thus adding a second layer of protection against any hacking attempts.

While this may seem rather elaborate and bothersome at first, it isn't actually all that obtrusive. As long as you keep accessing your account from the same device, you only need to reenter the secondary code every 30 days. If not, you can just request a new one at any time. And if you don't happen to have your smartphone at hand, you can even print out a list of backup codes to use in emergencies.
Gmail two-step authentication: Disadvantages

There is one major drawback, however: After activating the two-step authentication, many Google services and devices will ask you to enter a new password for them once. These “application-specific” passwords can be generated in the web interface of your Google account and must be assigned to all of your Google services that aren't part of the two-step routine. This most commonly includes Google apps for Android smartphones and iPads, such as Youtube Mobile or the Gmail app itself. Naturally, this can mean a lot of work for avid users of Google products. You can read more about this security measure on Google's documentation page.

Gmail two-step authentication: How to activate the two-step authentication

Head to and log-in to your account. Look for the small arrow to the top right and click on it to get to “Google Account Management”. Follow the path „Security“ > Using two-step verification“ and click on “edit”. This will take you to an setup assistant that will guide you step by step through the activation process. Make sure to have your (smart or normal) phone ready, as you will need it to receive the first code via SMS or voice mail. After everything is set, you will also receive an email with numerous useful links, which can take you to the respective options to generate the “application-specific” passwords as well as the backup-codes.
Gmail two-step authentication: Using the smartphone app

If the Google Authenticator app is going to be your tool of choice, you will need to connect it to your Google account. This can be most easily done with the help of a PC that is already logged into the two-step authentication section of your account management page. Search for the area with links called “Android”, “iPhone” and even “Blackberry” and click on the one the applies to your device to start the process. This usually involves simply scanning a bar code to configure the app with all necessary details of your account. Afterwards, it should be ready for use with your new and more secure Gmail account.

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