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The Drawbacks of Two-Factor Authentication

by on February 14, 2019

John Doe wanted an email address so that he could get a job. According to DMR Business statistics, as of October 26, 2018 there were 1.5 billion Gmail accounts, making Gmail one of the most utilized free email services available. In order to create the Gmail account, he needed to enable two-factor authentication. He borrowed his girlfriend’s cellphone to set this up.

Two-factor authentication is highly recommended for digital protection. According to The Independent, “In the space of 12 months, (Google) found 788,000 login credentials stolen via keyloggers (tools that secretly record every key you press), 12 million stolen via phishing (a method of tricking you into giving up your personal information), and 3.3 billion exposed by third-party data breaches.”  Cyber security issues like this force companies like Google to implement steps like two-factor authentication to increase security for their clients.

A few months later John Doe came to the library to get help accessing his email when he and his girlfriend broke up. He knows his password and can go to any public computer to sign in, but two-factor authentication keeps sending codes to the ex-girlfriend’s cell phone. Now he can’t get into his email. He knows that one of the places he was job hunting has emailed him, but he can’t check it. No job means no smartphone or other two-factor authentication device.  

Two-factor authentication has a harsher impact on some patrons who may be less likely to have the financial security needed to maintain the same cell phone contract over long periods of time or continue to have access to the original cell phone that was used at the time of account set up. According to PEW, data shows 44% of lower-income smartphone users have canceled or cut off service because of the expense.

Many factors combine together to make job seeking and other necessary online interactions even more difficult. Patrons such as John Doe are less likely to have the means or know-how to deal with increased smartphone security.  Public libraries need to find methods to assist these patrons. Has your library?


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