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There’s a quick and easy way to be more secure online

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
two-factor authentication

You probably think your social media, email and online banking accounts are pretty secure. After all, you use different complex passwords for each and never log into them from public computers. Yeah, your online accounts are locked down tighter than Fort Knox.

Except they’re not.

With a little bit of social engineering, an experienced hacker could get the passwords for your online accounts in no time. And let’s face it, if SplashData’s annual list of most popular passwords is any indication, your “complex” passwords are probably nothing better than “123456” and “qwerty.”

Read more: What to do if hackers hold your computer hostage and demand cash

But there’s a quick and easy way to significantly increase your online security: two-factor authentication. Two-factor, sometimes called two-step, authentication is basically the deadbolt for your online accounts.

When enabled, two-factor authentication will automatically send you an alert via a text message, email or third-party app whenever a login attempt is made on one of your online accounts. That message will include a random set of numbers that you’ll have to use to log into your app or online account.

For example, if you set up two-factor authentication for Twitter, the next time you log into the app or website from your phone or computer, you’ll be directed to a page asking you to enter an authentication number. You’ll then receive a text message with the number. Enter it and you’ll be signed into your account. It adds an extra step to your log-in process, but it’s the best way to ensure you’re the only person who can log into your various online accounts.

As an added benefit, it also lets you know when someone is trying to get into your account without your knowledge by sending you your two-factor credentials when a log-in attempt is made. If you’re not the one trying to get into your account, you know someone else definitely is.

If you don’t want to give some hacker or other punk easier access to your online accounts, set up two-factor authentication on your email, social and payment services. The extra step of entering a second password can be a bit annoying, but it’s well worth the hassle.

And if you’re not at least considering two-factor authentication after reading this, you should probably just delete your online accounts and start communicating via handwritten letter or morse code.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.