Living with 2FA
Two-factor authentication has become a necessary part of life for access to critical websites, such as those that deal with your banking and your health. For those of us who are getting older or have parents who are getting older, access to some of those websites could be a life-and-death matter in extreme cases. You may have access to an account or have given someone access to it. But the 2FA is likely still tied to a cell phone, presenting an authentication issue. Workarounds are not easy.
Increasingly, 2FA is a requirement, not an option. If you opt not to use 2FA, you run a security risk. If 2FA is required, many people choose to have a code sent to their cell phone as a text message. The idea behind that is that the user has the device in their hand and is the only one who can see the code. It’s a safe choice. (OK, there’s a chance that someone might be able to intercept the text or that you might be in a kidnap situation. For most of us, the probability is practically nil.)
Fortunately, a cell phone number is not the only method of authentication. Most sites that require 2FA ask you to have an email address on file, too, and you can have that code sent there. If you or someone acting on your behalf has access to that email account, it’s easy to get the code and complete the authentication step.
Those are the easy situations.
Unfortunately, we’re asked to help reactivating and accessing old email addresses and old financial websites. The reasons are varied; helping an elderly parent or spouse or family member is most common. Sometimes, you need access because someone has died. Sometimes, you need access to close up accounts that you forgot about and are no longer using. We find the biggest culprits there are when you open an account somewhere to take advantage of free stuff. You use it for a single transaction and forget about it. Then, all of a sudden, you run into trouble because somebody got into your long-forgotten account. Remember, there’s no such thing as free stuff.
The obvious step to prevent all such problems, of course, is to write down all the login info for all accounts you need for yourself or someone else – even those godforsaken freebies. Equally obvious, close all online accounts or email addresses that you no longer use.
If we need to gain access, it’s a tedious and risky process. We can try to follow all sorts of breadcrumbs from old texts and emails (“to” and “from” addresses, subject lines, dates) to see if there are clues to an access point. We need to be careful at every step along the way because just like in a computer game, one mistake can knock you out. Microsoft, for example, has an automated system that monitors access tries. When the system sees something it doesn’t like, it rejects any future tries. There’s no human intervention involved.
Sometimes, we can help our clients reset a Gmail password; sometimes we can’t.
The key to all this electronic poking around is that you need to know where the pitfalls are in each site’s process for resetting a password. Making the wrong move can strengthen the lockdown. You need to know when you’re jeopardizing the entire reset process.
If you need to deal with resetting login credentials, give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss the problem, process and risks. We want you to be able to make an informed decision on how we can help.