Social Media and Security: Two Factor Authentication

robert.m.coulter@gmail.com
Robert Coulter Writer, Authentify

Posted on March 19th 2013

Social Media and Security: Two Factor Authentication

ImageSocial media has become a truly major part of the internet and World Wide Web during the last couple of years and by major part, we’re talking to the tune of over 1 billion worldwide users, many of them major corporations, non-governmental organizations, charities and millions of small businesses.

In fact, for many groups with an online presence, their social media accounts represent the foundation and main platform of that presence, making them at least as important as a website would be.

And that is where the meat of the problem lies; social media accounts are becoming extraordinarily important to many of those who use them and yet their security is often ridiculously weak. In fact, no serious business website that is so important to a company’s or organization’s reputation would ever get a pass for being as weakly secured as the typical Twitter or Facebook account is.

Furthermore, the losses in reputation and valuable sensitive information that can easily happen because of some mass account hack to Facebook would be a total, genuine disaster for many of those who entirely depend on their social media pages for their online presence.

However, this very problem hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other major social platforms, and they’re starting to make the kind of changes that take account security much more seriously.

Twitter Floats Two Factor Authentication

Recently the Twitter handle of the famous Burger King fast food chain was hijacked by hackers who then went on to cause some major havoc on the BurgerKing feed. While neither Twitter or the hamburger chain are slipping up with many technical details, the most likely scenario is that the hijackers simply got their hands on the single password needed to access the account, maybe by guessing it, stealing it or possibly even gathering enough data to try going through the “forgot your password system” Twitter has set up.

Either way, the attack underscored the need for much tighter access security and before you know it, Twitter is now looking for specialist programmers to help it develop a two factor authentication system that will finally put the social media giant in the same security league as its biggest competitors Google and Facebook.

If they’re serious about implementing two factor access, Twitter will most likely implement the practical and easy to arrange system based around sending a prearranged passcode to its users mobile phones or other devices whenever they try to access their twitter account with their original password. This easy to set up routine is what is already being played with by Facebook on an increasing scale (they certainly have been getting pushy with asking for their users mobile numbers) and has already been thoroughly in place for all Google accounts, including its social media service Google+, since at least 2010.

Even social media related services such as the highly useful and very popular cloud sharing system DropBox have been getting in on the enhanced security game by rolling out their own two factor access system.

Google+: Ahead of the Curve

While Twitter is just learning thanks to the painful little BurgerKing lesson, Google has already had at least a couple of bad experiences in both 2011 and 2012, both of which taught it the value of really strong access protection. Couple this with the fact that Google products and services are commonly used for a very wide range of critical customer data storage needs and you get a clear alert for better security.

Google too this seriously and their two factor authentication system, relying on a mix of mobile phone based login sequences and preselected secondary authentication keys has been available for use on pretty much every Google service such as YouTube channels, Gmail and more recently Google+ since 2010. After suffering hacks in 2011 and 2012, the search giant became even more insistent with its two factor options and commonly advises its users about how to activate them and the importance of doing so.

Facebook and Two Factor Authentication

Facebook has also done a fairly admirable job of keeping security options highly robust. While the company still has room for improvement and doesn’t really match Google in terms of protection strength, they have implemented a number of voluntary options that can really protect important Facebook accounts you might have, that is, if you know how to take advantage of these security protocols.

For one thing, Facebook offers up list of protective features that users themselves can activate, including: Login notification, which will tell you via email or mobile phone message any time your account is being accessed,  a “Trusted Friend” network of up to five close friends that can help you access your account if you’re locked out accidentally and a genuine two factor authentication feature that lets you set up one time passcodes for delivery to your mobile device so that you can use them in addition to your regular password any time you log in from an unrecognized device.

All of these settings can be activated for any Facebook page from within the “Account Settings” tab under “Security.”

Basic Security 101

Aside from all of the above security settings for Google, Facebook and soon also Twitter, some additional basic things that can really keep your account secure include using strong, hard to guess passwords that you don’t easily share, being careful about who gets administrative access to your social media business pages and the most obvious security step of all; simply not leaving your account open on any computer after you’re done accessing it.

The Benefits of Spreading Two Factor Authentication

The fact that all these strong secure access features are spreading amongst the competing social networks is nothing but a positive development for millions of users. We’re being shown that the companies themselves are taking seriously the importance of their platform services to our online presence, business needs and web based networking. Additionally, we can feel safer using the diverse social media tools that exist for even our most important business or other needs.

image: security/shutterstock

robert.m.coulter@gmail.com

Robert Coulter

Writer, Authentify

Robert Coulter writes about security and two factor authentication for Authentify.

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