Cybersecurity Blog

Authenticator apps, the good, the bad and the ugly 04/03/19



With compromised passwords floating around the dark web like masses of lemmings, two-factor authentication is moving from  nice-to-have to a must. Unfortunately, the most commonly used second factor is a SMS text message. Although this method is easy for account providers to implement, it can also be compromised.

Fortunately, more and more account providers are recognizing this and they are integrating with authenticator apps. An authenticator app is a phone app that either generates an authorization code for you or provides the user with a prompt they can respond to. As the phone number is not used to deliver the code, the 2FA cannot be bypassed by a SIM swap.

There are several well known authenticator apps on the market. The top ones are Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, 1PasswordLastPass Authenticator and Authy. All are free to try out. For the most part, they work pretty much the same way. You set them up by either scaning a QR code or entering a key to register your account with the app. When you go to login, the code appears in the app with a count down showing you how long it is valid for. You enter the code and shazam, you are in!

What sets them apart are the added features. Lets start with Google Authenticator. As it is free, simple to use. As it is by Google it is often highly rated by reviewers. However, the devil is in the details and one huge detail is you cannot backup your authenticator keys. This is a big problem if you get a new phone. It is also the reason why it is so poorly rated on the Apple Store. No one wants to spend days re-authenticating dozens of sites. This puts it squarely in the category of ugly.

Next up is Microsoft Authenticator. It works pretty much like the Google one for non Microsoft accounts. However, with Microsoft accounts you can use your phone’s biometrics or PIN to login instead of entering a password. This is a slick feature if you use a lot of Microsoft products and its free. Unlike Google Authenticator you can backup your authorization keys, but you must have a Microsoft account to do it. I put this one in the good category for Microsoft users and in the bad category for everyone else.

On to 1Password. This app is actually a password manager with an authenticator built in. If you are looking for a full feature password solution, this would be your tool. It is free to try, but you have to purchase it once your trial is over. Like the Microsoft app you can backup your keys and it generates authentication codes for its second factor. This one is also rated good.

We finally arrive at my favorite, LastPass Authenticator. The free version functions on its own like the Microsoft and Google products. However, if you purchase the LastPass password manager you can backup your keys plus you get this nice little feature that lets you respond to a prompt instead of entering in a code. Winner, winner chicken dinner!! No more entering codes puts this one at the top of my list. Not only is it a full feature password solution, but it makes securing your accounts way less work.

Lastly, is Authy. This little app is free to use, does the job and you can backup your codes. It is a solid solution that is always highly rated. if you don’t want to pay for an authenticator, this is your app. It definitely falls on the good side.

As determining which app is better for you can largely depend on your personal likes and dislikes I recommend you try them out before you commit long term.

On a final note, although authenticator apps may be more secure they still use your phone for the authentication process. If you lose your phone or forget it, you won’t be able to get into your account. Therefore before you enable any type of phone based two-factor authentication, make sure you can print off backup codes and store them in your wallet or purse. If you lose or forget your phone, you can use the the codes to get into your account.  Not all accounts have backup codes, the LastPass password manager is one of them, so do your homework before you enable 2FA.


How to enable two-factor authentication on Instagram 04/3/19



Two-factor authentication (2FA) keeps criminals out even when your password is compromised. With passwords regularly being stolen in data breaches, more and more account providers are offering this feature. Instagram is one of them.

They allow you to use an authenticator app or a text message for your second factor. However, removing an authenticator app is not very user friendly (it took 24 hours) so I suggest sticking with the text messaging until this improves.

Worth noting is that Instagram does not remember your devices. So every time you login, you have to enter a confirmation code. This may make 2FA a no go if you access it on your computer and log in and out of your account frequently. If you just use it on your phone, then 2FA is a good option. Otherwise you may want to wait until they upgrade it.

To enable two-factor authentication on Instagram:
  1. Login into your Instagram account.
  2. Click the person icon in the upper right hand corner. Your profile appears.
  3. Click the cog next to the Edit Profile button. A menu drops down.
  4. Select Privacy and Security. The Privacy and Security settings appear.
  5. Select  Edit Two-Factor Authentication Setting. You may have to scroll down to find it.  The  2FA settings appear.
  6. Select Use Text Message.  The Phone number text box appears.
  7. Enter your phone number.
  8. Click the Next button. A code is texted to your phone and a Confirmation Code text box appears.
  9. Enter the code texted to your phone into the Confirmation Code text box.
  10. Click the Done button. A list of Backup Codes appear.
  11. Print off the Backup Codes for use in case you loose your phone or it gets stolen.

Another shortfall of 2FA in Instagram is if you turn it off and then wish to turn it on again, you will have to logout of your account and then login again before you will be given the option to re enable it.



How to enable 2FA on LinkedIn – 03/25/19



Two-factor authentication keeps criminals out even when your password is compromised. LinkedIn offers its user this feature.  It calls it two-step verification (2SV) and it is easy to enable.

Funny enough LinkedIn requires two steps to enable 2SV. First you have to add a cell phone number to your account, then you enable 2SV.

Step 1 – add a phone number to your LinkedIn account:
  1. Open LinkedIn.
  2. Click on your profile pic. A menu appears.
  3. Select Settings & Privacy.
  4. Click the Account tab.
  5. Select Login and security from the menu on the left.
  6. Select Phone numbers. The section expands.
  7. Select Canada from the country field.
  8. Enter your cell phone number in the New phone number field.
  9. Click the Send code button. A password dialog box appears.
  10. Enter your password and click Done. A code is texted to your phone.
  11. Enter the code in the text box.
  12. Click the Verify button.
Step 2 – enable two-factor authentication on LinkedIn:

If you have just added your phone number and you are still looking at the Login and security section, go to step number six. Otherwise start with step one.

  1. Open LinkedIn.
  2. Click on your profile pic. A menu appears.
  3. Select Settings & Privacy.
  4. Click the Account tab.
  5. Select Login and security from the menu on the left.
  6. Select Two-step verification. The section expands.
  7. Click Turn on. The Password dialog box appears.
  8. Enter your password and click Done. A verification code is texted to your phone.
  9. Enter the code in the text box.
  10. Click the Verify button.

How to enable two-factor authentication on your Facebook account – 03/26/19



With the latest news of Facebook storing unhashed passwords in clear view of their employees, now is a great time to enable two-factor authentication. Doing so will keep your Facebook account secure even if one of their employees decide to have a little fun at your expense.  As with the two-step verification that Google uses, you are only required to enter the security code if you are logging into an unknown device.

To enable two-factor authentication on your Facebook account:
  1. Login to Facebook.
  2. Click the down arrow on the menu bar. A list drops down.
  3. Select Settings. The General Account Settings appear.
  4. From the menu on the left, select Security and Login. The Security and Login page appears.
  5. Click Use two-factor authentication. The Two-Factor Authentication page appears.
  6. Click the Get Started button. A dialog box appears.
  7. Select how you want authenticate your login, with a text message or an authenticator app.
  8. Click the Next button. You will either be asked to enter a phone number or set up the authenticator app.
  9. Click the Next button. A code is texted to your phone or a prompt appears on your phone.
  10. Enter the code into the text box or tap on the prompt on your phone.
  11. Click the Next button. A notification dialog box appears.
  12. Click Finish.

Once it is enabled, it is a good idea to print off recovery codes or select another backup option in case you loose your phone or it is stolen.


Don’t want to rely on a phone for 2FA? Use a security key – 03/11/19



A security key is a small plastic fob that you carry with you or leave plugged into your computer. It replaces your phone as the second factor in  two factor authentication (2FA).  The keys can be used with most accounts that offer 2FA and some can be used to login to your Mac or PC.  Each key has it’s own advantages and disadvantages however the most popular keys available in Canada are made by Yubico.  While there are other manufacturers out there, their keys work with more accounts than any other.

They offer a variety of models, each one with its own set of features. Some stay plugged into your computer. Others you carry on your key chain. Some you can use with mobile devices while others are just for computer use.  It can get a bit confusing trying to determine which key is the best fit for you, however their website does have a quick quiz that can help.

Their most popular and least expensive model is the Security Key. At only $20 US it does everything the average home user needs a security key to do. The only thing it is missing is NFC capability. In fact it is so popular it is currently out of stock.  The good news is they have decided to offer their upgraded key with NFC capability for the same low price.

The key is super easy to set up. Just login to your account and find the 2FA settings. Select security key as your second factor, insert the key and push the button. Voila, the key is setup for the account. When you want to login, you insert your key into your USB port and push the button or tap the key to the back of your NFC enabled phone.

No fussing with verification codes or phone prompts. You do however, have to keep your key with you. As with any other 2FA method. It is a good idea to have a backup plan should something happen to the key. It is recommended that you purchase a second one in case the first one is lost.  The good news is buying two will only set you back $36 US.

The key is water proof and super durable so it will survive being tossed around on your key chain. It is also nice and flat so it hangs easily with your other keys.  Here are just some of the accounts that it works with.

  • 1Password
  • Blogger
  • Dashlane
  • Digidentiy
  • Docusign
  • Dropbox
  • EA
  • Epic Games
  • Eve Online
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Instagram
  • KeePass
  • Kickstarter
  • LastPass
  • LogonBox
  • MailChimp
  • macOS
  • Microsoft
  • Nintendo
  • PassPack
  • Reddit
  • Trello
  • Twitter
  • WordPRess
  • YouTube

For a complete list of accounts that use Yubicon’s Security Key, visit their website.  If you are serious about using 2FA and don’t want to use your phone, a security key is really the only way to go.




Enabling 2FA on LinkedIn – 03/07/19



Two-factor authentication (2FA) and it’s cousin two-step verification (2SV) ensure that your account stays secure even if your password is compromised.  Not all account providers offer 2FA or 2SV, however LinkedIn does.

To enable 2SV on your LinkedIn account you must first add your phone number to your LinkedIn profile. To add your phone number to LinkedIn:

  1. Login to LinkedIn.
  2. Click your photo. A menu drops down.
  3. Select Settings & Privacy.
  4. Click the Account tab.
  5. Under Login and security, select Phone numbers.
  6. Select Add phone number.
  7. Select Canada from the drop down list.
  8. Enter your phone number into the text box.
  9. Click Send code. A dialog box appears asking for your password.
  10. Enter your password.
  11. Press ENTER on your keyboard. The verification code is sent to your phone.
  12. Enter the verification code into the text box on your computer.
  13. Click Verify.

To enable two-step verification on LinkedIn:

  1. Login to LinkedIn.
  2. Click your photo. A menu drops down.
  3. Select Settings & Privacy.
  4. Click the Account tab.
  5. Select Two-step verification. You may have to scroll down to find it.
  6. Click Turn on. A dialog box appears asking for your password.
  7. Enter your password.
  8. Press ENTER on your keyboard. The verification code is sent to your phone.
  9. Enter the verification code into the text box on your computer.
  10. Click Verify.

Please note that although I have provided step by step instructions, account providers are constantly changing their privacy settings, features and procedures. They like to keep us on our toes. They certainly don’t want us to start feeling comfortable using their tool.  That might lead us to believing  we are in control of our own privacy and security, that would never do.  Am I sounding bitter? So sorry, that won’t do either. Let’s reset. Please check LinkedIn’s help files for the most accurate and up to date instructions on how to enable 2SV as these instructions may become obsolete before they are even published. Sorry, I tried to reset. I couldn’t do it. Happy enabling!


Why enabling two-factor authentication is more important now than ever – 02/28/19



Two-factor authentication (2FA) and it’s cousin, two-step verification is available on a variety of accounts such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Twitter and Instagram. When it is enabled, after you successfully enter your password on a strange computer you are asked to respond to a prompt or enter a verification code sent to your phone.  This ensures that even if your password is compromised, your account will stay secure. That is unless the criminal has your phone as well.

If that is the case, you are having one heck of a day and require support that is outside the scope of this article. I hope your phone is password protected and I wish you good luck. I digress. Back to why enabling 2 FA has become so important.

Last month we saw enormous lists of login credentials popup on the dark web. While previously miscreants had to purchase this valuable information, these large collections of usernames and passwords are now available for free. Aspiring Kevin Mitniks the world over can now try their hand at cybercrime, no upfront credential purchase needed.

As a result we have seen a big jump in credential stuffing attacks. Some of them on home security cameras with terrifying results.  Ideally you should have a unique password for each account. However if this particular habit has not yet been entrenched, two-factor authentication will save your bacon

Although registering your email on Have I Been Pwned, will let you know if your password has been compromised, it takes time before a data breach shows up on their radar. With 2FA as soon as you receive a verification code or prompt on your phone,  you know someone has stolen your password. This early warning system allows you to change the passwords on your accounts that don’t have 2FA before any damage is done.

Hopefully I have convinced you that two-factor authentication is no longer something that is nice to have, but is essential to securing your data. The next question is, “How do I start using it?”. Thankfully, there is this really great quick reference guide that walks you through the steps on how to enable 2FA on your Mount Royal email account. And yes, I wrote it…that’s why it’s really great. If you have any questions or need some help with the process, please feel free to contact me.

You can also come down to Main Street on March 13, April 10 or May 7. I will be there with my prize wheel. If you talk to me about two-factor authentication, you can spin and win.


Hackers thwart two step verification with phishing emails – 01/02/19

Those clever hackers are at it again. They have figured out a way to get around two step verification on Gmail and Yahoo accounts.  They are using fake alerts to lure their victims into giving up verification codes.

The scam works like this.  First you receive an email saying your account may have been compromised. The email includes a button to take you to your account to check its activity.  However, when you click the button you are sent to the hackers web page which looks like an official login page. When you enter your password another fake web page appears asking for a verification code.  All of this seems perfectly normal as the pages look just like the real thing.

Unfortunately, the hacker has recorded your login credentials. They then use those credentials to login to the actual account website which generates a verification code that is sent to your phone. You receive the code seconds after entering your credentials, so you think nothing of it. You enter the verification code into the fake website. The code is recorded by the hackers and they enter it on the real two step verification page. To keep you from getting suspicious, you are sent to another fake web page asking you to change your password.  Once you “change your password” you are redirected to a real account web page. They now have access to your account and you are unaware something is amiss.

How do you protect against this type of attack? Don’t use links in emails to verify possible account compromises. Instead use a bookmark or search result to visit the account website and check the security status or change your password that way.


Criminals find a way around two step verification in Google – 04/11/18

Two step verification keeps criminals from accessing your account if your password is compromised. It is a great way to add an added level of security to your accounts. However, enterprising criminals have found a way around it.

How did they do it?  Is there some back door that they found? Have they created a new brute force hack technique? Nope. They just ask for the verification code. Low tech social engineering strikes again.

Here is how it works. They send you a text that looks like it comes from Google notifying you of a password reset. If you don’t want your password reset, you are instructed to text the word STOP. Once you do, you are asked to text 822 back to be sent a verification code to stop the password reset.  Once you receive the verification code, they ask you to text them the code back to confirm that you don’t want the password reset.  Pretty clever huh?

Of course what is happening is they are trying to get into your account but can’t because they don’t have the verification code. By playing the stop the password reset game they are hoping to catch you off guard so you just sent them the  code.

For the record, no one will ask you if you don’t want to do something with your account.  As soon as someone asks you for confirmation to NOT do something, you know the jig is up.  This is just another reminder that we have to read our texts and emails carefully and question anything that seems odd. The criminals count on you to react without thinking. Stop them in their tracks, think before you react.


Increase the security of your Google account with two step verification – 02/08/17


It seems like every day, we hear about a new security breach. Yahoo, Adobe, Ashley Madison;  all breached leaving their account holders feeling violated and wondering if their data or identify are safe. To make matters worse these breaches are often not identified until months or years after the attack, giving criminals plenty of time to capitalize on the stolen information. Even if you have a strong password, it cannot protect you if your account provider has its user’s login credentials stolen.

As mentioned in a previous post,  many account providers are now offering two step verification. How does it work? You set up the service by giving them your cell phone number. The next time you login you are asked for your password and then an verification code that is texted to your phone. Worried about losing your phone? You can print off backup codes or give them an alternative cell phone number.

Once two step verification is enabled, if a cyber criminal tries to login to your account you will receive a text with an verification code. Not only does it keep the criminal from logging in to your account, it also alerts you that your login credentials have been compromised and that you need to change your password.

ITS highly recommends that you enable two step verification on all your accounts that offer it, especially on your Google account.  If you are a user who has access to sensitive data or admin access, our recommendation is even stronger.  To make it as easy as possible to enable it, we have created a lovely step by step document that gives clear instructions. We also encourage you to call the Service Desk if you wish to enable it but are uncomfortable doing it on your own.