What is the Difference Between 2-Factor Authentication and 2-Step Verification?

Staying safe and protected online is getting harder each day. As threats to our security grow more sophisticated, so too must our defenses. A humble password isn’t enough to protect yourself anymore. We need 2-step verification and 2-factor authentication methods just to begin to stand a chance against a hacker’s repertoire. But what’s the difference between the two?

What’s the difference between the two methods?

With similar-sounding names, it’s easy to see why many get 2-step verification and 2-factor authentication (2FA) mixed up. The difference can be found in the definition of the word “authentication” as it’s used in a cybersecurity context.

What is 2-Factor Authentication (2FA)?

When you want to log in to one of your accounts protected by 2FA, most times, you’ll be prompted to enter your password first. Remember — a password is easy enough to crack for any experienced hacker, especially when over 80% of us reuse the same password for multiple accounts.

2FA is the next security step, during which you’ll be prompted to enter the second part of authentication — the cybercriminal will find it particularly tricky to break through it. But what pieces of information can be considered as authentication-worthy? Most security experts agree that the criteria for authentication information should be:

  • Something you know. A password is normally used for this option.

  • Something you have. A secondary device, authenticator app, or keycard.

  • Something that’s unique to you. This typically involves biometrics — face, retinal, and finger or thumbprint scans.

But not all 2FA-protected accounts start with a password — it can be a combination of any of the three above options.

What is 2-Step verification?

2-step verification is the above method but only using two forms of “something you know”. For example, if you were to log in to an account protected by 2-step verification, you’d have to enter your password first and then provide a secondary piece of similar data, like a PIN code or a one-time passcode (OTP). While they are technically two different pieces of data, they still belong to the same type of information.

2-step verification or 2FA: which is more secure?

The main security difference between these two forms of account protection is how hard a hacker would find it to break through them. Let’s compare the information they would need to break into each account.

While 2-step verification still improves your chances of not getting hacked, the information needed to break into the account can potentially be found in one place. If a criminal were to break into your email account, or even into your home Wi-Fi, they would have access to everything. All the information they need could be found on your phone or home network, and it wouldn’t take long for any hacker worth their salt to dig up that data.

With 2FA, however, the cybercriminal would need to be fluent in multiple forms of thievery. Not only would they need to know your password but they’d also need to replicate your fingerprint — an authenticating piece of data that is unique to every human being. If you aren’t using biometrics, they may need to physically rob you of an authenticator to break into the account. Luckily, the majority of hackers aren’t that brazen.

Why is it essential to use more than one security method to protect your account?

Whether you’re using 2-step verification or 2FA, the fact that you’re employing either method is a good thing. Hackers prey on the unprepared, and they’re scavengers. If any quarry looks like it would take too much effort to take down, they will move on to easier pickings.

Don’t stop there, however. If you want to keep on top of your online security, you need to have a proactive attitude. The first step to creating a secure account is thinking of a strong password that no one could figure out.

NordPass password manager does this all for you, automatically generating complex strings of symbols for your accounts. There’s no need to memorize them either. NordPass will autofill your login details for your convenience. Staying safe has never been so easy.

Chad Hammond
Verified author
Chad loves traveling and technology. His global view and open-mindedness add interesting angles to various security topics. He has already traveled to over 80 countries and is not planning to stop any time soon.
Subscribe to NordPass news