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Security experts applaud Apple's new two-factor authentication

Gregg Keizer | March 25, 2013
Option locks Apple IDs, stymies account hijacking

Apple two-factor security

Apple now offers optional two-factor authentication to lock down iTunes, iCloud and Apple Store accounts.

There's no evidence that Apple is using such an approach, Storms acknowledged, but it could. "They own the infrastructure [for Find My iPhone] on the server side, the client side, the application, and so on," he noted.

Apple also took customer service out of the equation, instead providing a 14-character recovery key for password resets or when the iOS device assigned to receive passcodes has been lost or stolen.

That's important. Last summer the hack of Wired reporter Mat Honan Apple ID was commandeered when attackers convinced a company support representative to give them access to his account.

Several other well-known Web services have also recently added optional two-factor authentication to secure their users' accounts, often after their networks were breached.

Dropbox, for example, added two-factor last August after usernames and passwords were stolen from another website, then used to access accounts. Facebook debuted two-factor in 2011. And Evernote, which had to reset 50 million passwords earlier this month after a hack, promised to speed up work on two-factor authentication.

Apple, while not the last major technology company to add two-factor, was certainly not at the forefront. "They seem to be slow to implement all kinds of things that seem so obvious to everyone else," said Storms.

Even so, Storms acknowledged the company's expertise. "Two-factor is two-factor is two-factor. You either implement it correctly or it's not two-factor," said Storms. "What's going to make the difference is how convenient they make it for the end user. And as we know, Apple has a seriously-good history at making good user interfaces. If anyone can make two-factor so friendly that everyone wants to use it, Apple is the one to pull it off."

Apple's move came just in time to give customers a way to protect their accounts from a password-reset hack revealed Friday by The Verge, which had found instructions online that showed how to reset an Apple ID password using only a user's date of birth and the account's associated email address. By day's end, Apple had fixed the vulnerability and restored the iForgot password-reset site.

Apple will roll out two-factor authentication in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, then add other countries down the line.

The company has also posted an FAQ with more information about its two-factor authentication.


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