Google will allow users of Gmail and its other free online services to employ a second form of verification when logging in that uses one-time passwords transmitted over mobile or land-line phones.
The ability to use two-factor authentication, which will be rolled out over the next few days, is designed to make it considerably harder to break into Google accounts. Despite repeated admonishments, a surprising number of people use the same weak password for multiple accounts, making it easy to gain the credentials used to access sensitive emails and documents.
Google's 2-step verification lets users receive a one-time password by text message or a voice call each time they enter their password into the Gmail login panel. The additional code is required to access the account. The security measure, which goes well beyond what many banks and e-commerce sites offer, was first made available to Google Apps customers in September.
“It's an extra step, but it's one that significantly improves the security of your Google Account because it requires the powerful combination of both something you know – your our username and password – and something that only you should have – your phone,” Nishit Shah, a product manager for Google Security, wrote. “A hacker would need access to both of these factors to gain access to your account.”
The service can be set up to work with non-web apps such as mobile Gmail, desktop Picassa and POP and IMAP email clients. To turn it on, click on the “user settings” panel. Set up may take about 15 minutes. ®