2FA? More like 2F-in-the-way: It seems no one wants me to pay for their services after all

Shut up and take my money


Something for the Weekend, Sir? "Buy me a beer?" Sure, I buy beers for perfect strangers all the time. But you will have to wait your turn. There is a queue, and the other strangers are more reluctant to accept my hospitality.

It is already 11pm and I am still sprawled across the sofa. I had been hoping for an early night but fat chance now. Pride is at stake. I will absolutely not go to bed until someone somewhere takes money from me.

So much for good intentions. Shortly before 10, I had settled down with my smartphone and a mug of vaguely chocolate-smelling chemicals dissolved in hot water to check my tasks for the next day.

Mmm tasks. I have been trying out a variety of taskmaster apps on my handset. This is because I had been told by colleagues that I would achieve greater efficiency at work and even obtain a warm glow of personal satisfaction by organising my obligations into a set of to-do lists and ticking off each item as I carry them out.

So there I am, scrolling downwards with a warm glow of personal satisfaction past three screenfuls of P1 flags, exclamation marks, and the word "OVERDUE" repeated in Roboto Black 900 upper case #E10600 until I find the tasks for tomorrow. Ah, here we go: an early start. Better sup up and go to bed.

At that moment, a message slides down from the top of the screen. It reminds me that I am on trial and I will shortly be due for committal. For a few seconds this sends me into a panic as I could have sworn I had thrown the police off the scent. Damn that court-appointed lawyer!

Oh, hang on, I mis-read that. It's telling me I am nearing the end of the app's free trial period and now is the time to commit to a subscription payment or lose the "pro" features I have been "enjoying."

I tap on the button labelled PRO to be reminded what those features might be and evaluate the pleasure I may obtain. There are two columns of ticks, with loads more ticks in the PRO column than the FREE column. Mmm ticks. I don't understand what the features refer to but the sheer number of ticks must mean my enjoyment of the PRO version borders on the obscene. Rock and roll! I'm ready to pay!

Tapping on PAY NOW exits the app, launches the app developer's webstore in my default browser and asks me to sign into my account. Naturally, I don't remember either the username or password I plucked from the ether on the day I installed the trial. I kind of wish the app – into which I had already been signed a few moments ago – would have done this for me but I guess it's all for the security best. So I launch my trusty open-source password database app to hunt for it.

"Buy me a beer?"

Although the password app is free, the German volunteer developer who wrote and maintains it always asks his users for modest donations at this time of year to coincide with Oktoberfest. Hence the "beer" request pop-up as soon as I launch the app. I can choose to send him the monetary equivalent of a large beer, or a half-litre, or just coke-and-fries.

Oh, go on, I'm feeling generous, so a large beer it is. I tap PAY NOW.

I am back in my default browser, a new tab prompting me to choose my method of payment. PayPal or credit card? Well, I am curled up on the sofa in my jim jams and can't be arsed to set off on a credit card hunt, nor do I remember the new PayPal credentials I set up recently for work-related software purchases. No worries, all this information is hashed away in my password app, so I switch back to it.

"Buy me a beer?"

My finger hovers over the NO button just so I can get past the message but I decide to do the right thing and act like an adult. Muttering "pissbuckets," I slide off the sofa and stomp noisily upstairs to my office, snatch my wallet petulantly from drawer and trudge back down while huffing as demonstratively as I can.

I transcribe the credit card details into the payment page and tap CONFIRM. The screen changes to something apparently designed by a MySpace fan: clunky fonts, non-adaptive layout, impossibly tiny text (some of it underlined, some of it – gulp – flashing), 3D-chisel-bevel buttons… in other words, an authentic banking confirmation page. I pinch and zoom four times so I can read what it says: it's telling me I have to enter a six-figure code that has been sent to my handset by SMS.

Naturally, this does not arrive. I tap on RESEND SMS. It still fails to arrive. I proceed to tap on this button repeatedly while yawning and only give up when it begins asking me to choose matching photos from a Captcha puzzle. Stick your fucking blurry traffic lights and motorbikes up your arse, I'm not playing.

Still no SMS has been received. No surprise, really: SMS as a means of 2FA never works at night-time. I'm not sure why this is, but it has always been thus. Oh well, I'll take a pot-shot at guessing my PayPal password. This will be no mean feat as I chose a password 24 characters long containing a mix of uppercase, lowercase, digits, special characters, emojis (one food, one vehicle, one building) and an animated GIF taken from an episode of Seinfeld that I have never seen because I have never watched any episodes of Seinfeld because it is not funny.

Right first time, back of the net!

PayPal is now asking me to enter a six-figure code generated by the Authenticator app on my handset. Ah yes, I remember switching to this method of 2FA for as many sign-ins as possible after being let down by SMS too often. Returning to my home screen, I also now remember that I have installed more than one app called Authenticator: in fact, I have a whole folder of them.

This is due to the big software publishers developing their own, keeping it all in-house. Microsoft has one, so does Adobe, and so do a whole bunch of others. They are all called Authenticator and none of them have icons to indicate which software company they're hardwired to. So I launch them all to find out.

By the time I get to the grey G icon, I realise I should have tried this one first. Scroll through and… here we go, my new PayPal account, and the number is… oh, it's changed. Right, now the number is… press and hold to copy the number… switch to my PayPal sign-in page… weird, my phone isn't responding… dammit, a dozen new notifications just loaded in at the top… swipe the bastards away!… At least my phone is responding again… I'm on the PayPal page… I press and hold to paste the number into the field… but it is too late and the code has already changed.

Buggeration, I will have to do it all again. But more notifications pile into the bar at the top, interrupting the flow just long enough again to render the code out of time for a second occasion.

I make a third attempt. Just for a moment it fools me into thinking it has worked, then the PayPal sign-in screen refreshes with a Captcha puzzle and asks me to click on the photo squares that depict a mugging.

Arse knobs. Shitey bollocks.

Enough of this. If you don't want my money, I won't insist. I'm off to bed for my early night and slurp down the last of my mug of cocoa. The drink is unpleasantly – and unexpectedly – cold which only darkens my mood. I swipe downwards, angrily, determined to uncover which buttock-brained app was interrupting me with notifications at this time of night… what, 11pm already??

It's a list of overdue tasks. ®

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He would have sent this column in on time if only he could find a to-do app that makes overdue tasks stand out from all the other overdue tasks. He has now set a new task in his task app to search for a new task app. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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