By Bob Delaurentis
Tech Talk 

Two-factor authentication explained

Also: Wireless blood pressure cuffs; Gameboy on iPhone

 

May 1, 2024 | View PDF



Q. What is two-factor authentication?

A. The most common authentication method uses an account name and a password. That has been true since the earliest days of computing. The account name/password combination is considered a single factor authentication method.

The problems created by passwords are well documented, and two-factor authentication is a technique developed to enforce security in the event a password falls into the wrong hands.

The second authentication factor typically requires the user to enter a second code in addition to the password. Sometimes this code is delivered via an email address. This route proves the user still has control of the associated email account, which is better than just a plain password. But the best two-factor authentication methods are completely independent of an email address.

The next method is to send a text message to your cellphone. This widely used method is also less desirable because mis-directing text messages is possible.

The last, most secure method uses an app that generates a code that expires every 30 seconds. The app can be standalone, like Google’s Authenticator app, or built into the operating system, like Apple’s iCloud Keychain.

This last method is still relatively uncommon, but as security requirements continue to evolve, I expect it will become more common.

The bottom line is that two-factor authentication should be used on any site that provides it. In most situations it is optional, but it is worth the effort to learn more about it and use it wherever possible.

Q. My old blood pressure monitor has finally stopped working, and it is time for a replacement. What do you recommend?

A. First off, I’m a technology writer, not a health care professional. Consider my answer as one person’s opinion in that context.

For the last four years I have used a Withings BPM Connect monitor, a battery operated wireless pressure cuff that automatically transmits each test result to the Withings app on my phone.

The BPM Connect is more expensive than traditional cuffs, but the absence of both a power cord and a tabletop console make the entire process feel much more luxurious and, frankly, the ease of use encourages me to test more often. Everything is contained in the cuff, and the only thing I need to do is change the battery every few months.

Doctors love data. I use my smartphone to send my physician a chart that shows the measurements since my last office visit. As a result he has a more complete picture of my cardiovascular health than would have been possible with only office tests.

The Connect can also be shared by multiple people, although the interface for switching users is a bit clumsy.

In tech, once you leave the wires behind, wired seems like a cumbersome throwback. The same as true with personal blood pressure monitors.

Q. What is the story behind the Delta Emulator? I get that it plays games but, considering it is free there must be a catch.

A. The Delta Emulator has a long history, and the only catch is that it requires extra work after installing it. Once set up however, it can play classic Nintendo games from an earlier era.

To appreciate emulation, keep in mind that as computers become more powerful, programmers can create special programs (emulators) that mimic older, less powerful hardware on new devices. Often these emulators are hobby projects created by programmers who enjoy using hardware that has long since become obsolete.

There are complex disputes about the legality of emulation. Not because of the emulators themselves, but because of the software that is installed under emulation, often known as ROMs.

These ROMs are typically files that recreate the contents of game cartridges that were used in early game consoles.

This entire debate has exploded recently because Apple, under pressure from regulators, has for the first time approved a widely used emulator in its App Store, the “Delta Emulator” app. Within days it became the most popular free app on the store.

That covers the backstory. If you want to explore emulation, I suggest searching the Web for the terms “Delta Emulator”, “ROMs,” and “legal” to investigate this topic further.

Wander the Web

Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:

How the Internet Keeps Working

Do not miss this incredible story about how a fleet of repair ships keeps the global Internet healthy.

http://www.theverge.com/c/24070570/internet-cables-undersea-deep-repair-ships

Video Game Console Emulation History

A deep dive into game emulators.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_console_emulator

Remember Your First Mobile Phone?

Go ahead and see what you can find in this massive catalog of retired cellphone hardware.

http://www.mobilephonemuseum.com

Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com.

 
 

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