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April 20, 2017

Microsoft’s authenticator app is now all you need to log in with your smartphone

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Although two-factor is almost always better than a single point of failure, smartphone logins are significantly more secure than simple passwords.

Microsoft has made it possible to use only your smartphone to log in to your Microsoft account, ditching the need for what is traditionally the first line of defense against unwanted account access: the humble password. Although less secure than complete two-factor authentication, Microsoft contends that this is still more secure than just using a password and much less cumbersome for the user.

One of the oldest and still hardest-to-solve questions within any technology space is how do you digitally prove someone is who they say they are? Passwords are one of the most common practices, but as has been shown time and again, they rarely offer much of a hurdle for nefarious actors. Two-factor authentication with a smartphone is becoming more common, but Microsoft has decided that it’s better just by itself.

The problem with a password, Microsoft claims in its explanatory blog post (via Ars), is that passwords can be easily phished, stolen, or forgotten. Consider too that most people already have a pin code or similar security on their phone and the firm believes smartphone logins are secure enough while feeling “natural and familiar.”

While Microsoft’s login system does let you use the authenticator app to double down on security for a number of sites and services, the Microsoft account can be logged into with smartphone authentication only. It is also limited to iOS and Android platforms for now, despite the app being compatible with Windows phones. It may add support for that much smaller user group in the future, we’re told, but only if this feature sees some success.

To be one of the first to trial this smartphone-only authentication system, download or open up the app on your handset, select the drop-down button on your account and choose “Enable phone sign-in.” That’s it.

There will be options for password usage if your phone isn’t with you, which could open up a vector for more traditional hacking. However, these sorts of security features have the potential to benefit the least secure out there, so removing a potential password reuse login system for those users could lead to improved overall digital security for some.

Microsoft is looking for feedback on its new system, so if you have something to say about it, don’t be afraid to let the company know.

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