Smartphones running Android 7.0 and higher can now serve as two-factor authentication (2FA) tools as part of a Google 2FA strategy to boost security across its online services.

In a blog post published amid its annual Google Cloud conference in San Francisco last week, the company said turning devices into security keys is a way to help consumers and businesses avoid some of the risks around phishing schemes and other attempts by cybercriminals to steal usernames and passwords. Much like using a set of credentials in addition to a USB key, the Google 2FA approach combines something a user knows along with something they physically possess.

How to Get Started With Google 2FA

Those interested in using their Android smartphone as a security key can enroll via Google Play Services and add their account, as long as they have Bluetooth enabled on both their mobile device and their desktop.

Once this is done, anyone who receives an email, text message or anything else directing them to a bogus version of a Google-owned online service will likely realize what’s happening because the Google 2FA key won’t be required.

Google said the program is still in beta and noted that its Titan Security Key remains the best defense against phishing attacks. The company also suggested that those who choose its 2FA option ensure they have an additional backup security key in a safe place somewhere they can access if the need arises.

Looking Beyond 2FA to MFA

While Google’s smartphone-based security key may help thwart some phishing campaigns, and may be an improvement over the pairing of a password with an SMS key, it’s obviously limited to devices running Android.

Meanwhile, the growing movement of shopping, banking and other activities to online services may mean consumers and organizations need to think about additional layers of protection. IBM experts suggest that multifactor authentication can offer greater peace of mind by introducing context-based access, such as scanning a QR code, instead of entering a password at all. Biometric options such as fingerprint scanning offer another way to keep cybercriminals at bay.

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