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Redundancy is a hugely important part of a good backup regime. You never want a single point of failure, a lynchpin that can bring down the whole system. By incorporating multiple hard drives into your routine, you’ll be able to preserve your data across multiple drives. In the event of a disk crash, you’re protected by two concurrent backups rather than one. Using multiple drives for Time Machine is a great way to ensure you don’t need to worry about your data’s safety.

Use Multiple Drives for Time Machine

The process is essentially the same whether you’re adding a new disk to an existing Time Machine setup or starting  fresh with two empty hard drives.

1. First, you’ll need to format the disks as APFS (Apple File System) or HFS+ (macOS Extended Journaled). APFS is the better of the two formats, so choose that if you have the option.

3. Once Time Machine is sleeping peacefully, you can connect your disks.

4. Open the “Time Machine” preference pane in “System Preferences.” Temporarily turn Time Machine off by unchecking “Back Up Automatically.”

7. This will pop open a list of your current connected drives. You’ll also see your current Time Machine drive, if any. Select the disk you want to add from the list.

If you are adding more than one drive to your Time Machine setup, don’t try to connect each at the same time. You want to create a complete Time Machine backup on one disk before connecting a different disk.

8. If you already have a Time Machine drive, your Mac will complain slightly about this state of affairs. It will do so with a warning box, asking if you want to replace your existing Time Machine backup and backup drive or if you want to use both disks. Obviously, you want to use both disks, so choose “Use Both” from the options.

9. Now you need to wait for Time Machine to start. The backup will proceed normally, backing up all the Time Machine-eligible files.

If you are adding two disks, now is the time to get the second disk running. Once Time Machine’s first backup to the first drive is complete, disconnect it from your Mac completely. Attach the second drive and repeat the steps above.

Switching between Time Machine disks requires virtually no effort on your part, but you don’t want to connect both Time Machine disks simultaneously. That doesn’t always work properly, and you might end up confusing Time Machine, which can lead to corrupted backups. Time Machine saves the backup history and status of each drive separately. That means they will both track when they were last synced and what was backed up, remaining completely separate.

Conclusion

Duplicating Time Machine backups is an easy way to quickly improve the safety of your backup system. But while the best backup regime includes redundancy, that’s not all it needs. You need multiple layers of backups to ensure that you don’t lose data accidentally.

Alexander Fox

Alexander Fox is a tech and science writer based in Philadelphia, PA with one cat, three Macs and more USB cables than he could ever use.

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3 Ways To Speed Up Time Machine Backup (With Tips)

Time Machine is Apple’s computer backup system. It’s built into every Mac. The app’s purpose is to make backup easy: you set it up, and then it works without you thinking about it. After the initial backup, Time Machine only has to deal with the files you created and edited. It’s designed to work quietly in the background; you’ll probably never notice that it’s working.

The app keeps your files safe, allows you to restore them one at a time or in bulk, and can be used to set up a new computer. It works well. I use it to back up my iMac to an external hard drive. After the initial backup was finished, I never noticed when the incremental backups were performed again every hour.

However, there are times when you will want to minimize the time required by a backup.

For example, you may need to perform your first backup before taking it to be looked at by an Apple Genius. You were instructed to back up your data first. You were surprised to learn that your initial backup can take many hours, and you haven’t got enough time to get it done before your Genius appointment.

Fortunately, there are various ways to speed up a Time Machine backup. We outline them for you below.

Spoiler: Our final tip promises the most significant speed boost—but in my tests, I didn’t see the speed gains it promised.

1. Make the Backup Smaller

The more data you need to back up, the longer it will take. You can halve that time by halving the amount of data to be backed up. You don’t want to miss anything important, so exercise care.

Delete Anything You Don’t Need Before the Backup

Do you have any applications installed that you never use? Consider removing them before you back up your Mac. The same goes for data: if you’ve copied or downloaded anything onto your hard drive you don’t need, you might trash it.

Once you’re there, you can see which apps use the most space. Delete any that you have no use for, especially those near the top of the list.

Exclude Files and Folders that Don’t Need to Be Backed Up

Obvious candidates here are large files you have stored elsewhere or large files that can be easily recreated or downloaded. Here are some examples:

Clean Up Junk Files

Apple provides a list of utilities to free up disk space by deleting junk files and unwanted content. It also gives the option of storing rarely-used files in iCloud rather than on your drive.

Here you can perform the following tasks:

Store in iCloud allows you to decide which types of content will be stored in iCloud automatically. You’ll still see the files on your hard drive, but only the content of recently accessed files will actually be stored there.

Optimize Storage will free up disk space by automatically removing video content you’ve already watched, including movies and TV shows.

Empty Trash Automatically will permanently delete files that you moved to the Trash more than 30 days ago.

To locate and delete even more junk files, consider using a third-party cleanup app. One we recommend is CleanMyMac X. It can delete system and application junk files. Another is Gemini 2, which can find large duplicate files. We explore and review a wide range of alternatives in our roundup, Best Mac Cleaner Software.

Don’t Get Carried Away

Finally, a warning. When cleaning up junk files, take some quick wins, and then move on. The law of diminishing returns is at work here: spending more time on cleanup will free up increasingly smaller amounts of space. The scans you performed to locate junk files can be time-consuming; they can potentially take more time than to just back them up in the first place.

2. Back Up to a Faster Drive

One of the bottlenecks in a backup is the external drive you back up to. These vary quite a lot in speed. Choosing a fast drive will save you a significant amount of time—your backup may become up to four times faster!

Back up to a Faster External Hard Drive

Most external hard drives today spin at 5,400 rpm. In general, they’re suitable for backup purposes. In our roundup of the Best Backup Drive for Mac, we recommend the Seagate Backup Plus. It offers desktop and portable versions. The drives spin at 5,400 rpm and have maximum data transfer rates of 160 and 120 Mb/s, respectively.

For twice the price, you can purchase a faster drive. These spin at 7,200 rpm and should back up your Mac 33% faster.

How much time would this save? Probably hours. If the backup takes six hours on a standard drive, it will take just four hours on a 7,200 rpm drive. You just saved two hours.

Back up to an External SSD

For even bigger time-saving, choose an external SSD. You may have experienced the huge speed boost you gain when you use a solid-state drive as your main internal storage. You’ll see similar gains when using one as your external backup drive.

Most decent spinning hard drives have data transfer rates in the range of 120-200 MB/s. In our roundup, Best External SSD for Mac, the SSDs we reviewed have transfer rates between 440-560 Mb/s. In other words, they are two to four times faster. Using one will slash the amount of time required for a backup. A backup that would have taken eight hours on a platter drive may now take just two.

But, as you’d expect, there’s a price to pay. The 2 TB spinning hard drives we reviewed ranged between $70 and $120. The 2 TB external SSDs in our roundup were much more expensive, ranging between $300 and $430.

Depending on your circumstances, you may find the cost justifiable. If you need to back up huge files every day, an external SSD will save you many hours of waiting.

3. Give Time Machine More of Your Mac’s System Resources

The backup will take less time if Time Machine doesn’t have to share your Mac’s system resources with other processes. Here are a few ways to achieve that.

Don’t Use Heavy Apps During a Backup

If you want the backup to be as fast as possible, stop using your Mac until it’s finished. Don’t use other applications during the backup—especially if they’re CPU intensive.

Apple Support warns that running antivirus software during a backup can slow it down, especially if it’s checking every file as it’s copied to your external drive. They recommend that you configure the software to exclude your backup drive from being scanned.

Unthrottle Your Mac’s Resources

This tip promised to save more time than all the others put together, but I was disappointed in my tests. However, many others have seen a significant increase in backup speeds using it, and you may have more luck than I did. Perhaps they were using older versions of macOS.

Your Mac is designed to give you an excellent user experience where your computer feels responsive, and everything just works. To achieve this, macOS throttles disk access to make room for more critical tasks. Your apps will feel smoother, and your battery will last longer, but your backups will take significantly more time.

You may be willing to disable the throttling if it means your backup will be completed more quickly. There’s a terminal hack that will do just that. As a result, you would expect the backup to be much faster.

And that’s many users’ experience. Here is one blogger’s experience from 2023: the initial estimate given to him for backing up 300 GB of data was just over a day. The special terminal command reduced the time to just an hour. He concluded that this method should make your backup at least ten times faster.

Here’s how you do it. It’s a little technical, so bear with me.

Open the Terminal app. You’ll find it in your applications’ Utilities folder. If you haven’t seen it before, it allows you to control your Mac by typing commands.

Next, you need to enter the following command into the app. Either type it carefully or copy and paste it. Then press Enter.

sudo sysctl debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=0

The “0” at the end of the line indicates that the throttle should be turned off. Next, you’ll be asked for the password you use when you log into your Mac. Type it, then press Enter. A slightly cryptic message will be displayed, indicating that throttling is now off.

Turning the throttle off should drastically change your user experience. Your Mac will feel sluggish when backups are performed. More power will be used, and your computer’s battery won’t last as long, but your backup should be noticeably faster.

Once the backup is complete, don’t forget to turn the throttle back on. That will happen automatically next time you restart your computer. Or you can do it manually with the Terminal. Type the same command, this time ending it with the number 1 instead of 0, which indicates you want to turn it on rather than off:

sudo sysctl debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=1

Reality check: I wanted to see if I could confirm these results and get a sense of how much faster copying files would be on my Macs. So I copied files of various sizes on two different machines. I used a stopwatch to time each operation, then compared the throttled speed with the unthrottled. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the speed increases promised.

Sometimes the unthrottled backups were just two seconds faster; other times, they were the same speed. One result was surprising: when copying a 4.29 GB video file, the throttled result was just 1 minute 36 seconds while the unthrottled was actually slower: 6 hours 15 seconds.

I was curious and decided to keep testing. I used Time Machine to back up 128 GB of data on my MacBook Air, which took 2 hours 45 seconds. I turned off throttling and backed up once more. It was slower again, taking three hours.

It may be that something has changed on recent macOS versions so that this method no longer works. I searched for more user experiences online and found reports of this trick not working up to two years ago.

How To Set Up Messages Backup And Restore On Android

All of us make mistakes and there are instances when we might have deleted a text or two before realizing that it was actually an important one. That could happen when you were deleting messages in bulk, reset your phone or unfortunately lost your phone.

Whatever your case may be, you might be looking for a solution to recover text messages on your Android phone. This article will help you with everything you need to know about retrieving deleted text messages and prevent such a scenario in the first place.

How to retrieve deleted text messages

First things first, there’s no reliable way to recover lost texts on Android. If you have stumbled upon this article because you lost your text messages, they’re gone now, for good.

While searching for the same on Google might redirect you to third-party recovery software like FonePaw, Mobikin, EaseUS MobiSaver, and more, there are limitations to all of them and none of them can assuredly retrieve text messages.

Why should you not use recovery software for retrieving texts

Root Access: Almost all the tools mentioned above need access to your phone’s root folder. This folder is what stores a database of your texts and Android, by default, hides the folder since it belongs to the system. This permission can only be enabled by rooting your device which may be a cumbersome process if you’re not someone who experiments on their phone.

Expensive: Even if you’re beyond the first limitation, you might not want to go through this process which is actually paying to retrieve your lost texts. While some of the software might assure your data recovery for free, recovering deleted texts will be part of the software’s Pro pack. These pro versions are quite expensive coming at a licensing price of in and around $50 which is steep for recovering a single text.

Privacy scare: Since these software tools are granted access to your root folder, they might be able to modify any element of the Android system. This added to the fact that modern Android phones connect to PC using the Media Transfer Protocol, the tools could as well steal your personal data and use it against you.

What can you do to save your text messages

You might be out of luck if you’re trying to recover text messages. But one good news is the fact that you can very easily take backups of your texts. You can set your messages to automatically back up to cloud, so you can restore it at a later point in time. This also helps you when you want to retrieve messages from an old device to a new phone.

How to back up and restore text messages using Microsoft SMS Organizer

Step 1: Download and install the Microsoft SMS Organizer app from Google Play.

Step 2: Open Microsoft SMS Organizer.

Step 3: Complete the initial setup of setting as default message app, signing in with a mobile number, etc.

Step 4: After the setup is done, tap on the 3-dot button on the top right.

Step 5: Select Settings.

Step 6: Tap on Backup & restore.

Step 7: Tap on Google Drive account.

Step 8: Select the Google account you want the app to use to backup your text messages and tap OK.

Step 9: Choose how often you want the app to backup your texts by tapping on Auto backup and selecting a preferred period.

Step 10: Tap on Back up.

Your messages will now be backed up. In case you want to restore deleted texts, you can do so by following the steps down below:

Step 1: Open Microsoft SMS Organizer.

Step 2: Tap on the 3-dot button on the top right.

Step 3: Select Settings.

Step 4: Tap on Backup & restore.

Step 5: Tap on Restore.

Step 6: Select a recent backup from the list you want to retrieve texts from.

Step 7: Tap on Restore.

Your SMSes from the last backup will be restored back on your phone.

How to back up and restore text messages using SMS Backup & Restore

Step 1: Download and install the SMS Backup & Restore app from Google Play.

Step 2: Open SMS Backup & Restore.

Step 3: Tap on Get Started.

Step 4: Grant the app permission to contacts, messages, call logs, storage, and telephone by tapping on Allow.

Step 5: Tap on Set up a backup.

Step 6: Switch the toggle next to Messages to ON.

You can additionally backup call logs, media, and group messages by tapping on Advanced Options.

Step 7: Tap on Next at the bottom right.

Step 8: On the next page, select the storage you want to back up your text messages to. You can choose between Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and device storage. Selecting ‘Your Phone’ will save the backup on your internal/external storage.

Step 9: Tap on Log in, if you selected one of the cloud services and complete the setup. Ignore, if you selected ‘Your Phone’.

Step 10: Tap on Save at the bottom.

Step 11: Manage your upload options on the next page.

Step 12: Tap on Next.

Step 13: Choose how often you want your SMSes to be backed up. You can choose from daily, weekly, and hourly.

Step 14: Hit Back up now.

Your messages will now back up and continue getting backed up on your phone/cloud depending on a regular basis. In order to restore messages through SMS Backup & Restore, follow the instructions from down below:

Step 1: Open SMS Backup & Restore.

Step 2: Tap on the hamburger icon at the top left.

Step 3: Tap Restore.

Step 4: Select from a list of backup sources you want to restore from.

Step 5: Tap Restore.

Step 6: Tap on Ok.

Step 7: On the next page, tap on Yes.

Step 8: Once the restoration is complete, tap on Close.

Your older text messages have been restored based on the backup you selected.

RELATED:

How To Set Up Smart Mailboxes On Your Mac

When you receive many emails from a variety of people about a variety of different projects, you need a way to organize these emails. If all of your emails are going into one mailbox, then sifting through them manually to find the one you are looking for can be a huge waste of time. Mail comes with a built in search function, however, this may not always suit your needs, and it doesn’t do anything to sort your emails for you.

See also: Email Attachments Won’t Open in Safari on Mac

See also: Mail Cannot Save Information About Your Mailboxes Because There Isn’t Enough Space In Your Home Folder

Smart Mailboxes can be useful for both work and personal emails. At home, you may want to set up a few Smart Mailboxes for things like: your Craigslist email replies for that old stuff you’re trying to sell, emails from your kid’s sport or club, and one for utility bills.

See also: Mac Mail App: Gmail Not Working? Fix

Note: Your Smart Mailbox will only appear in the Mail app on your Mac. Your Smart Mailboxes won’t automatically show up on your other devices like your iPhone or iPad.

See also: How To Customize Your Email Signature; iPad or iPhone

How to Create Smart Mailboxes

Give your new Smart Mailbox a name and set up your criteria. I am going to set up a Smart Mailbox to catch all of my Craigslist replies.

The first thing is to choose whether you want the emails in your Smart Mailbox to meet all or any of the conditions you will specify. For my Smart Mailbox I will only have one condition so this won’t matter, but you can certainly create more complicated criteria using multiple conditions.

Now you will set up your first condition. To setup a condition, first make a selection from the menu box on the left. For my craigslist emails, my condition is going to be that the email came from a craigslist reply address, so I will choose From.

Next choose a menu option from the middle menu. I will choose contains from the options. This means that the Smart Mailbox, Craigslist Replies, will catch any emails from addresses that contain the text that I will enter into the textbox to the right.

Now, we need to fill in the textbox with the text we want to see in the address of the emails that will go into our Smart Mailbox. I have entered @reply.craigslist.org into the textbox so that all emails coming from addresses that have @reply.craigslist.org will show up in my Craigslist Replies Smart Mailbox.

Now you can see, I have a new Smart Mailbox named Craigslist Replies under Smart Mailboxes in the Mailboxes list in the sidebar of the Mail app and all of my craigslist emails are there.

See also: How To Organize Your Mac Desktop

How to Edit Smart Mailboxes

If you have already created a Smart Mailbox, you may want to change the criteria you set up. To edit your Smart Mailbox

How to Delete Smart Mailboxes

When you no longer have a use for your Smart Mailbox, or if you just want to redo your mailbox organization, your may want to delete your Smart Mailbox.

See also: Mail Keeps Crashing on Mac

How To Set Up & Use A Vpn

Another reason to use a VPN is for security. Thanks to the fact that they encrypt your internet connection, you get an extra layer of security as well as privacy. This is valuable when you’re connected to free Wi-Fi in cafes, hotels, airports and shopping malls which is often unencrypted because there’s no password.

A common misunderstanding is that a VPN makes you anonymous online. To some extent it does, but what you do online can reveal your identity. For example, when you log into a website with your username and password, that site could know exactly who you are, even if you’re using a VPN.

However, one of the most popular uses for a VPN has nothing to do with privacy, anonymity or security. It’s actually to make it appear that you’re in a different country. VPN services have servers in a variety of different countries, and when you connect via one, websites and – in particular – streaming services think you’re in that country. This means you can watch services that aren’t available in your country, or access videos – on Netflix, say – that are available in other regions, but not yours.

How to find the right VPN for your needs

Whatever you want a VPN for, they’re extremely easy to use. And they’re also very affordable, typically costing just a few dollars or pounds per month.

But before you head to your device’s app store and install a VPN, first you need to choose which one to use. They’re not all the same, and you can’t tell by price alone how good they are.

For an in-depth buying guide, read our roundup of the best VPN services, but if you’re in a hurry, here are three we recommend:

When signing up on the provider’s website you’ll find a choice of how long to subscribe for. In most cases, the longer you go for, the cheaper the monthly cost becomes. However, you’ll pay for the entire subscription up front, not monthly.

How to install and set up a VPN

Once you’ve paid for your chosen subscription and created an account with the service, install the app on your device. That’s done by searching the app store on your phone, or by downloading it from the service’s website and then installing it from the file you just downloaded.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Once installed, launch the app and enter your username – usually your email address – and the password you chose during signup.

Some VPNs provide you with an activation code instead, and you’ll enter that rather than a username and password.

The first time you try to connect to the VPN, you’ll see a message asking for your permission to set up a VPN configuration. Tap on Allow, or similar, and within a few seconds you should be connected to the VPN server.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

That’s all you need to do – you now have the privacy and security benefits that a VPN offers.

How to use a VPN

We’ve covered the absolute basics already: it really is as simple as opening the VPN app and tapping on the ‘Connect’ button.

But this will usually pick a server automatically – either the closest one to you or the one which will offer the fastest connection.

If you want to change your location to unblock a video service then look for a list of countries or servers. If you’re in the UK and want to watch Peacock, for example, you’d connect to a VPN server in the United States. To watch BBC iPlayer you’ll need to connect to a server in the UK.

Of course, you’ll need to have a current subscription for the service you want to watch: a VPN only changes your location. It doesn’t make Netflix, Disney+ or any other service free to watch!

Tip: Not all VPN services can unblock all streaming services. All the services we recommend do a good job of unblocking the popular streaming platforms.

Streaming services and VPNs play a cat-and-mouse game of blocking and unblocking so the situation can change from day to day. This is why picking a VPN service with 24/7 live chat is a good idea: if you can’t watch something, you can ask for a solution in a chat window.

Below, we’re using NordVPN on Windows, but even if your VPN looks a little different, it should be easy to find the country (or server) list.

The location of the server you connect to is then your new virtual location, meaning websites, video streaming services and any other online service will think that’s where you are right now. That’s why the server you choose will depend on what you want to use the VPN for.

There’s no need to use a VPN all the time. You can enable when you need to unblock something, or have some extra privacy while browsing the web.

How to test the VPN is working

If you want to see evidence the VPN is working properly and to prove that your real location can’t be detected, you can use a website such as IPleak.net. This will tell you what your virtual IP address (and location) is.

So, visit the site before you connect to the VPN and have a look at the details. It should show your country, and may even display the name of your internet provider.

Now connect to a VPN server in a different country and visit the site again. You should now see your IP address locates you in the country of the server you chose, and so should the DNS address. If you still see your own country displayed for either IP address or DNS address, there’s a problem. If not, the VPN is working correctly. 

How to enable the kill switch in a VPN

Many VPN services have a kill switch that will stop any data being sent over the internet connection if the VPN connection drops unexpectedly. This helps to protect your privacy by ensuring your real location is never ‘leaked’.

Often you have to go into your VPN app’s settings to enable the kill switch, as it’s not turned on by default. A kill switch may not be available in all the apps a VPN provider offers. Some, such as NordVPN’s iOS app, don’t show a kill switch option because it’s permanently enabled and you can’t turn it off.

In Surfshark’s app, you do need to turn it on. Just bear in mind that if the kill switch is triggered, it will stop all internet activity (to protect you). But there may not be a notification to tell you this has happened, leaving you wondering why your phone has effectively stopped working. Disable the kill switch to get your connection back, or simply disconnect and reconnect to the VPN.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

If available, you might prefer to use an ‘App Kill Switch’. This is an option which Nord (among others) offers in some of its apps – Windows in particular. This lets you pick which apps should have their internet connections cut off if the VPN stops working, and leaves all others working as normal.

A similar feature called split-tunneling lets you choose which apps use the VPN connection and all others use the normal connection.

There are other options, but that’s really all you need to do to: using a VPN is very easy.

The only other tweak you might want to make is to get the VPN to connect automatically if your device connects to an unknown Wi-Fi network. This ensures you don’t forget to enable the protection a VPN offers.

What’s the difference between free and paid VPNs?

There are many VPN services available, and some are completely free to use.

Depending on why you want to use a VPN, a free one might be fine, but for most people they are too limited because they offer a tiny selection of servers (and maybe not in the countries you want) and only give you a small data allowance that’s rarely enough for streaming videos.

In rare cases, a free VPN service might sell your email address and browsing habits to cover the cost of you using its service, which negates the whole point of using a VPN for some people.

You can see our recommendations of the best free VPN services.

Paid VPNs typically offer hundreds or thousands of servers in locations around the world, and give you unlimited data so you can stream as much video as you want. And that’s why most people pay for a VPN.

How to choose a VPN

VPNs are built around trust, so it’s important that you pick one that’s trustworthy. Almost all services these days say that they keep no logs of your activity – such as when you used the service, your IP address and other data – but as a user, you can’t verify whether this is true or not. You have to take their word for it.

This is why you should read our VPN reviews, but you can also look for a provider’s privacy policy on their website. If there’s very little information on the site about where the company is headquartered, who runs it and is generally anonymous, it’s usually a bad sign.

Some employ third-parties to audit their policies to ‘prove’ that they stick by their word – we mention these in our reviews.

There’s also a VPN Trust Initiative which has been set up by a selection of companies that want to raise the minimum standards of VPN services and – in the process – increase the level of trust that people have in their services.

Beyond these aspects, you should factor in whether the provider offers apps for the devices you want to use a VPN on – Android, iOS, Windows, Mac etc – and whether it has servers in the countries you need. 

All VPNs will have an effect on your internet connection speed, but this shouldn’t be noticeable with the fastest services, especially if they support the new WireGuard protocol.

Tech Advisor’s recommended VPN services

We’ve been testing VPNs for years and we’ve ranked and rated the best ones here:

Related articles for further reading

How To Set Up Two

Two-factor authentication may not be as sexy as the latest Android phone, but the technology is capturing news headlines, and deservedly so. Last week, Microsoft began rolling out this security tool for its some 700 million Microsoft Account users. Tuesday Wired reported Twitter is working on two-factor authentication as well.

It’s a security feature that could have stopped hackers at the gate before they seized control of the Associated Press Twitter account, and it’s something you should be using to protect your own online accounts, wherever it’s available.

So how does two-factor authentication work? In a nutshell, it requires not one but two pieces of privileged information before granting access to an online account.

Let’s say you’ve already set up two-factor authentication for your Google account, and now a hacker halfway around the world is trying to break into your Gmail. He has your email address and even your password, but he doesn’t have the second element of the authentication process. In the case of Google accounts, the second element is a unique security code that’s sent directly to your cell phone via text messaging.

In essence, two-factor authentication requires something you’ve committed to memory (your password) and something you have in your pocket (your phone).

If two-factor authentication sounds like kind of a pain, well, it is. Turning on this feature is a really easy way to make life harder for yourself, as you’ll need to spend extra time to prove your identity every time you log into a protected account from a new piece of hardware. Nonetheless, this level of authentication makes it much harder for hackers to seize control of your accounts.

Do you have a Google account and a smartphone? Then you should have two-factor authentication enabled.

Getting started also requires a little legwork on your part. Most major sites and services offer two-factor authentication as an optional security feature, so you need to log into your various accounts and dig around in the security settings to find it.

Google and Facebook have offered two-factor authentication as an optional security measure since 2011. Dropbox started offering it last year, and Apple iCloud got two-factor authentication in March. Microsoft is late to the party but now has it, and Twitter’s version of the technology can’t come soon enough.

For the sake of brevity I’m going to run down the two-factor set-up process for the Big Three social networks as well as my favorite remote storage services. But you should duplicate this process across every site and service you use that offers two-factor authentication. And if it seems like a lot of different systems to manage, don’t worry—there’s an app for that.

Start with Google

Google makes two-factor authentication simple enough, but it can be very frustrating to configure if you log into Google across multiple devices. To get started, log into your Google account and navigate to the Security section of your Account Settings page.

Google offers a plethora of services across multiple devices, so it’s apropos that it offers a similar plethora of options for configuring two-factor login authentication.

You can also generate one-time use codes that you can write down and save for times when you want to log into Google in the absence of cell service. Generate five or ten of these codes, and keep them in your wallet for emergencies. Also consider downloading the Google Authenticator app for iOS and Android if you don’t want Google sending you text messages every time you check your mail from a new computer.

It’s simple to use, and can generate codes for any authentication service that employs the TOTP (Time-based One-Time Password) algorithm, including Facebook and Dropbox. I recommend setting it up to do so if you’re going to be enabling two-factor authentication on other services, but be aware that this will make it very difficult for you to log into those services without your phone. If your phone is lost or stolen—or if you just accidentally delete the authenticator app—it’s possible to download a fresh version and re-authenticate across every service you use, but it’s a real pain.

Facebook is easy by comparison

What we call two-factor authentication Facebook calls Login Approvals, and it works great.

To get that code you’ll need to either download a mobile authenticator app that generates codes every time you log in, or give Facebook your cellphone number so it can send you authentication codes via SMS. I recommend going the authenticator app route. It’s simple to use, and you don’t have to wait for Facebook’s servers to text you your code. Plus, you can also add a cellphone number as an additional backup if the app fails to work.

In its mobile app, Facebook built in a neat Code Generator feature that generates TOTP codes for your account, but you can use any old TOTP authenticator app if you’re willing to subvert Facebook’s setup process. If you’re using Google’s mobile authenticator app to manage two-factor authentication across multiple services, for example—which is a great idea—you can set it up to provide authenticator codes for your Facebook account too.

Microsoft is finally catching up

Your Microsoft account covers your Outlook inbox, your Xbox Live profile, your Windows Phone, and more. Improve security across the board by switching on two-factor authentication in the security section of your Microsoft Account summary page. You can set it up so Microsoft will send security codes to either an alternate email address or your smartphone via SMS, unless you prefer to download an authenticator app that will generate security codes for you. Windows Phone users can download Microsoft’s own authenticator app from the Windows Store, but everyone else can just use any authenticator app that supports the One-Time Password algorithm.

Scan this blob of code with your authenticator app and you’ll be able to generate authentication codes with your phone no matter where you are.

For simplicity’s sake, I recommend using the aforementioned Google Authenticator app on iOS and Android. Use the app to scan the barcode that Microsoft provides you during the two-factor authentication process and it will generate codes for your Microsoft account as well.

And you don’t need to stop there—I expect Twitter will have its two-factor authentication system in place before summer rolls around, and there are plenty of other sites and services that already offer similar security systems. Dropbox, LastPass, Box, and even Amazon Web Services support two-factor, as do many banking services. Locking these accounts up with two-factor authentication adds another layer of security to your digital life, one that can be unlocked only with the smartphone in your pocket.

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