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Get two-factor authentication on the desktop with Authy

One of the best security precautions you can take to protect your online accounts is to enable two-factor authentication on any service that supports it. This requires you to enter a short, one-time code to access your online accounts after you've entered your password.

Usually these codes are sent by text or email message, or generated by a smartphone app such as Google Authenticator. But a new service called Authy recently launched an app that lets you get two-factor codes on your desktop PC—a handy capability, and doubly so if you don't always carry a smartphone on you.

Getting started with Authy

Authy for the desktop is a Chrome-based app that you download from the Chrome Web Store. While Authy's desktop app uses Chrome as its basic infrastructure, the program operates separately from the Chrome browser and looks and feels similar to a desktop app.

Here's how it works.

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Authy's settings screen.

Download Authy from the Chrome Web Store. When you first start-up the app, you'll be asked to enter an email address and your mobile phone number. Authy will then send you an SMS message to confirm your identity.

Once that's done, it's time to start adding accounts to Authy. In our example, we'll use Facebook.

Two-factor authentication requires a shared secret between the authenticator app (Authy in this case) and the server (Facebook in this example). This secret is usually shared from the server to the authenticator app using a QR code, but Authy on the desktop can't scan a QR code like a smartphone can. Instead, you'll have to enter a special code—usually found right underneath the QR code—to add an account to Authy on the desktop.

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Facebook is one of many online services that support two-factor authentication.

Login to Facebook on your PC and go to Settings > Security > Code Generator > Edit and then click on "Set up another way to get security codes." You'll be asked to enter your password again and a small pop-up window will open, containing a QR code and a secret key.

Copy the secret key and leave that pop-up window open. Now go back to Authy and click the 'Add Authenticator Account' link at the bottom of Authy's settings screen.

Next, paste the code you copied from Facebook into Authy's entry box and press Add Account. Finally, you'll be asked to name the account and choose an icon for it (I went the straightforward route, calling it Facebook and choosing the Facebook icon).

Next, click Done and that's it!

Ensuring it works

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Authy lets you generate two-factor authentication codes on the desktop.

To test out Authy, close the settings window and you'll see a new window with a list of your connected accounts. Click on Facebook and you'll see a short code. Click the Copy button underneath the code, go back to Facebook and paste the code into the Security code box in the QR code window.

If Facebook tells you the code worked, then you're all set for logging into Facebook using Authy on the desktop.

Most services that offer two-factor authentication support use a similar system to generate security codes, though the exact method will vary by service. Try digging in the security settings of other services first.

Be warned: Many online accounts don't like it when you use more than one authenticator method for two-factor authentication, so you may have to dump text/email authentication and start using Authy exclusively on your smartphone and PC if you want to use the service for all your accounts. (Authy can sync your two-factor authentication codes across its PC and smartphone apps to make things easier.)

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