two-step verification

What is two-step verification?

Two-step verification is a process that involves two authentication steps performed one after the other to verify that someone or something requesting access is who or what they say they are.

Two-step verification vs. two-factor authentication

Many people use the terms two-step verification and two-factor authentication (2FA) interchangeably. Both involve two steps used for verification. The difference between the two is that the sequential methods in two-step verification can belong to the same category of authentication factors, while the methods used for 2FA aren't necessarily sequential and aren't the same factor.

Authentication factors include the following:

  • Knowledge factors -- something you know, such as a username and password.
  • Possession factors -- something you have, such as a smart card or security token.
  • Inherence factors -- something you are, including biometrics such as fingerprint or iris scans.

Other factors, such as time or location, can also be used.

Graphic of authentication factors used for 2FA.
Unlike two-step verification, two-factor authentication involves two distinct categories of credentials.

Two-step verification methods include any combination of two knowledge, possession and inherence factors, including repeated factors. Meanwhile, 2FA methods must be two distinct methods -- for example, a username and password as well as a facial recognition.

Furthermore, verification and authentication are not completely synonymous. Verification can be part of a real-world process, such as providing a driver's license as proof of identity. Authentication is an adaptation of verification processes designed to protect access to data and systems.

Many two-step verification products and services are also 2FA. Google's 2-Step Verification service, for example, involves a username and password as well as a code sent to the user's device. Many other user authentication systems described as two-step verification also qualify as 2FA.

Today, multifactor authentication is touted as more secure than two-step verification and 2FA.

Editor's note: This article was originally written by Ivy Wigmore. It was updated to improve the reader experience.

This was last updated in April 2023

Continue Reading About two-step verification

Dig Deeper on Identity and access management

Enterprise Desktop
Cloud Computing