WordPress 2FA Authentication: The Lowdown on This Essential Site Security Element

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The battle for your online personal information is between you on the one side and bad actors on the other. While you can’t control what security provisions other sites have, you do get to control your own site security. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is one way to protect yourself from breaches, and WordPress 2FA authentication can help you implement it.
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While 2FA is a simple solution on the front end and back end, there’s lots happening under the hood. It’s a fantastic supplementary way to add a further layer of security to a site and will empower users to help keep your site and their information secure too.

For this tutorial, we’ll talk about 2FA – specifically WordPress 2FA authentication. Throughout, we’ll look at what this is, your choice of passwords, how to implement 2FA on your site, and much more.

What 2FA Is (And What It Can Help You Achieve)

In a nutshell, Two-Factor Authentication is a security measure that provides an additional layer of protection beyond your typical login credentials. With 2FA, a user has to provide a second piece of information, often a numerical code – a Time-Based One-Time Password (TOTP):

A front-end prompt asking for an SMS 2FA code

The additional information you’ll typically see is a numerical code that expires after a short amount of time:

In a technical sense, 2FA requires two forms of user authentication. The first ‘factor’ is information the user knows, such as a password. The second factor is something the user has, such as a token or code that is sent to a device. Even if a user’s password is known, you’d still need that second factor in order to verify and authenticate the session.

However, modern methods include information such as a fingerprint. Regardless, the key concept is that you’ll provide a piece of information nobody else will have access to. If that information aligns with what you’re being asked to provide, you’ll get the access you need.

2FA and WordPress

2FA becomes even more relevant when it comes to WordPress user logins; the Content Management System (CMS) is the number one website platform on the market. This is in part due to its stellar core security. However, a platform so popular can become a security target.

For instance, in 2021, Sucuri fixed nearly 50,000 hacked sites. The majority was the fault of vulnerabilities in outdated plugins and themes. Additionally, brute-force attacks can decimate networks of sites. Wordfence reports on a recent botnet attack hitting millions of WordPress websites.

Both of these examples show how user error can hamper your WordPress security, especially if you don’t keep on top of plugin and theme updates. However, using 2FA is an effective way to protect your WordPress site from attacks, give your users some accountability, and more.

A second form of authentication will not only keep bad actors out of your accounts but let you work remotely with greater safety. Your whole user base will also have accountability for their own security, which makes your whole site safer.

Overall, 2FA is a crucial way to stop unauthorized access to sensitive information, build user confidence and trust, and partially comply with data security directives. It’s a vital working and security measure, especially for popular platforms such as WordPress. It also means your choice of password is less of a hindrance. However, this is a complex subject that requires more depth.

How Poor Password Choice Will Cause You Stress

Every year, many news outlets and sites publish a list of poor passwords, and the list looks similar at every turn. For instance, Tom’s Guide shows some of the most common yet weak passwords for end users:

  • qwerty
  • 123456
  • password

However, admin and back-end users also run afoul of using weak and dangerous passwords. For instance, admin, root, and guest all feature on the list in high positions. In fact, the admin password is more worrying when you consider that WordPress’ default Administrator user role also has the username of “admin.”

Regardless, these passwords can be cracked almost within seconds using brute force techniques and automated tools. However, combined with a solution such as Melapress Login Security, you can ensure a user will create a strong password and also protect your site further using 2FA.

Because the user has to authenticate their details through a third-party app or technology, it’s a significant way to reduce the risk of unauthorized access. In addition, you can strengthen and reinforce your strong password policies and prevent data breaches and other cyber-attacks too.

While 2FA is a fantastic way to ensure user accountability and shore up a weak point in your site’s security, it’s not the only one. Next, we’ll look at how your other provisions work alongside 2FA to provide an even greater service.

How 2FA Slots Alongside Your Current Security Provision

2FA isn’t a one-size-fits-all security tactic. Instead, it weaves its way into your overall security provision as something supplementary. As such, you and your users will still need to adhere to typical security implementations:

  • Use strong passwords. You’ll want to choose something long, as this will increase the time it takes to crack. While 2FA doesn’t rely on the need for strong passwords, it’s still recommended to do as much as you can to secure your login credentials. Melapress Login Security is ideal for the task.
  • Carry out frequent software updates. For WordPress, this includes plugins, themes, and core files. Later, we’ll discuss WordPress 2FA authentication plugins, and these are super important to keep up to date.

To touch on passwords a little more, combining strong passwords with 2FA can ensure that only you can access an account. For example, an insecure Wi-Fi connection at a local working spot could compromise your password. However, you’d still need to provide the second form of authentication to gain account access.

A stronger password that is near-impervious to cracking won’t trouble your server’s resources either. This is because you won’t have multiple login attempts (and potential 2FA requests) from a potentially large number of IP addresses.

You can take this even further and combine 2FA with dedicated brute force protection. This concept is beyond the scope of this post, but there are plenty of WordPress security plugins (such as Wordfence or Jetpack Security) that can provide a robust solution.

Choosing the Right 2FA ‘Format’ for You

One of the benefits of Two-Factor Authentication is the flexibility in how you implement it. You have four distinct ways to employ 2FA:

  • An SMS, text-based method.
  • Email authentication.
  • Dedicated apps, such as Authy, Sentinel, Duo, and many more.
  • Push notifications.

Each of these achieves the same result in different ways, but they’re not all equal. Let’s break down each one in turn, along with the pros and cons.

SMS

The default 2FA method for many online services is to send an authentication code to a mobile device through text message. You’ll need to enter your phone number into a specific field, which will send a time-limited code through.

An SMS displaying a two-factor code to authenticate a login

The benefits here include the need for no other third-party app to help authenticate your login, and the immense ease of use to set up and use. However, SMS has severe drawbacks. First, you’ll have to pass more of your personal information over the web (your phone number) in order to make a verification.

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing SMS-based 2FA. First are the network charges levied by the network operator for delivering SMS. Secondly, SMS messages are not encrypted and are vulnerable to SIM card swapping. Even so, it can offer better protection for users who might not be as technologically savvy.

Email Notifications

Email notifications are of a similar breed to SMS authentication methods. This is where you’ll enter an email address on the login page, which will then receive a code or token to authenticate your session.

Receiving an email notification to authenticate a login session.

Email 2FA authentication is easy and straightforward to use – you’ll only need access to your inbox to validate your login. 

If the email is not encrypted, it can become susceptible to a ’machine-in-the-middle’ attack or similar. However, you can take steps to secure your WordPress emails and avoid the risks typically associated with unencrypted emails.

Push Notifications

Push notifications look to bridge the gap between email and SMS authentication. It involves receiving a notification on a smartphone that you’ll need to approve before you log into an account. Apple is one company that uses this method to set up trusted devices across its ecosystem.

A push notification on an Apple device.
A push notification on an Apple device.

This method is also convenient and as easy to use as email and SMS. Another benefit is that it often doesn’t rely on passwords, codes, or tokens at all. This is a fantastic User Experience (UX) element that can make accounts more secure without hardly any thought or work for the user.

However, the approach still has drawbacks. Because a push notification is so easy to approve, a busy user could do so without meaning to. There are studies to suggest that a user’s attention span goes down based on the greater number of notifications they receive, which could prove to be a problem.

To this end, it’s important to educate users about proper account security. Unexpected push notifications should never be approved, and frequent requests should be reported for further investigation.

Using an App

The typical way to supercharge your 2FA implementation is to use an app. There are plenty around: Google Authenticator, Authy, Duo, Sentinel, Microsoft Authenticator, and near-countless others.

The Sentinel app showing on an iPhone screen.
The Sentinel app showing on an iPhone screen.

These apps will generate a one-time code for each site every 30 seconds that you’ll enter into the website in question to verify and authenticate the login. It’s considered to be one of the more secure approaches. However, much like push notifications, you’ll still need compatible devices and internet access to use the app.

Which 2FA Format to Choose

Having 2FA is a better option than not having 2FA. While certain methods, such as 2FA apps, are more secure than others, we also have to recognize that our user base can be very diverse.

You’ll also want to lower the barrier to entry and ensure users are comfortable with 2FA. To this end, the more options you are able to offer your users, the better, as this will help you ensure that your 2FA implementation is a resounding success.

Introducing WP 2FA: The Best Way to Implement WordPress 2FA Authentication

There are plenty of WordPress Two-Factor Authentication plugins available. For instance, miniOrange and Two Factor Authentication offer a wide range of features and have the backing of many happy users.

However, the WP 2FA plugin offers the functionality, support, and cost to make it your number-one solution. It’s a leading way to add Two-Factor Authentication to your WordPress website.

The WP 2FA logo.
The WP 2FA logo.

We encourage you to check out the free version’s specs, but with the premium edition, you get all the functionality you need:

  • You’re able to choose from several different 2FA methods, to match your needs and that of your users.
  • You can customize your 2FA policies. This involves elements such as making 2FA compulsory, offering a grace period, and much more.
  • There’s no need for users to access the WordPress dashboard. You can offer login authentication through your site’s front end.
  • There are plenty of third-party service integrations too, such as with Twillo and Authy. This lets you provide further authentication methods to users.

When it comes to the price, WP 2FA offers immense value. For instance, the WP 2FA Starter license is $29 per year. This lets you install the full version of WP 2FA on as many websites as you need and offer login authentication to five users. There are flexible plans to increase the user limit and the feature set.

Even better, using WP 2FA is a snap. Next, we’ll show you how.

How to Use WP 2FA to Strengthen Your User’s Site Security

WP 2FA has all of the features and functionality you’ll need to implement WordPress 2FA authentication on your site. What’s more, it’s straightforward to configure and use. The installation process is much like any other free WordPress plugin. You can find it using the search bar on the Plugins > Add New screen:

Finding the WP 2FA plugin within the WordPress dashboard.
Finding the WP 2FA plugin within the WordPress dashboard.

From here, click the Install Now and Activate buttons, then wait for WordPress to finish the installation process. At this point, you’re ready to set up 2FA on your WordPress website.

1. Configure WP 2FA Using the Setup Wizard

WP 2FA can carry out all the heavy lifting relating to WordPress 2FA authentication for you. The Setup Wizard runs through four steps to completion based on different policies and implementation methods.

The Setup Wizard begins with a welcome page, and you’ll want to click the Let’s Get Started button to continue:

The WP 2FA Setup Wizard.

The first two steps look at which 2FA methods you’d like to implement. You’ll use the checkboxes to add app-based 2FA and email 2FA to your site. The premium version of the plugin includes additional methods that you can also select.

Choosing 2FA methods within the Setup Wizard.

Once you click to continue, you can also provide your users with backup codes in case they need to set 2FA up with another app or device. The premium version of WP 2FA lets you offer more alternative authentication options.

The third screen in the Setup Wizard lets you choose who you enforce 2FA for. There are three radio buttons here to select all users, no users, and specific users and roles:

Choosing who to apply 2FA policies for within the Setup Wizard.

Note that you’ll see extra options if you choose either All Users or Only for specific users and roles. These will let you specify users to exclude or roles to include as part of your policy.

Adding user roles to a 2FA policy in the Setup Wizard.

Once you choose All Done, you’ll see a prompt to configure WP 2FA for your own user account. The process is almost complete.

2. Set Up WP 2FA for Your User Account

After you set up WordPress 2FA authentication, you can set up 2FA for your own user account. 

Available options will include the methods made available in the setup wizard. Some methods, such as SMS and Push notification, will require additional configuration since these require 3rd party service providers to function. In this example, we will be using the 2FA TOTP app method.

If you don’t already have a 2FA app, downloading one should be your first step. There are plenty to choose from, and WP 2FA offers universal compatibility. The main feature you’ll need is to scan the QR code from within the WordPress dashboard using your app:

The WP 2FA QR code within the WordPress back end.

Once you run through the wizard, you’ll be able to use WordPress 2FA authentication for your site.

In Summary

Two-Factor Authentication is one of the best and most user-friendly ways to secure an online account. It relies on verification using a token or code you get from a device you own. As such, without that code, your accounts are safe – even if your password is compromised.

The WP 2FA plugin lets you implement WordPress 2FA authentication within minutes without the need for technical knowledge. The Setup Wizard takes you through the entire process, and you have 

While the free version of WP 2FA is full-featured, the premium version of 2FA offers more. Licenses begin from $29 per year, and each lets you set up five users for your site.

Jessie Brown

Jessie is a former Editor at WP Mayor. With her vast WordPress experience having used it since its early days, she has a knack for knowing which products and companies are worth your time.

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