Google Authenticator is an app you install on your phone and it makes your Gmail much harder for anyone to break into. So what does it do?
Using strong passwords which are difficult to guess is a good first line of defence when it comes to protecting your email account. But as we've seen in cases like the LinkedIn hack, passwords can be breached.
Did you know you can go an extra step in securing your Gmail, or other Google services you log into?
It's called Google Authenticator - an app which runs on your phone and helps make it very hard for someone else to get into your Gmail, even if they have your password.
How does this work?
The Authenticator uses something called "two-factor authentication" or "two-step verification" as Google calls it. This relies on something you know, such as your password, along with something you have. In general, for two-factor authentication the "something you have" might be a USB security token or passcode generator on your keyring, but it can also be your smartphone.
What does Google Authenticator do?
Users of Google apps such as Gmail can enable two-factor authentication which sends a one-off code to your phone as a text message when you login for the first time from a new computer.
At this point you can tick "remember this computer" so you don't need to enter a code every time. This way strangers can't get into your Google account from their own computer even if they know your password.
The shortcoming of this is that your phone needs reception in order to receive the SMS. This is where Google Authenticator comes in - it's an app which runs on your phone which can generate one-off codes without the need for network access.
The app is available for Android version 2.1 or later, iPhone iOS 3.1.3, BlackBerry OS 4.5 to 6.0 and Windows Phone 7.
Taking it a step further
What's also interesting is that Google has opened up Google Authenticator to third-party services. So you can use it to log in to other sites, such as the LastPass password safe, Dropbox online service and WordPress blogging site.
Google Authenticator is also an open source project, so it's possible for other developers to add support for Google Authenticator to their software and services.