What is the Distinction Between Two-Issue Authentication and Two-Step Verification?

Data leaks and breaches are all too common that passwords alone are ineffective in protecting your private information.

Therefore, Apple uses security features like two-factor authentication (2FA) and two-step verification (2SV), sometimes called two-step authentication, to ensure that nobody but the owner can access their Apple IDs or them can use it even if someone else knows their password.

Although they are often used interchangeably, the two functions work differently. Not sure which one is running on your device and what is the difference between them? Let's find out.

What is two-step verification?

Apple's 2SV method requires you to provide both your password and a four-digit verification code sent via SMS or Find My iPhone before you can access your account.

You will also receive a 14-digit recovery key that you can use to regain access to your account in the event that you lose access to the SMS-enabled phone or trusted device you have registered, or if you forget your password.

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What is two-factor authentication?

2FA works similarly to 2SV. It occurs when you sign in to a new device with your Apple ID and requires two pieces of important information: your password and a six-digit passcode that is automatically displayed on a trusted device.

A trusted device is any device with iOS9 or OS X El Capitan or higher that you have already used to sign in with two-factor authentication.

But there are differences between these two methods.

Two-Step Verification vs. Two-Factor Authentication: The Fundamental Differences

Since many people and experts use the terms “verification” and “authentication” interchangeably, we assume that they are the same: If so, the two security measures would only be distinguished by the terms “factor” and “step”.

Note that there are three authentication factors that security measures use to authenticate users when they log in:

  • Knowledge factor: What a person knows, such as passwords, birthdays and the mother's maiden name.
  • Ownership factors: What the person has, such as a laptop and a phone.
  • Inherence factors: Who the person is, like biometrics.

The two-step verification method asks you two steps of same Factor. On the other hand, two-factor authentication requires you to enter two Factors of authentication.

To give you an example, security measures that ask you to log into your account with your password or PIN and email verification that asks for something you know (knowledge factor) is considered a two-step verification process but not as two-factor authentication.

On the other hand, if a security measure prompts you to log in and sends a push notification or code to a selected device other than the one you are currently using, or requests a face scan, then both a knowledge factor and another factor are used. This makes the measurement both 2SV and 2FA.

Related: How to Change the Trusted Phone Number for Your Apple ID

In the meantime, a security method could be considered that would require you to sign in, scan your face, and enter a PIN to access an app. three-Step authentication, however, is only two-factor authentication as you only use two factors (knowledge and inherence).

Two-Step Verification vs. Two-Factor Authentication: How Apple Differentiates Them

Both functions require "proof" before you can do the following from a new device:

  • Sign in to your Apple ID account page.

  • Sign in to iCloud.com or iCloud.

  • Sign in to Facetime or iMessage.

  • Make purchases from iTunes, Apple Books, or the App Store.

  • Contact Apple for Apple-related help.

Both also require that you register a trusted phone number.

While the two are good security measures, 2FA is more secure. That's because two-step verification literally just means the process is two-step, so this can be a password and a PIN.

2FA is newer, built right into your device's operating system and on the Apple website, and enables Apple users to have a smooth and secure experience. Two-step verification is available to users with non-Apple devices, devices with an older operating system, or devices that are not authorized to use two-factor authentication. Additionally, two-step verification requires that you are using at least one SMS-enabled device.

How to find out which one to use

If you're not sure what security feature you're using, sign in with your Apple ID, then go to the safety Section to see which feature you are using. This is where you can check if it's on or off.

Why can't you use two-factor authentication?

The newer function only works for devices (no matter if iPad, iPhone, iPod or Mac) with at least iOS 9 or higher and OS X El Capitan 10 or higher.

If you have a device that can run these operating systems, you can set up two-factor authentication – and if you upgrade your device to iOS 11 or Mac OS Sierra or later.

Can you switch between two-factor authentication and two-step verification?

You can't switch from two-factor authentication, but you can switch from two-step verification to two-factor verification if your device is suitable.

Before switching, make sure to turn off two-step verification first. To do this, sign in with your Apple ID and then go to safety Section. Turn off two-step verification by following the on-screen instructions. You can then activate two-factor authentication.

Both two-step verification and two-factor authentication are additional measures Apple has taken to improve the privacy and security of its users. Both of these features can be of great help in deterring hackers and unwanted access to your account.

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About the author

Rachel Melegrito
(99 published articles)

Rachel Melegrito gave up her college teaching career to become a full-fledged content writer. She loves everything from Apple – from iPhones to Apple Watches to MacBooks. She is also a licensed occupational therapist and budding SEO strategist.

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By Rachel Melegrito

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