Enabling Two-Factor Authentication on iCloud Accounts

One feature that I love with macOS Sierra that has come as a total shock to me is the ability to unlock my MacBook with my Apple Watch. The reason it is such a surprise is that I never thought it would be something that I would make much use of. After all, how difficult is it to enter a password? Not at all, especially when you find yourself carrying out this action multiple times daily. The muscle memory involved with typing the same sequence of character repeatedly speeds the whole process up.

Yet when I sit down at my desk and lift the lid on my laptop, seeing my desktop within just a couple of seconds never fails to make me smile just a little.

In order to activate this feature, there is a requirement to enable something called Two-factor authentication, a process which I will outline below. This is not to be confused with Two-step verification released in 2014 amidst the furore over various celebrities having their iCloud accounts compromised. With Two-step verification, logging into some (not all) iCloud resources prompted the user to input a code, sent to an iOS device logged in with the same iCloud account. Rushed into production, it was hit and miss and always seen to be a stop-gap whilst a more robust solution was developed.

Two-factor authentication is onle accessible on devices that you trust. Signing into a device for the first time prompts you to enter a password and a six-digit code that is automatically displayed on any trusted devices. I use it daily and so far, I find that it works well. It shows the approximate location of the sign-in attempt and has added automated voice calls as a backup method for sending the code.

You will find a summary of the intricacies of Two-Factor Authentication here as well as a guide on how to set it up, however if you wish to just set it up quickly, follow the steps below:

iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch with iOS 9 and later:

  • Go to Settings -> iCloud -> press your Apple ID
  • Press Password and Security
  • Press Turn On Two-Factor Authentication

Mac with OS X El Capitan and later

  • Go to System Preferences -> iCloud -> Account Details
  • Click Security
  • Click Turn on Two-Factor Authentication

It's important to note that if you still use two-step verification, or have configured this in the past and it is still active, you will need to disable it in order for two-factor authentication to be enabled.

A list of FAQ's can be found here relating to 2FA which are worth reading.

Reviewing Apple ID Security Questions

Do you remember the answers to the security questions that you defined when creating your Apple ID? Have you ever had a situation where you've been asked a security question, either on the phone, or via a web page, only to draw a blank when it comes to responding?

I have. Not too long ago either I'm sad to say.

Fortunately, Apple understand this and provide the ability to reset these security questions. All they need to do is verify your identity by emailing your rescue email address.

In order to reset your security questions, sign in to your Apple ID account page and in the Security section, click Change Questions. Follow the prompts to enter your rescue email address and the rest is pretty plain sailing.

My Security Question Setup

As as additional, I thought I'd quickly let you know my workflow for both defiining and storing security questions for all services, not just for my Apple ID. It's very simple, I follow these two steps:

1) Give False Answers - information is everywhere and whether we like it or not, information specifically about us is far easier to find than we believe. Questions like What Is Your Mother's Maiden Name? are a hackers dream if you answer them correctly. To combat this, all of my security questions are formed of either an alphanumeric string, or string of random words. Examples include (and no, they are NOT my actual answers to anything!)

Q - Street You Were Born?
A - juggle_ring_taxi_crib

Q - Who Was Your Best Friend At School?
A - QH95!rt5_*

I know what some of you are thinking. "How can I enter that every time?". Well, think about how often you actually need to access your security questions. If it's a service I find myself using a lot (Business banking is one that occurs once every couple of weeks) then I will opt for the multiple word style answer, especially if this has to be given over the telephone. All others can be alphanumeric because the low frequency of entry versus the risk should the answer be obtained by some nefarious beings, is a no-brainer in my opinion.

2) Store the answers securely - let's be honest, despite the immense processing and recollection powers of the brain, answers like the ones given above will not be remembered. However when it comes to storage, they need to be secure.
All of my security questions are stored within 1Password. 1Password is an application for Mac/Windows/iOS/Android that stores information in an encrypted format, either locally or in a cloud storage solution and requires one password to open. This means you only need to commit one password to memory (hence the clever name...) allowing you to make it extremely secure. I use 1Password to store:

- All logins to sites
- Software Licences
- Credit Card/Banking information
- Secure Notes
- Passport information

I setup a Secure Note for each set of Security Questions that I create and I know that I can pull the answers up when required on either my laptop or mobile device as required.

There are other players in the market, such as LastPass and KeePass which are well worth a look.

We're more vulnerable than ever due to the advancements in technology we see day in, day out. Yet we can control a lot of these vulnerabilities with a little awareness and due diligence. We may feel like hackers will always find a way round, yet we can certainly make the job of getting access to our personal information an awful lot harder.

iCloud 101 - A Beginners Guide

In order to show that this blog is indeed one that spans many skill levels with the Mac, I thought it would be a good idea to raise an issue that is aimed more at the novice end of the Mac User spectrum. 

Upon speaking with a peer today who used to work at the Apple Store, he said it was quite alarming how many people would ask him to explain what iCloud was as they had heard about it from friends/family and the like yet they had no idea what it was and, quite rightly, given the news reports recently regarding..well, let's not go over those details again - they were reluctant to use the service. I figured this would be a fantastic topic to kick off the 101 Beginners Guide set of blog posts on this site. 

What is iCloud?

iCloud is a cloud service, hosted by Apple, that lets you store your music, photo's, documents and more from whatever device you are on. As long as you have a connection to the Internet, this happens everywhere and it happens automatically, taking many steps out of your standard workflow for saving your important files. 

iCloud uses your Apple ID to wirelessly sync these files between your Apple devices. As an example, you could be on a day trip with the children and taking some quality photos of them. They will automatically upload to your Photo Stream which is stored....that's right, in iCloud. When you get home, turn on your MacBook, you will find those photos there ready for you to view or edit in iPhoto. 

You could be working on a document in Pages on your iPad and save it to iCloud. This means that the document can be opened on your Mac and vice versa. The ability to wirelessly sync across platform is a real productivity booster and makes life just that little bit easier. 

Contacts - these can be stored in iCloud meaning they will - you guessed it - be synced across all your devices. The same goes for your Calendar. for Mail. For your messages. You can even go to www.icloud.com, login with your Apple ID and get access to all of this content from there. Now that's handy if, for some reason, you find yourself on a PC. 

Find My iPhone - if your iPhone is lost or stolen, then it's location is stored in iCloud via it's in-built GPS receiver. In order to turn the feature off, then the Apple ID and Password registered to the device needs to be entered. This obviously makes it far easier to track. 

Safari - all of your Tabs and Bookmarks are now stored in iCloud meaning that if you are browsing on your iPad, looking at - i don't know - www.soliamsays.com and you switch over to your Mac, you can open this tab directly from your Mac. This is a superb feature and one I use often - but for better websites. 

iCloud Keychain - all of your passwords can now be stored in iCloud for use on all of your devices. Now I'm no security expert and will not pretend to be - however this is one feature of iCloud that I just cannot get completely sold on. I will always use a third party app like 1Password for this, especially for important passwords like my Bank or Email accounts. This is just down to personal preference mind. I know lots of people that use iCloud Keychain and have not had a problem at all. 

Photos - you can create a Shared Photo Stream in iCloud that is accessible to anyone you allow via their Apple ID. Fantastic if you don't fancy putting your snaps on social networks like Facebook or Twitter but would rather have something slightly more controlled. 

Another good feature of iCloud is the ability to schedule a back up of your iPhone or iPad. This means that should, for any reason, your device get to a stage where it needs to be restored from a backup, a quick connection to iCloud via your Apple ID will restore no problem. 

So - what does this process backup?

  • Purchased music, TV shows, apps and books
  • Photos and video in the Camera Roll
  • Device settings
  • App data
  • Home screen and app organization
  • Messages
  • Ringtones

Your iOS device backup only includes data and settings stored on your device. It doesn’t include data already stored in iCloud, for example contacts, calendars, bookmarks, mail messages, notes, shared photo streams, My Photo Stream, and documents you save in iCloud using iOS apps and Mac apps

As far as how much space you get, as a new user you are given 5GB of storage space. There are upgrade plans available for 10GB, 20GB and 50GB which are priced at approximately £14, £28 and £70 at the time of writing. 

For me, day to day, using iCloud is a no brainer. My daughter can send me an iMessage that would ordinarily arrive on my phone however because all of my Apple devices are configured to receive them, it pops up while I'm at work on my Mac. A distraction admittedly but one I like. It's great when a day out with the family ends with us coming home, putting Apple TV on and being greeted by the photo's already there. My music is available on all my devices. A wide range of apps now support iCloud storage for documents so I can work across platforms. It really isn't anything to be scared of and should be embraced. 

As said, this is a very simplified guide for a beginner to understand the basics of what iCloud is and does. For a more advanced breakdown, please visit Apple's website