A simple tech fix that will make you the family hero at Thanksgiving this year

They’ll be thankful.
They’ll be thankful.
Image: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Before fussing with your parents’ printer or router this Thanksgiving, there’s a much more important task that you—the family tech support by virtue of being a “computer person”—should help them take care of: enabling two-factor authentication.

There’s been a string of data breaches in recent years, and tech-illiterate relatives (the “non-computer people”) are especially vulnerable for their tendency to set weak passwords and use them across many sites. Take the time now to help them set up two-factor authentication, because it’s nothing compared to recovering from a major breach.

Two-factor verification is one of the best tools consumers have to secure their accounts, and it’s become a standard security feature offered by many major sites. You can explain to older relatives that it’s like using two passwords—one that they memorize and another that’s sent to their phones. The second “password” is a special one-time-use code that adds an extra layer of security. It’s reassuring that even if hackers steal your parents’ usernames and passwords, they still can’t get into their accounts if two-factor is turned on.

Here’s how to enable two-factor authentication on Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other sites:


  1. Click here for the two-factor settings. (You can also find it from the settings page by heading to “Sign-in & security” and then clicking on “2-step verification.”) Log in if prompted.
  2. Add in a cell phone number, and select to receive codes via text message (SMS is easiest since users don’t have to download and manage a separate app like Google Authenticator). If they don’t have a cell phone, you can select for them to receive codes via calls instead.
  3. While you’re at it, add a backup phone number and generate a set of backup codes. Explain to your parents that they can use these codes when they don’t have access to their cell phones (when they’re traveling, for example, or their phone has been lost or stolen). Print or write down this list, and put it in a secure place.
  4. Sign out, and show mom and dad how to log in. When you enter in the code, check “Don’t ask for codes again on this computer,” so they only have to do this step once a month.
  5. You might have to help them log in to their Google accounts on their smartphones and tablets using app-specific passwords (the codes sent over text message don’t work on certain apps, such as the iPhone’s mail app). This requires you to generate individual passwords when logging in on mobile apps. You can do this under the security settings page or by clicking here.


When Yahoo refreshed the design of its mail app in October, it also introduced a new way for users to log in to their accounts. Instead of typing in a password and secure code, a feature called Account Key will push notifications to users’ smartphones when they log in to their Yahoo email account. From the smartphone, users can approve or deny access—no typing necessary. You can enable that feature under account security.

Account Key, however, only works with Mail. You can opt to use two-factor instead by following these instructions:

  1. Under settings, head to account security and turn on two-step verification.
  2. Enter in a mobile number that can receive text messages.
  3. Select to receive codes via text message.
  4. You might need to help your parents log in to Yahoo services on their mobile devices by creating app-specific passwords (see the last step of the Google directions).


  1. Under account settings, head to two-step verification.
  2. When prompted, choose to verify with a phone number.
  3. Enter in a number that can receive text messages. Select to receive codes via SMS.
  4. Print or write down the recovery code, and put it in a secure place.
  5. Create app passwords, if necessary, by clicking here.

Apple ID (iTunes and iCloud)

  1. Under account settings, go to password and security. Answer the security questions when prompted.
  2. Click on “Get started” under two-step verification.
  3. Add a phone number.
  4. Print or write down the recovery key.
  5. Verify the recovery key by typing in the code.


  1. Go to “Change account settings” (Your account > Settings > Account settings > Change account settings). Log in if prompted.
  2. Click “Advanced security settings,” and turn on two-step verification.
  3. Enter a phone number that can receive text messages. Type in the code that’s sent to the account holder’s cell phone.
  4. Add and verify a backup phone number.


  1. Under account settings, head to security and then security key.
  2. Click on “Get security key.”
  3. Register a phone number if the account doesn’t have one already.
  4. Verify the phone number by entering the security code.


  1. Under security settings, go to “Login approvals” (this is Facebook’s term for two-factor authentication).
  2. If your relatives only use Facebook on their computers, choose “other” when Facebook asks what phone they use. If they access Facebook from the Android or iOS app, click on “Android, iPhone or iPod Touch.”
  3. If you selected ”other,” enter and verify a phone number. If you selected Android or iOS, open up the Facebook mobile app, tap on the menu button, press code generator, and then activate.
  4. Enter the code generated from the Facebook app to finish enabling login approvals.


  1. Head to security and privacy settings.
  2. Check the box for “Verify login requests.”
  3. Enter in a phone number that can receive text messages, and verify the number.
  4. Generate an app password to log in to the mobile app, if necessary.