This marinated chicken baked with olives, capers, oregano, and dried plums is the perfect choice for a hearty yet stylish meal.
1 (12-ounce) package pitted, bite-size dried plums 1 (3.5-ounce) jar capers, drained 1 (0.5-ounce) bottle dried oregano 6 bay leaves 1 garlic bulb, minced 1 cup pimiento-stuffed olives ½ cup red wine vinegar ½ cup olive oil 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt 2 teaspoons pepper 8 pounds chicken pieces 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 1 cup dry white wine ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Combine first 10 ingredients in a large zip-top freezer bag or a large bowl. Add chicken pieces, turning to coat well; seal or cover and chill for at least 8 hours (overnight is best), turning chicken occasionally.
Arrange chicken in a single layer in 2 (13- x 9-inch) baking pans.
Pour marinade evenly over chicken, and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar; pour wine around chicken pieces. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting often.
Remove chicken, dried plums, capers, and olives to a serving platter. Drizzle with ¾ cup pan juices; sprinkle with parsley. Discard bay leaves. Serve chicken with remaining pan juices.
Yield: 10 servings. Per serving: Calories 823 (50% from fat); Fat 45.8g (sat 11.2g, mono 23g, poly 8.5g); Protein 56.4g; Carb 46.2g; Fiber 3.8g; Chol 209mg; Iron 11.4mg; Sodium 1250mg; Calc 107mg
(Recipe from Southern Living Cookbook)
Grilled Salmon with Sweet Soy Slaw and Dipping Sauce
The dipping sauce will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for several weeks.
Warm sauce over medium-low heat before serving.
Use as a marinade on steaks or shrimp, too.
2 cups soy sauce 2 tablespoons canola oil 8 pieces crystallized ginger 2 garlic cloves, minced 3 cups sugar 6 (6-ounce) salmon fillets 2 (12-ounce) packages broccoli slaw ¼ cup chopped green onions 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir in sugar.
Cook over medium heat 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat. (Mixture will thicken.)
Set aside 1½ cups soy mixture for slaw and to serve as a dipping sauce.
Brush both sides of salmon generously with remaining soy mixture; cover and let stand 10 minutes.
Grill salmon, covered with grill lid, over medium-high heat (350° to 400°) 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Toss together broccoli slaw, green onions, sesame seeds, and ½ cup reserved soy mixture; top with grilled salmon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with reserved 1 cup soy mixture for dipping.
Yield: 6 servings. Per serving: Calories 632 (32% from fat); Fat 22.5g (sat 4.9g, mono 10g, poly 4.9g); Protein 43.5g; Carb 62.5g; Fiber 4g; Chol 123mg; Iron 3.5mg; Sodium 2727mg; Calc 98mg
(Recipe from Southern Living Cookbook)
Strawberry Salad With Raspberry Vinaigrette
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained 1-pint fresh strawberries, stemmed and halved 1 small red onion, thinly sliced ½ cup coarsely chopped pecans, 1 avocado, cut into chunks, 1 (10-ounce) package romaine lettuce
Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with half of Raspberry Vinaigrette, tossing to coat. Serve remaining vinaigrette with salad.
Yield: 6 servings. Per serving: Calories 294 (75% from fat); Fat 24.4g (sat 3g, mono 16.1g, poly 4.2g); Protein 2.8g; Carb 19.8g; Fiber 5.9g; Chol 0mg; Iron 1.5mg; Sodium 214mg; Calc 45mg
⅓ cup olive oil ⅓ cup raspberry vinegar 1 tablespoon sugar ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon pepper ½ teaspoon hot sauce
Combine all ingredients in a jar; cover tightly, and shake vigorously. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.
Shake well before serving.
Yield: ⅔ cup. Per tablespoon: Calories 66 (93% from fat); Fat 6.8g (sat 0.9g, mono 5g, poly 0.7g); Protein 0g; Carb 1.7g; Fiber 0.1g; Chol 0mg; Iron 0.2mg; Sodium 115mg; Calc 2mg
(Recipe from Southern Living Cookbook)
How Long Do You Have to Keep Tax Records?
For many financial documents, just 3 years — for others, practically forever
by Nancy Dunham, AARP, Updated April 14, 2022
You may be starting at a heap of paperwork when you finish filing your 2021 federal taxes, which are due April 18. Your first urge may be to sweep them all into a paper bag and put the bag under a stairwell. Don’t do that. Instead, keep only the records you need to keep. And that starts with sorting them out.
Try to stay tidy
Neat, complete, well-organized financial files speed the process of filing your tax return and can keep you from making errors. Maintaining some semblance of order after you've filed your return — rather than tossing it into a file cabinet or shoebox — will come in handy if the Internal Revenue Service has questions about your form.
"The biggest blunder is not being organized about what records ought to be kept,” says Neal Stern, CPA, a member of the American Institute of CPAs’ National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “There are people who somehow believe that they should keep all of their paperwork, but they don't think through what the important paperwork is that should be kept or how it should be kept or how it should be organized."
People who keep too many financial papers often struggle just as much to find needed documents as those who don't keep any files. “They end up having drawers full of old papers,” Stern says. “It's not much better than not having the paperwork if you can't figure out what you have and where it is.”
What to keep
For an individual tax return, you'll need to save anything that supports the figures you entered on your return. You should keep the W-2 and 1099 forms you get from employers, for example, as well as any 1099-B or 1099-INT tax documents from banks, brokerages and other investment firms.
If you lost your job last year and received unemployment benefits from the government, be sure to keep your 1099-G form, which reports the amount you have received. The government is gave a tax exemption of up to $10,200 of unemployment income ($20,400 for married couples filing jointly) received in the 2020 tax year, but that exemption disappears for the 2021 tax year, so you’ll owe federal income taxes on the entire amount
If you're itemizing your deductions, keep receipts for these: credit card and other receipts, invoices, mileage logs and canceled checks. If you've bought or sold mutual fund shares, stocks or other securities, you'll need confirmation slips (or brokerage statements) that say how much you paid for the investments and how much you received when you sold them. Keep a copy of all your investments for at least three years after you have sold them.
Similarly, if you've sold a home, you'll need records that prove what you paid and what you received from its sale. And if you've sold a rental property, you'll need detailed records of the amount you've invested in the property over the years, as well as how much you deducted for depreciation. It's wise to keep Schedule E, the form you fill out every year for rental income, as long as you own the property.
How long to keep it
You've likely heard that seven years is the perfect period to hold on to tax records, including returns. The actual time to keep records isn't that simple, according to Steven Packer, CPA, in the Tax Accounting Group at Duane Morris.
"In most cases, tax records don't have to be kept for seven years because there's a three-year statute of limitations,” Packer explains. “So assuming there's no fraud or nothing else wrong, the IRS cannot look at your tax returns beyond that three-year statute.”
The statute of limitations has some important exceptions, and if your tax return has any of these, you'll need to keep your returns and your records longer than three years. For example, the statute of limitations is six years if you have substantially underestimated your income. The threshold for substantial understatement is 25 percent of your gross income. If you claim your gross income was $50,000 and it was really $100,000, you've substantially understated your income.
The six-year rule also applies if you have substantially overstated the cost of property to minimize your taxable gain. Say if you sold a piece of property for $150,000 and claimed you paid $125,000 instead of the actual $50,000, the IRS has six years to take action against you. And if you have omitted more than $5,000 in income from an offshore account, the statute of limitations is also six years.
Keep records for seven years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad-debt deduction. If you haven't filed a return, or if you have filed a fraudulent return, there's no statute of limitations for the IRS to seek charges against you.
Property records can be forever
When you sell a property at a profit, you'll owe capital gains tax on that profit. Calculating your capital gain often requires you to hang on to your records as long as you own your investment. You'll need those records to calculate the cost basis for the property, which is the actual cost, adjusted upward or downward by other factors, such as major improvements to the structure.
Calculating the cost basis on property you live in is relatively simple because most people can avoid paying capital gains tax on their primary residence. If you sell your primary residence, those filing individual returns can exclude up to $250,000 in gains from taxes, and couples filing jointly can exclude up to $500,000. You must have lived in your home for at least two of the past five years to qualify for the exclusion. Even so, you'll need to save your records of the transaction for at least three years after selling the property.
If your sale doesn't meet the above criteria, you'll need to keep records of significant improvements for at least three years after the sale. IRS Publication 523, “Selling Your Home,” spells out what improvements you can add to your cost basis — and reduce your capital gains bill. The same holds true for rental property.
Most brokerages will compute your cost basis for stocks, bonds and mutual funds, although they are only to calculate your cost basis for stock transactions since 2011 and mutual funds since 2012. It's a good idea to keep all your transaction records, however, in case you change brokers. Your broker is not obligated to hold your records indefinitely. In addition, keep records of any inherited property and its value when the owner died, which will become your tax basis.
There's nothing wrong with saving your records longer than the legal limits if it gives you peace of mind and you can stand the clutter. You might consider storing some records in the cloud — remote computer storage space that you rent.
Although many people keep paper records, it's also smart to have the documents converted to electronic files and stored in the cloud. It's a good idea to have two sets, in case one is destroyed.
Finally, remember that your state may have separate rules for keeping records; check with your accountant or state tax department.
5 Foods to Skip After 50
They're probably not worth it, no matter how you slice 'em
by Alison Gwinn, AARP, Updated August 6, 2021
We're not going to lie. Eating healthily after 50 means effort on two fronts: boosting your intake of good-for-you foods such as berries, leafy greens, whole grains and lean proteins while cutting out the foods that clog your arteries and oh-so-easily expand your waistline.
When it comes to the latter, focus less on making certain foods verboten (who doesn't suddenly want chocolate when told never to eat it?) and more on how your health is more important than the sugar spike or instant satiety they offer. When possible, just say no — or at least “Whoa!” — to the following.
Skip it: Fried foods that triple the calories
If it helps, pause to imagine the vat of oil that basket of fries or onion rings has been submerged in, and consider how its saturated fat “may have a negative impact on blood cholesterol,” says Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, Connecticut. Not sure how to cut back? Here are three expert tips:
1. Christine Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and coauthor of Food & Fitness After 50, says that because frying tends to triple the calories in foods, you should invest in an air fryer. (She swears by hers.)
2. Alicia Ines Arbaje, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School, says to save your fats for dinner and to avoid them at breakfast and lunch.
3. Thomas Loepfe, M.D., a geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Go with grilled, not fried."
Bottom line: Get the side salad instead of restaurant fries. And when you're looking at labels, consider that “a 200-calorie serving of food should have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat,” says Nancy Farrell Allen, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Skip it: Sugary drinks, including most bottled teas
Soft drinks aren't your only enemy. Bottled teas, fancy coffee drinks and “fresh” lemonades can all be loaded with the sweet stuff. “For example, the 16-ounce chai latte at Starbucks, one of its most popular drinks, has 42 grams of sugar,” Rosenbloom says.
With bottled drinks, beware of misleading labels. “Just because a drink says ‘pure’ or ‘green tea’ or ‘honey’ doesn't mean it has less sugar,” Rosenbloom says. And products touting their organic cane sugar, coconut sugar or raw sugar? “Sugar is sugar,” she adds.
Bottom line: “Aim to keep added sugar intake to 10 percent or less of total daily calories,” Gorin says. “For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, that would be no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams of added sugar per day."
Skip it: Packaged foods with sneaky sugars
"Hidden sugars can be found in pasta sauces, yogurt, granola bars, instant oatmeal packets and breakfast cereals,” Allen says. Why's that so harmful for older adults? “Excess sugar can put stress on organs such as the pancreas and liver,” Allen says, “which can increase blood sugar and blood triglyceride levels and raise the risk of fatty liver disease.”
Adds Loepfe: “Sugars increase one's risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the incidence and prevalence of which increase as we age.” And at a time in life when every calorie should be nutrient-dense, “added sugar really contributes to calories we don't need,” he says.
Bottom line: Check labels for added sugars — but don't fret over natural sugars in fruits or milk.
Skip it: High-sodium instant meals (think: frozen pizzas)
"Seventy-five percent of people over age 60 have high blood pressure. And even if you're on medication, you want to lower your sodium intake,” Rosenbloom says. If you think you're eating a low-salt diet because you don't salt your grilled corn or soup, consider that frozen pizza or canned soup you just heated up.
"Seventy-five percent of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods, not the salt shaker,” she says. So what can you do? An easy way to spot low-sodium foods, she notes, is to look for those in which sodium is 5 percent or less of the daily value; anything in the 20 percent range is high-sodium.
Bottom line: Aim for 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
Skip it: Ultra-processed snacks
Unless you're picking an apple from a tree or getting your milk straight out of a cow, most of the food you eat is processed — it's the ultra-processed foods that make the list to strike from your diet. “Minimally processed foods like bagged greens, diced vegetables and nuts offer convenience,” Allen says. “And canned tomatoes and frozen fruit and vegetables are an excellent way to enjoy produce processed at peak quality and freshness."
But many ready-to-eat, processed foods like cake mixes, snack chips, ketchup, sweetened yogurt and “meat lovers” frozen pizzas add food coloring, sodium, preservatives and other hard-to-pronounce additives in order to make consumers happy. And that's not good for you.
Many processed foods are void of fiber and nutrients like potassium or magnesium, and they tend to be calorically dense, with a lot of fat and salt, says Joseph Gonzales, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic.
"And some of the preservatives, like nitrates, may be harmful in high amounts, perhaps leading to premature aging of cells in the body,” Loepfe says.
Bottom line: Make label-reading a habit. Better yet, cook at home.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information.
7 Ways to Treat Allergies as Pollen Counts Rise
Climate change is making allergy season longer and more severe
It’s not just your imagination: Your allergies are getting worse.
Compared to 1990, pollen season today kicks off 20 days earlier and sticks around eight days longer, according to a 2021 study. And sneezin’ season is more severe: Plants, grasses, and trees spew 21 percent more pollen in the air than they did 30 years ago.
A funny thing happens when you turn up the temperature or increase CO2 concentrations in the air: Plants produce more pollen, explains William Anderegg, associate professor of biology at the University of Utah and the lead author of the study mentioned above. How bad it can get depends on where you live and the plant species that proliferate there. His study found that Texas and the Midwest were particularly bad pollen hot spots. “This is a crystal clear example of how climate change is not in the future — it’s here with every breath we take in the springtime,” he says.
by Jessica Migala, AARP, April 13, 2022
If we don’t slow the cycle, and current trends continue, concentrations of ragweed pollen could double by 2060; grass pollen will triple, notes research analyst Hannah Jaffee of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
This is just unfair: As people get older, allergy symptoms tend to decline as our immune systems become less reactive with age. But our changing climate is robbing us of this natural protection, says allergist Neeta Ogden, M.D., spokesperson for the AAFA and a member of AAFA's Medical Scientific Councill.
Not only will we continue to suffer symptoms, or even see them get worse, but ”with longer, more intense seasons, older adults can actually develop allergies for the first time in their lives,” she says. Currently, about 16 percent of adults over the age of 65 have been treated for hay fever, according to a 2019 CDC report, though there’s evidence it’s underrecognized and undertreated in those over age 60.
Don’t let allergy season catch you by surprise this year. Here are seven smart pieces of advice from experts about surviving the watery-eyes, stuffy-nose, congestion-filled months ahead.
1. Start treating allergies early in the season
If you can, start your allergy medications several weeks before you traditionally experience symptoms, advises Purvi Parikh, M.D., medical director at Allergy and Asthma Network in New York City. It’s easier to prevent your immune system from getting overly aroused than it is to calm it once it’s begun to react. To protect against spring’s pollen, you should start treatment now, if you haven’t already. For fall’s ragweed surge, start in August. The exact dates may differ depending on what part of the country you live in, so confirm with your allergist.
2. Manage your allergy symptoms
While there are changes you can make to your day-to-day activities to decrease your pollen exposure, medication remains a mainstay of allergy treatment. Still, the last thing you may want to do is to add another tablet to your pillbox. So it’s important to find the right medication strategy to manage your symptoms. Start with a nasal steroid spray, such as fluticasone (Flonase), triamcinolone (Nasacort) or (Rhinocort).
These reduce nasal swelling and mucous to clear your sinuses, and are “known to stop the immune response called by allergies and prevent severe symptoms,” says Donald Dvorin, M.D., an allergist in Mt. Laurel Township, New Jersey. Ideally, they’re started in advance of when symptoms normally start, as they can take a week to work. Use these daily and as directed (keeping your head upright, spraying toward the outer wall of your nostril). Shooting this up your nose may not be the most pleasant sensation, but consistency is key.
As for which one to choose, Dvorin says that some sensitive patients find Flonase irritating because it contains alcohol, so try Nasacort first. One note (or point of confusion): These are different than oxymetazoline (Afrin), a nasal congestion spray. Nasal steroid sprays can be used long-term, whereas you should not use Afrin for more than three consecutive days, otherwise — rather paradoxically — congestion could get worse.
Still suffering? Steroid sprays may not be enough. Add in an antihistamine. Dvorin recommends trying over-the-counter antihistamines loratadine (Claritin-D) or fexofenadine (Allegra-D) first, both of which are nondrowsy. Cetirizine (Zyrtec-D) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) are sedating, so they should be taken only at night. If you need something stronger, ask your doctor about prescription antihistamines, some of which, like hydroxyzine (Atarax), could help you sleep better at night if symptoms keep you up.
3. Talk to your doctor about allergy medications
Like any drug, allergy meds can interact with others you’re on or cause side effects, including drowsiness, prostate problems, brain fog and heart issues, in certain underlying conditions, Parikh says. So, while there are a lot of good options available OTC, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically safe for you. “All these meds are not necessarily benign. I would not wing it,” Dvorin says. Chat with your doc first.
4. Don't forget to treat fall allergies
You’re still not in the clear even in late fall. “I take regular pollen counts March through October. I find that pollen is still in the air even on Halloween,” Dvorin says. Ultimately, microparticles of pollen could stick around into winter and induce off-season symptoms, he says. Ask your doctor about year-round treatment — it could stave off sickness, too. That’s because if you have allergies, your airways are more reactive to viral illnesses, research suggests. Suppressing allergic flare-ups may improve your overall immunity, potentially helping keeping your defenses up to fight off colds and flu.
5. Wear your face mask (Eh, you’re used to It by now)
You love to garden, but with all that pollen, gardening does not always love you back. There are a few preemptive steps the green fingered among us can take to spend more time outside, sans sneezing, says Dvorin. Take your medication before going out and mask up. (Medical face masks designed to keep out allergens are best; you can find these everywhere now, as well as order them in bulk on NatlAllergy.com.) Once you get back inside, change out of your shoes and outdoor clothing. If allergies are especially severe, you may want to shower and wash your hair, as tresses trap pollen.
6. Check the pollen count
You look at the weather before heading out on your morning walk; why not do the same with pollen counts? Pollen.com provides an allergy forecast by zip code; WeatherBug (WeatherBug.com, also available as an app) and The Weather Channel (Weather.com) show counts and ratings for the day. If it’s high, you may want to shift outdoor activities indoors, if possible. For example, do a mall walk instead of a neighborhood stroll. If those resources aren’t available to you, consider timing outside activities to avoid peak pollen release, especially on windy and warm days. Those are 5 to 10 a.m. and then after 4 p.m. to dusk, Dvorin says.
7. Eradicate indoor allergens too
Breathing in pollen and dust mites and dander and mold is a recipe for disaster. Nasal passages can only handle so much: The sheer load of allergens can make your symptoms worse, Parikh says. You’ll want to take indoor precautions, too: That means zipping up box springs and mattresses with dust mite covers, vacuuming carpets frequently, keeping windows closed, and setting up a HEPA air purifier if you’re allergic to your pet. Get roof leaks fixed promptly, Dvorin adds. “Mold and mildew are major hazards for indoor allergy sufferers.” Set your indoor humidity to 40 percent to reduce the mold in your home.
A Path To Better Health
(American Institute of Cancer Research) Report
Causes of cancer can be roughly placed into two groups: things we can’t control, and things we can.
There’s not much you can do about inherited genes, but research suggests that nearly 40% of cancer cases could be avoided by changing our nutrition habits and lifestyles. Learn how your everyday decisions can shape your health, and start making decisions that stack the odds in your favor.
Be physically active as a part of your everyday life — walk more and sit less.
Being physically active and exercising can lower your cancer risk, help you have a healthy weight and lessen your risk for numerous chronic diseases. Just 30 minutes of physical activity 5 times a week can go a long way towards improving your health.
To get the most out of your physical activity, combine it with a healthy diet. When you marry a plant-based eating style with intentional physical activity, you’ll more likely balance the calories you take in with what you burn, and you’ll more naturally have and maintain a healthy weight.
Sometimes getting started is the hardest step. There may be mental hurdles to overcome, and feelings of frustration to get through. But it’s never too late to start being active. And any type of physical activity is better than none.
Make it easy on yourself by starting simply, starting where you are, and taking one day at a time.
Meaning: If you used to run but you haven’t laced up in years, then don’t shoot for ten miles on day one. And, if you’ve never been into fitness, then don’t start with a high-intensity, cross training class.
Instead, set some realistic goals, make a plan, and try to get a little better each day.
Make A Plan
If you’ve never been physically active, consider starting your journey towards regular activity with a series of moderate, 15-minute exercise sessions. Do five sessions during week one. Then gradually add five, ten, or fifteen minutes over the next several weeks until each session gets past the 30-minute mark.
If you want to start really simply, then go for brisk walks. By walking 30 minutes a-day, five days a week you easily meet AICR’s recommendation to be physically active 150 minutes a-week and reduce your cancer risk.
If you haven’t been active in a while, begin with easy to moderate activities and build-up your time and intensity levels gradually. Warm up first by marching in place or walking for five minutes. Once you’re done with your exercise, take care of your muscles by stretching for a few minutes.
Over time, increase your exercise level to improve your fitness. Push yourself without causing pain or too much exhaustion. Mix up your activity routine to keep it interesting. During the week, spend time doing different kinds of exercise:
- aerobic (try zumba or jogging)
- strengthening (try lifting weights, doing body weight work, or using resistance bands)
- balance (try tai chi and yoga)
- flexibility (try stretching)
Being consistently active is all about your mindset. Instead of thinking of exercise as a task, consider physical activity as play. Have a good time moving and enjoy the world around you, knowing that you are creating a healthier life for yourself.
The best way to get active and stay active is to make sure you’re having fun. If you’re not into jogging solo, consider finding a group activity class that interests you. Maybe some yoga? Or dance? Or swimming? Or just hitting the gym?
One way to really make physical activity part of your lifestyle is to add some accountability. Maybe start getting fit with a friend or someone who can support you and help keep you on track.
Awareness of your progress is important. You can chart your activity in a workout journal or make a game out of counting your steps with a wearable fitness tracker.
However You Choose to be Active, You’ve Got to Move More, and Sit Less
You’ve got to move if you want to stay healthy. Physically active people tend to live healthier and longer. Plus, they enjoy more independence as they age.
And Sit Less. People who spend a lot of time sitting – to binge watch TV, for example – are more prone to unhealthy weight gain, cancer and other chronic diseases including type two diabetes and heart disease. If you spend your day at a sedentary job and then sit at your computer or television for a few hours every night, that sedentary lifestyle can increase your cancer risk.
Why You Need to Set Up Two-Factor Authentication ASAP
Crystal Wilde Updated: Apr. 14, 2022
What is two-factor authentication, and why do experts say it's the key to better online security?
Google produces around 35.7 million results to the query “how to tell if my computer has been hacked,” which just goes to show how imperative online security is in the modern age. We’re told we need good passwords, but those are hard to remember, so many of us store a passwords list in our homes or on our computers.
Needless to say, this isn’t particularly safe, especially in the age of spyware. Which is why the most important thing you can google might just be “what is two-factor authentication?”
Think of two-factor authentication as an extra lock on a door that guards your passwords. It takes an extra step to unlock the door, but it also makes it harder for the bad guys to sneak in. Using two-factor authentication is a step toward securing your online identity and data, and it’s a way to avoid digital attacks like doxxing. It also helps thwart phishing attacks.
In other words, if you know what two-factor authentication is, you may be able to avoid experiencing serious cybersecurity threats firsthand.
And while everyone ought to use this security tool, it’s especially crucial for anyone using public Wi-Fi and iCloud. At the end of the day, it’s much easier to protect yourself from hackers than it is to recover a hacked Facebook account or hacked Instagram account. So let’s dive in.
What is two-factor authentication?
Two-factor authentication—often referred to as two-step authentication and 2FA—is a method for keeping your data safe online by adding an extra step (or more) to the log-in process. It does this by providing an extra layer of security beyond the standard username and password, which are typically fairly easy for bad actors to obtain or guess.
“The problem with passwords is they’re usually very weak, or people use the same ones over and over,” says Tom Gaffney, principal consultant for consumer security at cybersecurity firm F-Secure. “The top ones in the U.K. last year were 12345678, qwerty, password, or some variation thereof. Even a 14-digit alphanumeric password can be hacked in 140 seconds.”
In the event you fall prey to an Apple ID phishing scam, for instance, the hacker might get your password but find a roadblock at the 2FA prompt.
What happens when you have two-factor authentication?
With two-factor authentication, you have a security blanket of sorts. Hackers can do some pretty scary things with just your cell phone number, never mind with more personal information (think usernames and passwords) they might gain access to through data breaches or scams. When you have 2FA set up, you derail their plans.
Two-factor authentication is used by a wide variety of organizations, from workplaces and schools to banks, social media companies, and more. All of them want to make sure you—and only you—have access to your accounts. So they add an extra step.
After you enter your username and password, the website or app will ask for information to verify you are who you say you are. It might prompt you to enter something you know (like a PIN or a password), something you have (like a security code or physical fob), or something you are (like a fingerprint, facial scan, or voice frequency).
What is an example of two-factor authentication?
OK, so we’ve got the theory, but what is two-factor authentication when it’s in action? All 2FA systems use a combination of something we know, have, or are to confirm our identity. Examples of factors that may be used to confirm your identity include:
- A one-time code sent via either SMS or email to your registered accounts. As text messages and emails are fairly easily hacked and intercepted, however, this is one of the weakest forms of two-factor authentication.
- A code generated by an authenticator app (more on this below) or a physical fob.
- A push notification on a second registered device that asks you to confirm or deny the request.
- A FIDO, which stands for “fast ID online.” Considered the safest type of two-factor authentication, the FIDO system uses biometric authentication mechanisms, such as a fingerprint, voice recognition, or facial recognition, to confirm an identity online.
According to Microsoft, people who use two-factor authentication are 99 percent less likely to get hacked than those who don’t. Given the number of online accounts we all have these days, it’s worryingly common for people to use the same password for multiple or even all of their applications and services.
Even some of the world’s biggest companies suffer data breaches from time to time, so if one of your passwords is compromised, the fallout could be huge.
As part of its identity protection service, F-Secure monitors the dark web for stolen data that’s being held and sold. Through its investigations, the company found 1.7 billion compromised usernames, 29 billion emails, 24 billion passwords, and 41 billion bits of other information, such as social security numbers. It’s enough to make you want to disappear completely from the Internet.
This highlights why two-factor authentication is so important, says Gaffney, because unauthorized users would be unable to meet the second security requirement, even if they have your username and password.
“It’s harder for a criminal hacker to learn your password and your second factor of authentication,” says cybersecurity consultant and writer David Geer. “It keeps the criminals out of your sensitive accounts and information such as your personal, financial, and medical records.”