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Dropbox joins the security two-step party

Spamming stimulates the system

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Dropbox has followed through on an earlier promise and is rolling out two-factor authentication for its Windows, Mac, and Linux users.

In July, the company pledged to the move after a bunch of its customers had their accounts hijacked and used to send vast quantities of spam for gambling websites. Dropbox blamed the security slip on a staffer reusing his work password on a website that had been hacked, and promised to beef up its security systems.

"Two-step verification adds an extra layer of protection to your account by requiring an additional security code that is sent to your phone by text message or generated using a mobile authenticator app," it said in a Friday forum post. "We'd like to give our loyal forum viewers a chance to try it out first."

The new setting sends a text message to mobile phones when there's a new access to an account, or allows the use of mobile applications that support the Time-based One-Time Password (TOTP) protocol. Dropbox recommends Google Authenticator for Android, iOS, and Blackberry, or Authenticator for Windows Phone 7 users.

All this necessitates Dropbox generating a new super-strength 16-digit password string for the inevitable case of someone losing their phone. Losing both phone and the new password, however, is also likely for some clumsy users, and El Reg hopes Dropbox is going to be happy with the additional support calls – but it's better than another embarrassing attack. Some early users are reporting teething problems on Dropbox's forums, but overall the service roll-out looks good so far.

Two-factor authentication isn’t perfect, but it's better than dumb passwords when it comes to locking down accounts. In the last year, Google and Facebook have been leading efforts to try and get more people on two-factor, presumably on the principle of "better late than never."

There's nothing new in two-factor – it's been in use for over a decade – but it's a source of some considerable annoyance to some in the security community that the practice has been so slow to spread. While some businesses have adopted two-factor, it's relatively rare in the consumer space and businesses that you'd have thought would be keen – like the banking sector – have been dragging their feet.

The recent spamming attack has pushed DropBox into improving its security, a small cost to it but one which should be repaid with happier and more secure customers. Given the millions of dollars and billions of hours wasted on attacks, you'd think more companies would find a better solution. ®

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