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ID: 139248


Date: 2019-06-12

I’ll be passing on Google’s new 2fa for logins on iPhones and iPads. Here’s why

If using Android to log in to Google from an iPad sounds complicated... you're right. Google is expanding its new Android-based two-factor authentication (2fa) to people logging in to Google and Google Cloud services on iPhones and iPads. While Google deserves props for trying to make stronger authentication available to more users, Ill be avoiding it in favor of 2fa methods Google has had in place for years. Ill explain why later. First, heres some background. Google first announced Androids built-in security key in April, when it went into beta, and again in May, when it became generally available. The idea is to make devices running Android 7 and up users primary 2fa device. When someone enters a valid password into a Google account, the phone displays a message alerting the account owner. Users then tap a "yes" button if the login is legitimate. If it's an unauthorized attempt, the user can block the login from going through. The system aims to tighten account security in a meaningful way. One of the key causes of account breaches is passwords that are compromised in phishing attacks or other types of data thefts. Google has been a leader when it comes to two-factor protections that by definition require something in addition to a password for someone to gain access to an account. That has left Google scrambling for another FIDO-sanctioned way for the masses to do 2fa. And thats where Android built-in keys come in. Unfortunately, there are key drawbacks to this method as well. First, it relies on Bluetooth, and all its maddening glitches, for the phone to communicate with the macOS, Windows 10, or Chrome OS device the user is logging in to. Second, it also works only when people log in to an account using Googles Chrome browser. Other browsers and apps are out of luck. Another shortcoming was that Android keys werent available to users logging in from an iOS device. On Wednesday, Google is addressing this last drawback with a new method that brings Android keys to iPhone and iPad users. It relies on the Google Smart Lock app running on the iOS device that communicates over Bluetooth with the built-in key stored on the users Android phone or tablet. (The app, which is also used to make FIDO-based crypto keys work with iOS devices, has user ratings of just 2.2 out of 5.) Google has additional instructions here. Company representatives declined to provide interviews for this post. I spent about 90 minutes trying to get the method to work between an iPad mini and a Pixel XL. I had no trouble setting up Androids built-in key and using it to authenticate logins from a macOS computer to both a personal Google account and a work account provided by G Suite. Alas, I was never able to get the Android keys to work when logging in to either account on the iPad mini. It was a frustrating experience, but at least it was progress. Ars Reviews Editor Ron Amadeo told me he was unable to get even the Android piece to work when he tried several weeks ago. I wont rule out the possibility that the failure is at least in part the result of user error. But thats not the point. If people from a tech site struggle, so, too, will Aunt Mildred or Uncle Frank in Poughkeepsie. And given Bluetooths above-mentioned quirks, it seems entirely plausible that our inability to get Androids built-in keys to work was the result of a failure of the devices to connect over this wireless channel. Another 2fa option for iOS users is Google prompt, which has been available for more than a year. Unfortunately, that protection, too, can be abused by quick-acting phishers. So thanks, Google, for trying so hard to bring easy-to-use 2fa to more users. But Ill pass on this latest offering until the industry gets this mess sorted out.