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Issue #794: October 9-15, 2022

Q: Dear Mr. Jeff Werner,

My Problem Of Late Is With My Gmail Every Time I Go To That Account To Try To Log In It Keeps Telling Me That I Have To Verify My Account By Using A Code That Is Sent Through My Cell Phone. I’m Really Getting Sick & Tired Of This And All It Does Is Make Me Want To Cancel My Gmail. I Really Don’t Know What I Can Do About This.

Do You Have Any Suggestions For Me?

Ms. Michele B.
Mary Esther, Florida


A: Dear Ms. Michele B.,

My, aren’t we formal?  That’s okay, I don’t mind a little formality now and then, but if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know that I prefer to keep things on the lighter side.  So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to revert to my usual informality. However, I feel compelled to comment on your intriguing use of capital letters.  One Would Think It Is Somewhat Difficult To Capitalize Every Word While You Are Typing.  Ow.  Indeed, it is.  I don’t think I need to do that anymore, but please – you do you.

So, on to your question!  You asked if I have any suggestions. Well, Ms. B., I have something better to offer.  For you I have knowledge.  So let me edify you as to what is happening, and how you can take control of it and bend it to your will.

What you’re experiencing is something called multi-factor authentication or MFA for short. In this context, “authentication” means verifying that you are who you say you are, and that you have authorization to access whatever computer, information system, or, in your case, web page, that you’re attempting to access.  “Multi-factor” means that rather than just requiring a password, (a single-factor) you must supply multiple factors to validate your identity.  In practice, these factors can take many forms, including security questions, (to which hopefully only you know the answer) and what you’re currently experiencing: a short numeric code that is sent by a means that guarantees only you have access to it.  It’s texted to a phone number that Google has previously verified belongs to you.  The code expires within minutes of being sent, so if not used immediately it’s worthless.

The whole point of all of this is not to annoy you or cause you extra work, but to make your e-mail more secure.  It might make access to the account a little more cumbersome, but it exponentially increases the difficulty of someone breaking into your account.  This could be of critical importance, since if someone breaks into your e-mail, they have access to everything in your account, and can even lock you out of it.

It is, and should be, up to end-users to decide for themselves whether MFA is right for them.  As I implied above, you can take control of your MFA settings in Gmail, and for that matter, all of the other applets in the Google suite.

To start, visit Gmail in a web browser.  Be sure you’re signed-in to the account you want to change.  In the upper-right corner of the page (not the uppermost corner of the browser itself) find your account picture, or if you haven’t provided an image for Google to use, a circle with your initial in it.  Left click on it and select “Manage your Google Account”.  In the page that comes up, click on “Security”.  Scroll down a little until you find the section labeled “Signing in to Google”.  In this list, you’ll find toggles for things like using your phone, and what here is called “2-Step Verification”.  That latter one is nothing more than Google’s phrasing for MFA using two factors.  Turn off any of them that you don’t want.

Security is a compromise between safety and convenience.  It’s easier to open your home’s front door if you don’t lock it, right?  But an unlocked door lets anyone come and go at will.  As I said above, it is up to you to decide if the extra security you get from MFA is worth the extra pains it might cause you. 

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