With computer security so much in the news, it’s worth learning a new phrase: “multi factor authentication”.
When you log in to a website with a username and password, those two together make up a single “factor” of authentication. They both represent something you know.
If the website (as Google now allows you to do) challenges you to punch in a code that is sent to your phone by text message, in addition to your username and password, that is “two factor authentication”. Your user name and password combination are the first factor, the sms message code (which proves that you physically poses the mobile phone associated with your account) is the “second factor”.
So what about your car? Most cars in the world are single factor authentication. They can be opened, started and driven away with just a key. That physical key (even if it contains sophisticated remote control codes) is the single factor.
In Israel we have, mandated by law and enforced by all the insurance companies who won’t insure your car without this, multi-factor authentication.
The mechanism is a small device near the stearing wheel that waits for a short code to be entered. The combination of a normal car key and something you know in your head (in the form of the short code) represent multi factor authentication for your car.
Now obviously if you go and write the code on the sun-visor or on a tag attached to the key ring, that’s pretty dumb. But other than that, the system does provide some extra security. Of course if they really want your car, they’ll car jack you. I wouldn’t hold back on telling anyone with a gun to take my car!