Two-Factor Authentication for WordPress: The Complete Guide

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Login security in WordPress is the first line of defense against unauthorized access to your accounts and sensitive information. Without it, your site is at risk of data breaches, financial loss, and cybercrime. Using strong passwords is a great start, but you can beef up security even more with 2FA. 

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a simple yet effective approach that adds an extra layer of verification to your login process.

In this guide, we’ll dive into what WordPress two factor authentication is, how it makes logins safer, and how to implement it easily on your WordPress site. 

TL;DR: Set up two-factor authentication in WordPress by pairing an authenticator app like Google Authenticator with a plugin like WP 2FA. For even better login security for your WordPress site, install MalCare. MalCare’s firewall blocks brute force bots that hammer login pages and limits bad logins; a two-pronged approach to mitigating login attacks. 

What is WordPress two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security feature designed to strengthen the login process for WordPress websites. It works by requiring users to provide two separate types of verification before gaining access to their WordPress accounts. 

The first factor typically involves a password, which is a piece of information known only to the user. The second factor uses one of the following methods:

  1. SMS-based 2FA: After entering their credentials, users receive a one-time code via SMS on their registered device.
  2. Time-based one-time password (TOTP) 2FA: An authenticator app, like Google Authenticator, generates time-sensitive codes that are synchronized with the server and change periodically.
  3. Pre-generated one-time codes: A list of single-use codes is provided to users, and they must input one of these codes during login.
  4. QR code 2FA: Users scan a QR code presented on the screen using their authenticator app. The app then generates a time-sensitive code that users enter for authentication.
  5. Hardware tokens: Physical devices, often carried on a keychain, generate codes that users input during login, providing an offline alternative to app-based 2FA.
  6. Biometric 2FA: Utilizes biometric data like fingerprints, facial scans, or voice recognition for verification.

By combining two factors—one set factor and another real-time factor—2FA adds a significant layer of protection against unauthorized access to WordPress sites. Therefore, even if someone manages to get hold of a user password, they still can’t log in without the second verification factor. This approach not only enhances the security of user accounts but also aligns with modern security standards and user expectations for safeguarding sensitive information on WordPress platforms.

How to enable two factor authentication in WordPress

 

Setting up WordPress 2FA authentication was formerly a complex and difficult task for websites, mostly requiring developer assistance. Luckily, with its increasingly widespread adoption, there are many ways to easily set it up on your site. 

Step 1: Install an authenticator app on your phone

The first step in this process is to install an authenticator app. There are plenty of authenticator apps available online, and you can choose the one that supports the type of 2FA you want on your site. 

Note: It is important to consider how your users are going to log in. We are huge proponents of security, but security cannot come at the cost of usability. For instance, if users do not have access to their phones at all times, then a mobile-based authenticator app is not the best choice. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using Google Authenticator. 

While Google Authenticator is a popular choice, you can also consider alternatives like Authy. It’s worth noting that with Google Authenticator, having backup codes is essential as you won’t be able to log in without your phone. Authy, however, offers cloud-based account storage. 

Install Google Authenticator app on your phone. You will need to sign in or create a new account.

Step 2: Install a 2FA plugin

Next, install a suitable 2FA plugin on your WordPress site, like the one from miniOrange  or David Anderson. For this tutorial, we are using Melapress’s WP 2FA. This plugin offers a range of features like multiple types of two-factor authentication (2FA) for all users. It is also compatible with various universal 2FA apps like Google Authenticator and Authy. If things go wrong, it provides 2FA backup methods like backup codes. In our experience, it is also easy to set up and use. 

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  1. Navigate to Plugins in the left sidebar and click on Add New.
  1. In the search bar, type WP 2FA.
  1. Locate the WP 2FA plugin and click on Install Now.
  1. Once installation is complete, click on Activate to enable the plugin.
  1. You will be redirected to the Setup Wizard.
  1. Select your preferred 2FA method.
  1. Select your preferred method for backup codes.
  1. Select the users that will be required to use 2FA.
  1. List the names of users to exclude.
  1. Click Configure 2FA now.
  1. You will then be redirected back to your WordPress dashboard and a popup will appear for the next step. 

Step 3: Configure 2FA using the authenticator app

To configure 2FA, scan the QR code displayed using your authenticator app. Once scanned, click I’m Ready. Next, check your authenticator app for a code or an OTP.

Type that code in the text box that appears on your WordPress dashboard. That’s it. You’re good to go. 

Step 4: Test the new login process

To ensure everything is working correctly, log out of your WordPress account and then log back in. This will test the 2FA setup. You should be prompted to provide the additional verification code from your authenticator app, confirming that the 2FA process is operational and your account is better protected.

Troubleshooting WordPress 2FA issues

Implementing 2FA on your WordPress site can significantly enhance security, but occasional hiccups might occur. 

  1. Not receiving 2FA email OTP: If you’re not receiving the one-time password via email, check your spam folder first. Occasionally, email services can route 2FA emails there. To ensure reliable email delivery, consider using a plugin like WP Mail SMTP. This plugin helps improve email deliverability from your site, and decreases the likelihood of important emails being marked as spam.
  2. Authentication app not working: If your authentication app isn’t functioning correctly, the solution might be as simple as removing the account associated with your WordPress site from the app and then resyncing it. This process can often resolve syncing or generating issues within the app.
  3. Code not working: If the verification code isn’t working, and you don’t have access to your authenticator app, don’t worry. Most 2FA setups provide backup codes during the initial setup. Retrieve and use these backup codes to regain access to your account. Make sure to keep these codes secure, as they serve as a lifeline if your primary 2FA method fails.
  4. Unable to log back in: In the event that you find yourself locked out due to a plugin like Wordfence, don’t panic. Connect to your server using an FTP client, and navigate to the plugins folder. Then, temporarily disable the 2FA plugin you’re using. This will allow you to log in without 2FA temporarily. Once logged in, you can re-enable the plugin and address any issues causing the login problem. Reach out to the support team of the plugin for fixes.

Is two-factor authentication in WordPress useful?

Effective login security involves practices such as strong password policies, account lockouts, monitoring for unusual activities, and more. Two-factor authentication is only one of its mechanisms. 

Pros

  • Reduces brute force attacks: 2FA strengthens the security of your online accounts by requiring an additional layer of verification beyond just a password. Even if a hacker obtains your password, they can’t access your account without the second factor. So, even if your site is under a brute force attack, your website will be fine. 
  • Mitigates password vulnerabilities: Since 2FA doesn’t solely rely on passwords, it helps mitigate the risks associated with weak or compromised passwords. This is particularly relevant given the common habit of reusing passwords across multiple platforms.
  • Industry and regulatory compliance: Many industries require heightened security measures. Implementing 2FA can help you meet regulatory standards and demonstrate a commitment to data protection, instilling trust among users.
  • Protection against phishing and keylogging: 2FA adds a layer of defense against phishing attacks and keyloggers. Even if a hacker manages to trick you into revealing your password, they would still need the second factor for access.
  • User confidence: Enabling 2FA shows users that you take their security seriously, boosting their confidence in your platform and encouraging continued engagement.

Cons

  • User convenience: 2FA can be seen as an additional step during login, potentially causing inconvenience for users. Some may find it bothersome to retrieve codes or perform extra actions each time they log in.
  • Backup challenges: If you lose access to the second factor (e.g., a lost phone), it can lead to difficulties accessing your account. You will need to remember to generate those codes and store them safely. 
  • Technical hurdles: Setting up 2FA requires some technical know-how, and users might encounter challenges during the setup process, especially if they’re not familiar with authentication apps.
  • Dependence on devices: Relying on devices for 2FA can be limiting. If your device is lost, stolen, or malfunctions, accessing your account becomes a challenge.

Email delivery issues: While effective for many users, there are instances where email delivery can fail or be delayed due to various factors, such as email deliverability issues, network problems, or spam filters.

While two-factor authentication undoubtedly offers an elevated level of security compared to single-factor authentication, it’s prudent to consider the advantages of multi-factor authentication (MFA) for even stronger defense.

2FA requires users to provide two types of verification, typically a password and a second factor. However, MFA goes a step further by introducing an additional layer of authentication, such as a fingerprint scan or a physical token. This extra layer significantly fortifies your security posture, making unauthorized access even more challenging. 

WP 2FA does not offer multi-factor authentication but miniOrange’s Two Factor Authentication does. So, if you’re interested in MFA, that’s a good plugin to try. 

What are some other ways to protect your WordPress site?

Login security is undoubtedly critical, but the vast majority of successful hacks occur due to exploited vulnerabilities rather than poor login security.  Therefore, to really protect your site against hackers, you need comprehensive WordPress security. 

  1. Implement login security: Some steps you can take are:
  • Use strong passwords: Encourage users to create strong, unique passwords that combine lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Implement password requirements and restrictions to prevent the use of weak passwords.
  • Limit failed logins: Configure your site to lock out users after a certain number of failed login attempts. This prevents brute-force attacks, where hackers try various combinations to crack passwords. 
  • Integrate Captcha or Google’s reCAPTCHA: This adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to complete a challenge that automated bots struggle with.
  1. Use a reliable security plugin: Choose reputable security plugins like MalCare, known for its automatic malware scanning and removal, robust firewall, and comprehensive protection against various threats.
  2. Regularly update everything: Keeping your WordPress core, themes, and plugins up to date is crucial. Updates often include patches that address vulnerabilities, reducing the risk of exploitation.
  3. Backup data regularly: Regularly backup your site’s data. In the event of a breach or a catastrophic event, having a recent backup ensures quick recovery.
  4. Monitor activity logs: Consistently monitor your site for unusual activity or suspicious behavior. This proactive approach helps identify potential breaches early on.
  5. Use HTTPS encryption: Implement HTTPS using SSL certificates to encrypt data transmission, bolstering data safety between users and your server.
  6. Uninstall unused themes and plugins: This reduces potential entry points for attackers and is just generally good practice.
  7. Manage user roles: Assign roles and permissions based on user responsibilities. This minimizes risks associated with unauthorized access.
  8. Conduct regular security audits: Conduct routine security audits to ensure your site is prepared to defend against evolving threats.
  9. Manage file permission settings: Configure file permissions to restrict unauthorized access to critical files and directories.
  10. Use reliable themes and plugins: Use themes and plugins from trusted sources. Avoid installing pirated or nulled themes or plugins that are sure to contain vulnerabilities.

Final thoughts

When talking about website security, passwords can be a spot of vulnerability. So, alongside fortified password practices, integrating an effective WordPress two factor authentication system and a robust firewall geared towards bot protection completes the security framework. In our experience, combining two-factor authentication (2FA) with MalCare is the best way to go. 2FA enhances login security, while MalCare’s firewall counters brute force attacks. 

FAQs

Is there two-factor authentication for WordPress?

There is no in-built two-factor authentication (2FA) available for WordPress. It requires a plugin like WP 2FA and an authenticator app like Google Authenticator.

How do I get two-factor authentication via email?

Two-factor authentication via email typically involves receiving a one-time code sent to your email address. To set this up, you’ll need to enable 2FA using a plugin like WP 2FA, select the email verification method, and follow the prompts to configure it. When you log in, you’ll receive a code via email that you need to input for authentication. Often, these emails can go into a spam folder, so we recommend using a plugin like WPMailSMTP.

Why is WordPress not sending two-factor authentication?

If you’re not receiving two-factor authentication codes from WordPress, it could be due to various reasons, such as email deliverability issues or misconfiguration. Ensure your email settings are correctly configured in WordPress, and also check your spam folder. If the problem persists, consider using a reliable email service like WPMailSMTP.

What are the three types of two-factor authentication?

The three main types of two-factor authentication are SMS-based 2FA (codes sent via text message), time-based one-time password (TOTP) 2FA (codes generated by authentication apps), and biometric 2FA (using fingerprints, facial recognition, etc.)

What is the strongest form of two-factor authentication?

Biometric 2FA, which utilizes unique physical characteristics like fingerprints or facial scans, is often considered the strongest form of two-factor authentication. This method is difficult for attackers to replicate and provides a high level of security. A plugin like Biometric Login for WooCommerce can help. 

Why is 2FA no longer safe?

While 2FA is generally effective, some vulnerabilities can compromise its security. Attackers can employ tactics like SIM swapping or phishing attacks to gain access to the second factor. To enhance security, consider using multi-factor authentication (MFA), which adds additional layers of verification beyond 2FA.

Is there anything better than 2FA?

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is considered more robust than traditional 2FA. MFA involves using multiple verification factors beyond just two, making it even harder for attackers to breach accounts.

How do I enable 2FA in WordPress?

To enable 2FA in WordPress, you can use plugins like WP 2FA. After installing the plugin, sync it with an authenticator app. Then, access its settings, choose the 2FA methods you want to offer, and configure user policies. Users can then set up 2FA for their accounts through their profile settings.

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