Multifactor Authentication: What It Is and Why It Matters

There’s a lot of buzz right now around multifactor authentication, and the need for more services like Twitter to support it, so we figured our users could benefit from a clarification of what it is, how it works with LastPass, and why it matters.

What Is Multifactor Authentication?

Multifactor authentication simply refers to the requirement of a second piece of information before allowing access to an account. By adding another authentication step, you are requiring that the user enter two forms of data – typically the first being something the user knows, like a username and password, and the second being something the user has physical access to, like an app on a mobile phone that generates one-time codes or a device that plugs into the computer to scan a fingerprint. After enabling multifactor authentication, the user is required to enter both pieces of data (username/password + generated piece of data) each time they login to the account or service.

Why It Matters

Good security is about being proactive and mitigating risk. Multifactor authentication increases security by adding another barrier to entry, decreasing the likelihood that a “pretender” can break in. It makes it harder for someone who has stolen the password to gain entry to the account. Unfortunately, many websites don’t implement this second form of authentication, which is why implementing it with your LastPass account is critical – and arguably more effective.

If you enable multifactor authentication with LastPass, you have significantly increased the security of your LastPass account itself, which is the hub of your online life. If someone compromises your master password, they can’t gain access to your account without the second form of authentication. Since LastPass gives you the tools to generate secure, non-guessable passwords for all your accounts, if you then launch all of your sites from LastPass, you are eliminating risks of phishing attacks and other threats because you are going directly to your sites and logging in with LastPass. By enabling a mutifactor authentication device, you are by effect enabling it for each of the sites in your vault as well. For Enterprise, if your Identity Provider utilizes multifactor authentication, as LastPass does, you also get the full benefit of multifactor authentication without passwords at all sites that you’ve implemented it on.

How It Works With LastPass

Once you enable multifactor authentication with LastPass, you’ll be required to first enter your email address and master password, then the multifactor authentication data. LastPass offers support for several multifactor authentication methods:

  • Google Authenticator (Free): Utilizes a Google app, available for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry, which will generate a code every 60 seconds that you will enter when prompted.
  • Grid (Free): A unique, generated spreadsheet of random values that resemble a Battleship grid, each section containing a different letter or number. Once enabled, you’ll be prompted to find and enter four values from the spreadsheet.
  • Sesame (Premium): Generates unique One Time Passwords (OTPs) each time you login. The feature can be run from a USB thumb drive, and you have the choice to copy the OTP to the clipboard or launch the browser and pass the value automatically.
  • YubiKey (Premium): A key-sized device that you can plug into your computer’s USB slot, and generates a unique, One Time Password each time it’s pressed. YubiKeys are immune from replay-attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and a host of other threat vectors. The key can be purchased from Yubico and bundled at a discounted rate with LastPass Premium. No batteries, waterproof, and crush safe.
  • Fingerprint Reader (Premium): LastPass has support for a small selection of fingerprint readers, including Windows Biometric Framework, UPEK, and Validity.
  • SmartCard Reader (Premium): LastPass has experimental support for SmartCard readers.

With all multifactor security options, you have the ability to mark the computer as “trusted”, leaving multifactor enabled but not requiring it on that particular “safe” location.

Get Proactive

Passwords are not going anywhere soon, and because sites have implemented different security standards and requirements, we strongly recommend enabling a form of multifactor authentication with LastPass. This will help you better protect and mitigate risks for your LastPass account, and your online life as a whole.

The LastPass Team


  • Anonymous says:

    There is “trusted computers” tab in multifactor authentication settings, how does it work? I mean, how does lastpass identifies computer: by name, ip-address or something else?

  • cdmackay says:

    if I want to use the Google Authenticator app, to secure LastPass, to I have to setup my Google login access to use it too?

    i.e. can I use it *only* for LastPass, or do I need to change my Google account setup for it too?


    • Anatoly_LP says:

      Yes, Google Authenticator is set up separately for each account, so you can set it up to use only for LastPass without activating it on your Google account. Each configured account will be shown in a separate entry in the Google Authenticator app, so you could even use it for multiple LastPass accounts, e.g. work and personal, which would each require a different code.

  • Anonymous says:

    One reason I like LastPass is for faster logins. That’s why I’m not gung ho of multifactor authentication, because it slows things down. One of my banks has started that; if you’ve cleared your cookies, it insists on sending you a code first before you can login. This makes things very difficult, especially for Quicken to download my transactions. I prefer to have a strong Lastpass master password. While it is remembered on my Droid, work computer, and home computer, if I lost any of these, the first thing I would do is immediately change that password.

  • Anonymous says:

    How does LastPass remember the “location” and know that it is safe?

    • Anatoly_LP says:

      We generate a unique id and store it in local protected storage. You can then view all trusted locations under your account settings on, and remove them from the trusted list as necessary (should your laptop get stolen, for example).

  • Unknown says:

    Why do you promote fingerprint readers they are a terrible authentication method. A fingerprint is a image based password you cannot change and you leave a copy on everything you touch. It is also not impossible to emulate a fingerprint reader in software to run from image files of fingerprints, cutting fingers off is not necessary to steal info.

  • SongMonk says:

    While I am a huge fan of multifactor authentication, this statement is not true:

    “By enabling a mutifactor authentication device, you are by effect enabling it for each of the sites in your vault as well.”

    If your password for a particular site were stolen (through phishing, entering on a compromised machine, whatever), the hacker would then be able to access the target site, even if you are using multifactor authentication for your Lastpass account. All websites (or, at least all websites where access is “important”) should implement multifactor authentication. We can’t absolve them of that shortcoming, even if we are diligent with our master password account.