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How to set up Google's two-step verification

With a few minutes of setup time, your account will be much more secure -- with very little hassle.

Did you forget to celebrate Safer Internet Day earlier this week? (It was this past Tuesday; I missed it, too.) Don't fret! It's not too late to give yourself a belated Safer Internet Day gift with the best gift I know for anyone who uses a Google account for everything: two-step verification.

Two-step verification adds another layer of security to your account. With it turned on, you (or a would-be hacker) will need to take two steps to log in to your Gmail account. In addition to your regular password, you'll need a six-digit code that gets sent to your phone immediately whenever you try to log in. This means hackers can't break into your account even if they've cracked your password. They'd also need physical possession of your phone.

If that seems overly cumbersome, don't worry. You don't actually have to wait for that texted code every time you log in. In this post, we will cover how to set up two-step verification for your Google account in just a few minutes -- and how to do it without adding extra steps to your everyday routine.

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Enable two-step verification

To get started, go to the Security page in settings. Click 2-Step Verification and then the Get Started button to sign in to your Google account and turn on two-step verification.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

By default, verification codes are texted to your phone, but you can choose to receive prompts via the Google app instead. It not only saves you from needing to enter the code, but it's also safer.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Backup option

Google recommends setting up at least one backup option in case you can't access your phone. You can print out a handful of backup codes that you'll then store in a safe place. You can also use Google Authenticator app as a backup option or USB security key.

First published Jun. 15, 2015.
Update, Feb. 7, 2019: Adds information reflecting changes on Google's security page.

Read more: Google's new Chrome extension warns you about stolen passwords