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Apple Streamlines Two-Factor Authentication for iOS 9, OS X

Apple has a mixed track record when it comes to device security, but its new two-factor authentication program seems like a step in the right direction. If you plan to use the public betas of iOS 9 or OS X El Capitan, you can take Apple's improved security measures for a spin and see how the company has streamlined its procedures.

Information about the new security features comes by way of Apple's support website, which outlines how two-factor authentication works on the two new operating systems. Like the company's current two-step authentication procedures, logging into a new device requires a six-digit passcode transmitted to a secondary device. Once that's completed, though, the new device becomes "trusted," simplifying all future logins.

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Trusted devices are nothing new, but what happens next is interesting. As soon as you log into a new computer or mobile device with your six-digit authentication code, that device becomes a new link in a chain of secured Apple accounts. When you need to log into a new device after that, an authentication code will come automatically to any trusted device, rather than having to receive it via text message or e-mail, as is currently the case.

Apple designed this method to be more secure than its current measures, and it very well may be. If a cybercriminal tries to log into your Apple account remotely, he or she will not be able to receive a verification code without a trusted device. On the other hand, if a thief gets a hold of two Apple devices (say, an iPhone and an iPad in a backpack), resetting an account's password with a trusted device handy might be easier than it is now.

Right now, this feature is constrained to iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, meaning users on older operating systems will have to continue using Apple's existing two-step authentication for the time being. If you have one OS but not the other, you won't be able to mix and match. To find out if you are eligible to test the new security protocols, check the Security menu under Settings, iCloud and Account on your Apple device.

One final word of wisdom: Apple does not recommend two-factor authentication for people who already use two-step authentication, as the two protocols may interfere with each other at this stage of the game. While Apple's security measures may be improving, you probably still won't want to spend hours with customer service if something goes wrong.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.