Google will offer its hundreds of millions of users the option of adding a second verification step when signing into their accounts, to complement the existing password-only authentication mechanism.
Users who choose to add this second step to their Google log-in process would reduce the likelihood of having their accounts hijacked if their password is stolen.
Google will begin to roll out the option for two-step verification on Thursday, and it will take a few days for it to be available to all users.
Google estimates that activating this feature could take up to 15 minutes. Once set up, it inevitably makes the log-in process longer, because in addition to the password, users will have to also enter a one-time code.
Users get the option of having Google generate the code and send it to them via a phone call or a text message. Or they can opt to generate the code themselves using a mobile application for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone devices.
Users can also tell Google to keep them logged in for 30 days, during which time they will not have to go through the two-step verification and log-in process.
Passwords are vulnerable in a variety of ways. Malicious hackers can sniff them over unprotected Wi-Fi networks, or trick users into revealing them through phishing scams. Malware can also capture and transmit log-in data.
Compounding the problem is the common practice of using the same password for multiple online services, opening themselves up for a broad hijacking of accounts.
Even if a password is specific to, in this case, a Google account, it holds the key to multiple Google services, including Gmail, Docs, Picasa and many others that contain personal and likely sensitive information that can be used for identity theft and financial fraud.
Google introduced two-step verification in September for Google Apps, a hosted collaboration and communication suite designed for use in organizations, like businesses and academic institutions.