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Locked out and 2FA

This post is about what just happened to me last night, and why I am probably disabling two-factor authentication from my accounts…

Two-factor authentication

Most of you might not know what 2FA is, or that such thing even existed.

Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is a method of confirming a user’s claimed identity by utilizing a combination of two different components. Two-factor authentication is a type of multi-factor authentication.
— Multi-factor authentication, Wikipedia

Basically, if you enable 2FA on your Facebook account settings, the first time you login to your Facebook on a new computer, you will be prompted for a 6-digit code that is sent to your phone via a SMS.

Facebook 2-step authentication
Facebook's two-factor authentication.

Google, online banking services, and many other sites also provide this feature.

Locked out and in at the same time

So here is a funny story about last night…

I was at the robotics lab in the Informatics Forum working on my thesis - yes, on a Sunday… It was around 22h30, so there was almost no one around. My friend Yuanfei, that works on the same lab as me, was also there. He had been on the phone outside of the lab for what seemed like one hour.

Suddenly, I had to go to the loo. So I got up, got out of the lab, crossed Yuanfei, and headed to the bathroom. As I was washing my hands, I listened to Yuanfei heading towards the exit, still speaking on his phone. You see, the bathrooms are located in the middle of a corridor that connects the building’s hall to the night exit.

As I got to the hall, I could see that the gap above the lab doors where light usually peeks through was dark. I was thinking to myself: Oh shit! I hope he didn’t think I was heading home! But then again, how could he have thought that? I did not wave goodbye, and I was not even wearing my jacket… I got to the door, reached for the handle, and… LOCKED! Oh no! I have everything inside the lab: the keys to the lab, the keys to my place, my phone, my laptop, my jacket, my wallet… I was only away for like 3 minutes!

Ok, ok, think! - I told myself - I am locked outside the lab, and no one nearby has the keys to open it. I did not have my phone with me so I couldn’t call Yuanfei, and of course I do not know anyone’s UK phone number by heart.

Ok, no problem. I can just go home and come back tomorrow. I don’t have my jacket but I can run home, it’s only ~4 minutes away.

As I was heading to the night exit I remembered: F**k! I don’t have my wallet! I need the card in it to get out of the building… Yes, the doors of the Informatics Forum can only be unlocked with a card, even from the inside. So I was basically locked outside the lab and inside the building itself!

I went looking for someone to buzz me out, which is not that easy at almost 11pm on a Sunday. As I was looking, I remembered one last tiny detail: Since I don’t have the keys to my place, I’ll have to ring the door bell. But since it is quite late already, my flatmates are going to think that it is just some drunk person fooling around, and will not open me the door…

Wait! I’ll just text them telling what happened and to be prepared to open me the door. I can use a computer from someone that is still in the building to log into my Facebook and send the text!

But oh no… Enter modern security protocols: NO!!! I have 2FA on all my accounts, including Facebook! - I couldn’t simply log into Facebook without my phone!

At this point I was left out with two options, really: either sleep on one of the couches of the first floor OR run home and thus risk to go from being locked inside a warm building to being locked outside home, in the freezing cold of Scotland’s winter.

And as such, completely ignoring Murphy’s law, I went looking for someone to buzz me out of the building.

I ran home. It was so cold. I rang the bell. I rang again. Three, four times… After some minutes, Léa opened me the door - if you are reading this, thank you so much!

Léa and Pauline were still awake because they were watching Outlander. When I explained what was going on they had a laugh, and admitted they were very close to ignore me because of the very reason I was worried about. But I would have just kept ringing the bell honestly…

And that’s it… That’s the story.

Today Yuanfei apologized, he didn’t do it on purpose of course. In fact, he was actually on the phone when he got another call from one of his flatmates because he or she had forgotten the keys of their flat and couldn’t get inside. How hilarious! He went home in a hurry to open the door to someone, but ended up locking someone else… Hahaha!

It would have been interesting if I had chosen to sleep on one of the couches instead. I wonder what people arriving early in the morning the next day would have thought.

After this whole “adventure”, I am really considering whether to turn off 2FA or not… Or maybe I should just have my keys with me all times. Yeah, that might be simpler…