How to use two-factor authentication for your Apple account without using an Apple device

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Here’s a question we don’t receive often at Macworld, but it’s one to ponder. Rajeevan asks:

I don’t own an Apple device currently, and I am operating my Apple account and mail from a Windows computer. Now how can I enable two-factor authentication from my Windows 10 computer and generate an app-specific password?

This question likely popped up because of Apple’s decision to end third-party access to calendars, contacts, and email without using two-factor authentication (2FA) for your Apple ID/iCloud account and generating an app-specific password. You can read a column from May for more details.

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2FA can be used via browsers and confirmed via phones—no Mac or iOS device required.

Rajeevan has a real problem. Apple only allows 2FA to be turned on from a Mac or iOS device. Once enabled, you can use SMS text messaging or computer-synthesized voice calls for confirmation codes, and the Apple ID site for managing app-specific passwords. (In fact, you can’t create app-specific passwords except at the site, which seems odd.)

This requires priming the pump. My best suggestion is that Rajeevan finds a friend, relative, or colleague who would let them create an account on a Mac that was used solely to set up 2FA. After creating an account on that Mac, logging in, and enabling 2FA, that macOS account would likely never be needed again! And Apple doesn’t track Mac and iOS logins to your Apple ID—that’s not a requirement at present. (It’s possible at some future point, Apple would make you log in with the Apple ID either on an iOS device or a Mac, and you’d have to a find a friend to make that happen. But for now, just the setup stage is all that’s required.)

Apple lets you set up multiple trusted phone numbers as well as having at least one trusted device. The device will be that Mac (and specifically, your account on that Mac). But you could run into trouble if you only set up a single phone number for your 2FA confirmation codes and then you lose access to that number. In that case, you might be unable to log into the Apple ID site to add another trusted number, and would have to use the Mac on which you set up an account to verify yourself and change your settings.

For that reason, you might add a friend or relative’s phone number (with their permission) as one or more additional ways to get a code.

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