It would probably surprise people to learn that Blizzard, a game company, provides better security options for players of its games (World of Warcraft and now Starcraft) than nearly all banks and financial services companies do for their customers. The problem Blizzard faces is that people steal World of Warcraft accounts all the time, either to use the characters to farm gold, or to just strip all of the cash and things that can be sold from the account and pocket the cash.
A number of methods are used to steal passwords, including phishing, catching the passwords using key loggers, and just brute forcing them. Blizzard’s first big attempt to solve the problem was to give users the option of protecting their account using two factor authentication — their password and an authenticator that is tied to the account. The authenticator is a key fob (or an phone app) that generates a number every few seconds that must be entered in order to log in. Once an authenticator is tied to your account, getting your password stolen is no longer a problem.
Despite the fact that the authenticator app is free and the physical authenticator only costs $6, many players do not use them, and accounts still get stolen all the time. Indeed, account thieves almost always attach their own authenticator to compromised accounts as soon as they’ve been compromised, making it that much more difficult for players to get them back. (I shudder to think about how much money Blizzard spends dealing with account theft.)
To enable players who haven’t gotten an authenticator to secure their accounts, Blizzard has introduced a dial-in authenticator. With it, you can assign a phone number to your account. If there’s something unusual about an authentication attempt, you will be required to dial in to a toll free number from that phone and enter a PIN in order to log in successfully.
There’s bound to be an interesting article written about the economics of account security that explains why Blizzard finds it more worthwhile to implement robust authentication solutions when so many businesses that are susceptible to financial fraud do not. Are people that much more likely to steal your World of Warcraft characters than they are to steal your Amazon.com account and use the credit cards you’ve saved there? Or is it that people are more willing to go to extra trouble to secure their game accounts?
Update: There are lots of smart comments about this at Hacker News as well.