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Speaking up to Windows 10

Q: Does Windows 10 come with its own dictation function like the Mac does?

A: Windows 10 does have an integrated speech-recognition feature that you can use for things like dictating text into a word-processing program or giving vocal commands to navigate the system. (Windows 7 also includes speech recognition functions in the Ease of Access settings.)

To set up a Windows 10 computer to take dictation, go to the search bar next to the Start menu, enter “speech recognition” and choose the Windows Speech Recognition control panel from the search results. A link in the control panel takes you through a tutorial on using voice commands and dictation.

When you use the onscreen tutorials, the software begins to learn your voice. If you plan to do a lot of dictation, consider using a headset microphone so your voice comes in loud and clear. Another option in the Speech Recognition control panel guides you through setting up an external microphone.

The experimental Microsoft Garage group recently released Dictate, an add-on for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Outlook that uses the same speech-recognition technology as the Windows Cortana assistant so you can “type with your voice.” Google Docs has a similar voice-typing feature for those who prefer to dictate their thoughts, rather than pound them out through a keyboard.

The Dictation feature within the Mac operating system converts speech into text and can also be used to orally command the computer. To enable it, click on the System Preferences icon in the Mac’s desktop dock, select Keyboard and then click the Dictation tab. Older versions of the Mac operating system keep these settings on the Dictation & Speech preferences.

Protecting your accounts

Q: Which is better to use for two-step verification: getting the codes sent by text message or using an authentication app?

A: Two-step verification — also known as two-factor authentication, or 2FA for short — makes your online accounts safer by requiring a separate numeric code to be typed in after you fill in the typical password. The codes you need for that second security step can be supplied by SMS text message to your phone or from a special authenticator app connected to that account. Preprinted backup codes and voicemail messages are other ways to confirm your identity in a two-factor situation.

There are pros and cons to getting codes by text message or an authentication app. Using the text-message method means a quicker setup, and you don’t have to download and configure a separate app just to log into an account. You typically get text alerts immediately when someone is trying to hack into your account.

But going with an authenticator app means you do not need a network connection to get a fresh code — which can be helpful when traveling outside your carrier’s network. Some security experts consider the app approach safer because you do not have to worry about the phone’s SIM card becoming compromised or messages getting intercepted, as the app generates the security codes locally on the phone. Authy, Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator are three popular programs in this category.

While it is much better than using a single password, two-factor authentication is not completely uncrackable. Skilled criminals have hijacked authentication text messages sent to mobile phone numbers, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently stopped recommending that users get their codes by text message because of underlying security issues.

Authenticator apps are not infallible, either. Having both your accounts and your codes on the same device can provide one-stop shopping for thieves, but the apps are still widely considered harder to crack than code sent by text.

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