Apple Inc. beefed up security features for customers buying applications, songs, videos and e- books from the company's digital stores.

The new two-step verification gives an added layer of authentication for customers who choose to use it, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple said on its website. After logging in with a name and password, the user will receive a passcode, sent as a text message to a preferred device, such as an iPhone.

As people put more private information online, eBay Inc.'s PayPal, Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. have introduced similar security tools. The vulnerability of Apple's services came into focus last year when Wired reporter Mat Honan had online accounts, including one with Apple, hacked. He wrote about the episode in a widely read piece for the technology magazine.

"Apple takes customer privacy very seriously, and two-step verification is an even more robust process to ensure our users' data remains protected," Natalie Kerris, a spokeswoman for Apple, said in an interview.

Apple's new feature, which is optional, applies to purchases in the App Store, iTunes and the iBookstore, as well as whenever a user attempts to reset an account's password.

Honan wrote in his article that had he used the available two-factor authentication for his Google account, which was also compromised, the breach of his private information and account passwords probably wouldn't have happened.

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