July 7, 2022

Google Authenticator

Google Authenticator has become the standard for keeping your accounts secure. But what if your phone breaks or gets stolen?

This guy lost all of his 2FA accounts when his phone went on the fritz. Turns out Google in particular does not make it easy to get back on track if this happens. If you install Google Authenticator on a new secondary device, your existing 2FA keys will *not* be copied over.

Fortunately, there are a couple of simple things you can do to avoid the headache he went through:

  • Use Authy instead. Authy works anywhere Authenticator is accepted and allows you to have multiple installations of its app on as many phones and PCs as you like.
  • If you’d prefer to use Authenticator, you can print out the backup codes that exchanges give you when you first enable 2FA. The backup code can always be used if something happens to your phone. If you already enabled 2FA without writing down the backup code, just disable and re-enable it to get the code.

Google Authenticator can also break down if you move across different time zones or if your phone’s time gets out of sync.

Here is what to do if your 2FA codes suddenly stop working:

Entering your Google Authenticator 2FA or Authy code correctly and having it rejected is a heart-pounding experience.

Here’s What To Do

The culprit is usually the clock setting on your phone, which can easily bring 2FA crashing to a halt.

2FA codes time out after just two minutes, and if the clock on your phone has “Automatic time zone” and “Automatic date & time” switched off, you’re at risk of instantly timing out and encountering the dreaded 2FA fail.

User Kenneth Slaw also left a great suggestion in the comments section below. With Google Authenticator, you can also open your app, tap on the three dots in the top-right corner, go to settings and then go to “Time correction for codes”. Thanks Kenneth!

Important: Save Your Backup Codes or Use Authy

If you use Authenticator, it’s crucial to be on point and always save your backup codes – especially if you loose your phone.

If you’re not prepared, you could encounter major headaches in the future.

You may also want to consider switching from Google Authenticator to Authy. It can be used anywhere Authenticator is accepted, seems to have fewer issues overall, and uses backup codes as well. You can also install Authy on multiple devices, which is something Authenticator does not allow you to do.

This helps you to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls in all of 2FA, and that’s what to do if your phone disappears. With Authenticator, you will be completely out of luck if you lose access to your phone and don’t have your backup codes ready. Your only option will be to contact the site you’re trying to log into and go through the steps to prove who you are and reset your 2FA options. With Authy, if you lose you’re phone it’s no sweat, you can just open Authy on your computer or another device.

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