Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is one of the best and easiest ways to secure your accounts online. It works by issuing a passcode to your phone when someone tries to access the account; if that person doesn’t have the code, they (or you) don’t enter. By using a 2FA app, such as Google Authenticator or Authy, you can prevent someone from accessing your data by obtaining your password. (You can get a code texted to you, but it’s considered much less secure due to the rise of SIM hacking.)
There is of course a catch. Since 2FA uses a key specific to your phone, if you lose or break your phone, you can’t just reinstall the app on your new phone and continue from there. You need to transfer the key code of this phone as well as the app itself.
Different authenticator apps handle this in different ways. In this article, I’ll take a look at Google Authenticator, including the easiest way to transfer the app to a new phone if you have access to the old one, and how you can prepare for a possible problem (like a broken phone. ).
Google Authenticator allows you to establish 2FA by using your phone to scan an app-generated QR code on a separate device or by entering a key code. It’s a relatively straightforward process, unless you need to move the app to a new phone.
Since 2FA uses specific security keys for each piece of hardware, you can’t just reinstall Google Authenticator on your new phone and use it to sign in. Instead, you need to transfer the keys to your new app.
The easiest method, especially if you are using 2FA with multiple apps, is to use the dedicated transfer feature of the Authenticator app to move your keys from one phone to another. However, there are two assumptions here: first, that you have access to both the old and new phone, and second, that you have Android devices. If any of these assumptions don’t work in your situation, there are other methods you can use, which we’ll cover next. But first, the easy way.
Transfer your Authenticator keys via Android
If you have two Android phones, you can transfer your accounts to a new phone by exporting them via a QR code generated by the Authenticator app.
- Install Google Authenticator on your new phone.
- Press “Start”.
- Tap “Scan QR Code”. You will get a grid and instructions for “Place QR code in red lines”.
- Open Google Authenticator on your old phone.
- Press the three dots at the top right of the screen and select “Transfer accounts”
- Select “Export accounts”. You may be asked to verify your identity using a fingerprint, password, or other method.
- Uncheck the accounts that you do not want to export. Press “Next”.
- A QR code will be displayed. Center it in the grid of your new phone.
- You should see the imported app now listed in your Google Authenticator app on the new phone. (Note: the application not be deleted from your old phone.)
Alternative method # 1: use your backup codes
When you set up Google Authenticator for the first time, you may receive a set of backup codes and ask you to print or save them. And you certainly want to save them; print them out and put them in a safe place or create a PDF file and save it where no one else can access it. If your phone is going south, these codes will be a good way to re-establish authentication on your new phone – assuming, of course, that you haven’t misplaced the codes.
It is also the way to restore your keys to a new iPhone.
If you missed this step during installation, you can still get these backup codes. To do this, you need to go to your Google account and then follow these steps:
- Click on “Security” in the left column.
- Scroll down and select “2-step verification”. You will probably need to enter your password.
- Scroll down to “Backup Codes” and click “View Codes”.
- You will get a list of 10 codes. Each code can be used once; if you use them all, you can get more by clicking on “View Codes” and then “Get New Codes”.
Alternative method # 2: take a screenshot of the barcode
One way to create a backup in case you lose your phone is to take and save a screenshot of the barcode created for each app secured by 2FA. If you have misplaced your backup codes, but saved a screenshot of the QR barcode that you originally used to create your app’s authentication, you can use this screenshot to establish your information. identification on a new phone.
Just launch the screenshot on your computer, install Google Authenticator on your new phone, and use the app’s plus sign to scan the barcode. (You can also enter the setup key code if that’s what you registered.) Do that for each of your apps and you’re good to go.
Update October 12, 2021, 11:20 a.m.ET: This article was originally published on September 2, 2020; the instructions for transferring between Android phones have been updated.
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