Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one of the best and easiest ways to keep your online accounts secure. You will issue an authentication code on your phone when someone tries to access the account. If that person doesn’t have the code, they (or you) won’t get inside. You can use a 2FA app like Google Authenticator or Authy to prevent someone from accessing your data by getting your password. (You can have a code sent to you via SMS, but this is considered to be far less secure due to increasing SIM hacking.)
There’s a catch, of course. Because 2FA uses a key specific to your phone, if you lose or damage your phone, you cannot simply reinstall the app on your new phone and proceed from there. You need to transfer the key code for this phone as well as the app itself.
Different authentication apps handle this in different ways. In this article, I̵
With Google Authenticator, you can set up 2FA by using your phone to scan a QR code generated by the app on a separate device, or by entering a key code. It’s a relatively simple process – unless you need to move the app to a new phone.
Because 2FA uses security keys that are specific to each 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 authenticator app’s dedicated transfer feature to move your keys from one phone to another. However, there are several assumptions here: first, that you need to have access to both old and new phones, and second, that you need Android devices. If either of these assumptions doesn’t work for your situation, you can use other methods that we’ll cover next.
Transfer your authenticator keys over Android
If you have two Android phones, you can transfer your accounts to a new phone by exporting them using a QR code generated by the Authenticator app.
- Open Google Authenticator on your older phone
- Tap the three dots in the top right corner of the screen and select “Transfer Accounts”.
- Select “Export Accounts”. You may be asked to verify your identity with a fingerprint, password, or other method.
- Choose which accounts you want to export by checking them off. Tap on “Next”.
- You will be shown a QR code
- Go to your new phone. Follow the directions above, but choose Import Accounts.
- You will be given instructions on how to export your accounts from the older phone. Since you already know how to do this, simply select “Scan QR Code”.
- Scan your old phone’s code with your new phone
Alternative method 1: use your backup codes
When you set up an app to use Google Authenticator, you will receive four backup codes before you complete the process and will be asked to print or otherwise save them. (In fact, Google will ask you to put one of the codes in a box before the installation completes to make sure you do to have saved her.)
And you definitely want to save her; Print it out and put it in a safe place or create a PDF and save it where no one else can access it. If your phone goes south, these codes are a great way to re-establish authentication on your new phone – assuming, of course, you haven’t misplaced the codes.
It’s also a way to get your keys back on a new iPhone.
Alternative method 2: take a screenshot of the barcode
One way to make a backup in case you lose your phone is to take and save a screenshot of the barcode that is taken for each 2FA-secured app. If you’ve misplaced your security codes but saved a screenshot of the QR barcode that you originally used to authenticate your app, you can use that screenshot to set up your credentials on a new phone.
Just throw the screenshot on your computer, install Google Authenticator on your new phone and scan the barcode with the plus sign in the app. (You can also enter the setup keycode if you’ve saved it.) If you do this for each of your apps, you’re done.