Backing Up Two Factor Authentication

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on September 6, 2018, How To Guides

Securing personal information is key to most of us. If you’re like most people, you keep plenty of info on your phone, including emails, banking information and all kinds of other things. Nowadays, a simple password really isn’t enough for protection, which is why many people choose two-factor authentication to protect their data. But if you’re not backing up that authentication, then you might find that you can’t access your data when you need it. Confused? Don’t be, we’ve got all you need to know right here.

What’s Two Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication is a pretty simple concept. In order to access your data, you’ll need two ways of proving that you’re you. This could be a fingerprint and a password, it might be a password and then a code sent to you via SMS. There are all kinds of combinations, depending on which app programme or system you’re using. Many bank websites use two-factor authentication, Google allows you to add two-factor authentication to your Gmail account, and various other websites let you use two-factor authentication (many online shopping sites that have your credit card info, for example).

The problem is that if somehow one step of this two-step process is missing (perhaps you lose your phone and can’t get that SMS code, for example), then you can find yourself locked out of your data entirely. Fortunately, there are ways to back up the info that you need to ensure that you never get locked out.

How Do I Know Which Method is Right for Me?

Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all solution here (though there is a workaround that we’ll get to later). Which method you need to use to ensure a back up depends on which kind of authentication service you’re using, which really depends on the app or programme you’re using. You’ll need to access authentication settings to find out which methods are going to work for you, though in some cases it’ll be clear given the options that you have to authenticate.

However, none of these tips takes a particularly long amount of time, so you can try all of them to find out what works! There are several things that you should look at.

Phone Number Confirmation

A lot of authentication services (including Google’s and Microsoft’s) allow you to set a phone number. If something happens (you lose a password or break your phone), then an SMS or voice call to your linked phone number will let you override the two-factor authentication. Say, for example, you lose your mobile and then try to log into your Gmail with Google’s two-factor authentication. You won’t receive the necessary SMS to log in, but hitting the button that says there’s a problem means that you’ll get a phone call on your landline to tell you how to proceed. Simple, right?

This isn’t so simple if you haven’t linked your phone number, however. You’ll need to go into authentication settings on your programme and make sure that your number is linked (and if you can add a landline as well as your mobile, do so). If you ever change phone numbers, make sure you link in your new number as well!

Back Up Codes

Some services also provide you with back up codes that you can enter in case you can’t log into your accounts. Google also provides this, as do a few other sites. You should absolutely print out these backup codes and put them in a safe place in case you need them (but safe enough that no one else can use them to access your account!). If you don’t have your codes and can’t find them, simply message customer service for whatever service you’re using and get new ones. Be aware that Google’s back up codes are for one-time use only, so if you use one you’ll then need to get a new one!

Personal Info

Similar to phone number confirmation you might also want to check the rest of your personal information stored on site. Check your linked email address to ensure that it’s current, as well as your name and address if these appear. You never know when you might need the company in question to be able to contact you with back up codes or new passwords, so it’s best to ensure that they have up to date contact info if necessary.

Possible Work Around

All of this might seem like a lot of work, but it should only take a few minutes of your time, and any of these methods could ensure that you don’t get locked out of your accounts. However, there is one fairly easy workaround that you might want to think about.

Authy is an app that implements two-factor authentication. You can use it anywhere where you would normally use Google’s two-factor service (which is most websites). Download the app and follow the instructions that you’re given and you’ll have secure, two-factor authentication whenever you have access to the app. How does this help you?

Firstly, Authy allows you to backup your data and easily transfer it to another device (which makes switching phones easier). Secondly, Authy allows you to share data between devices. So if you put Authy on your phone and your tablet and/or computer, you should have access to your data even if, for example, you lose your mobile (since the same authentication data will be on your tablet/computer).

Two-factor authentication is a great way to secure your data. However, if you haven’t properly backed up codes, entered a phone or email or other contact info, or enabled an app like Authy you do run the risk of getting locked out of your data. A little preparation today could prevent a lot of problems tomorrow!