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What is 2FA actually?
‘2 Factor Authentication’, abbreviated is 2FA, is a term you will see more often online. Especially when you use cryptocurrency exchanges, but also on other websites and with banks. It is an extra verification process to ensure privacy protection of your personal information upon entering your password.
At your bank, you probably already use this in the form of an SMS or a device to safely secure your debit card information. This form of extra security has become really important in 2018. Hacks, scams, and data breaches happen almost daily.
Criminals are always looking for ways to access your account, but with the 2FA, you can make it very difficult for them!
Google Authenticator is the most widely used 2FA mobile app in the cryptocurrency world. Every good exchange, wallet, and ICO will encourage you to set up 2FA when registering an account. You protect your account from access by third parties, which is also in their interest. It prevents support tickets, reputational damage, and the loss of customers or investors.
If someone knows your email address and password, they will be able to access your personal information including your bank account. When 2FA is activated, that person also needs physical access to your phone to be able to log in. If a website accepts 2FA, it is advisable to use it as well.
Source: Google Play Store
This is an example of the Google Authenticator, which generates the 2FA codes. Protecting multiple accounts is no problem at all. The app is available for iOS (iPhone) and Android devices.
How to activate 2FA using Google Authenticator?
When you turn on 2FA on a website, a QR code is displayed to scan with the Google Authenticator app. Usually there is also a code to enter manually on your phone as an alternative method.
If you enter the response code in the app on the website, 2FA is activated.
My phone is broken… now what?
The biggest disadvantage of the Google Authenticator is that it doesn’t have a backup function. Not in the app itself, nor on your Gmail account. This is without a doubt a conscious decision by Google, but it can be a serious problem if your mobile phone is broken or lost.
The iPhone makes it easy to restore an iCloud backup to a new phone. However, you will find out that the Google Authenticator app is empty.
You will no longer have access to all the sites where you have activated 2FA. You will then have to prove your identity per website via their support to reactivate your Google Authenticator. With crypto exchanges, it can sometimes take weeks!
What are the Google Authenticator backup options?
Before you finally activate 2FA by entering the response code, it is important to make a backup of the QR code and/or the written secret code.
Make a screenshot of the QR code together with the written code (if shown). With a new phone, you can rescan or re-enter the code to gain back access.
Make a screenshot on Windows can be done with the ‘print screen’ button on your keyboard in order to paste it in Microsoft Paint (mspaint.exe) or otherwise with the snipping tool, which can be found in the start menu.
Make a screenshot on Apple (MacOS) can be done by pressing COMMAND+SHIFT+3 for a full screen screenshot or with COMMAND+SHIFT+4 for selection. The files are usually stored on your desktop with a file name like ‘Screen Shot + date.PNG’.
Advantage: it is easy and quick.
Disadvantage: the secret code is stored on your computer, where a hacker or a virus could find it. Tip: move the files to a USB stick.
Print the page where the QR code and the written code are displayed. Scan the QR code from the paper to test if it works. Also keep it in a safe and dry place.
Advantage: the secret code is no longer present on the computer, which solves the disadvantage of option 1.
Disadvantage: you do need a printer. Fewer and fewer people own one these days. In addition, you must store the printed page on a secure and dry place to prevent unauthorized people gaining access to it and to make sure it remains readable.
#3 Extra mobile phone
Do you still have a second mobile phone at your disposal? For example one from your work, your partner’s, or an old one lying around? Then you can also use that mobile phone to scan the QR code or enter it manually.
Advantage: you are back up-and-running quickly. And it is very practical if you want to log in. Just take one the mobile phones that is nearby!
Disadvantage: if you often have both phones together, they can be stolen together or broken due to a calamity.
#4 Write it down
Write the code down good old-fashioned way with pen and paper!
Advantage: you don’t need a printer or a second mobile phone and it’s 100% secure. Tip: double check whether you have written the code down correctly and make sure you can read your own handwriting!
Disadvantage: some websites only display the QR code. You cannot write those down. Fortunately, more and more websites show both versions: QR & secret code.
Activated 2FA but forgot your backup?
If the 2FA with the Google Authenticator is completely set up on a website, you will need to re-activate it in order to make a backup. Usually a website does have the possibility to turn off the 2FA.
This will only be possible if you still have access to the mobile that is connected to.
When you turn it off, you will be asked for the code generated on your mobile, just like when you log in. After this you can re-activate it and make the backup using the options mentioned above.
WARNING: All of the above operations are at your own risk, so take your time, double check everything and test what you are doing.