by Anthony 

December 16, 2021

Google Authenticator is a free two factor authentication app that you can install to secure your online accounts. It’s simple, reliable and maintained by Google itself.

To start using Google Authenticator, first link an online account by scanning a QR code provided by the app you want to link. Alternatively, you can enter a setup key instead. Once linked, every time you login to that account, it will prompt you to enter the code generated by Google Authenticator.

The first time you log into Google Authenticator you’ll be presented with a welcome screen, and after clicking on Get Started, you’ll have the option to link your first account.

As is standard, you can set up two factor authentication either by scanning a QR code, which is the most common way or by copying and pasting a unique key.

You’ll also notice, in the bottom left-hand corner, there’s an option to import existing accounts, which you would use if this is a new phone and you wanted to transfer your Google Authenticator codes from your old phone.

Google Authenticator import existing accounts

To link our first account, we’ll scan a QR code. And for this demonstration, I’ll set up Two Factor Authentication on my Facebook account.

To do this, we need to log into Facebook and click on the arrow icon in the top right corner of the screen. Choose Settings and Privacy, followed by Settings. Over on the left-hand menu choose Security and Login, and then next to ‘Use Two Factor Authentication’ click Edit.

Google Authenticator for Facebook

Here you have three options and since we’re using the Google Authenticator app, I’ll click on this option to use an App.

We’re now presented with our QR code which we can scan using our app. So back on your phone, click on Scan QR code and hold your phone’s camera over the barcode.

Having done so, your linked account will now appear in your app. To finish the process, click continue in Facebook and then enter the code shown in your authenticator app.

And there you have it, Two Factor Authentication is now setup on the Facebook account. If I log out and back in again, you can see I’m prompted for the 2FA code from the Google Authenticator app.

Google Authenticator Facebook setup 2fa

Of course, if you are using your phone to set up two factor authentication on one of your accounts, then you can’t scan the barcode, so instead, in these circumstances we can copy/paste the key manually.

This time I’ll enable 2FA on my Instagram account. I’ll click on my profile icon in the bottom corner of the screen, followed by the menu icon in the top right of the screen.

Google Authenticator Instagram profile icon

Then I’ll choose Settings, followed by Security and Two Factor Authentication.

After clicking on Get Started, we’re then prompted to choose between either using WhatsApp, and authenticator app, or a text message.

I’ll choose the app and because we’re manually adding the code, I’ll click on Set Up Another Way.

Google Authenticator set up another way

Instagram provides us with a code, which we can copy and paste into our Google Authenticator app. Having copied the code, switch back into Google Authenticator, click on the plus icon and choose Enter setup key.

Now we need to provide a Name for our new linked account, which I’ll call Instagram and then we simply paste the code that we copied.

There’s an additional option to switch between time-based and counter-based. Use time based in all cases unless the account that you’re setting up recommends using Counter based.

Google Authenticator instagram add key

Click Add and then, as with Facebook, to finish up, enter the six-digit pin into Instagram.

Instagram then provides you with a list of backup codes, which you would use in the event that you can’t access your google authenticator app for whatever reason.

These are very important and it’s recommended you keep these somewhere safe, especially as the Google Authenticator app doesn’t backup your codes. All your accounts will offer similar codes.

For example, if we go back into our 2FA settings in Facebook, there is the option to create and download a similar set of recovery codes.

Google Authenticator Facebook backup 2fa codes

There’s not much else to the app, except the Settings menu where among other things you can enable Face Unlock by clicking on Settings followed by Privacy Screen. Having enabled face unlock you can also set a time out period.

Here’s a guide showing examples of how to enable 2FA for the most common apps.

If we go back to the Settings menu, Edit allows you to re-order your access codes by clicking and dragging, and if you click on the pen icon, you can change the name of your codes and delete them if you wish. Just be sure to disable two factor authentication on your account before deleting the code.

Finally, if you are looking to transfer your codes from an old phone to a new one, then this is how you do it.

How To Transfer Google Authenticator To New iPhone

One of the nice features about Google’s Authenticator app is they’ve made it really easy to transfer your codes to a new phone.

Here on the left I have my old iPhone with my authenticator app and two codes I want to transfer to my new phone. When you open the authenticator app for the first time on your new phone you’ll land on this screen and after clicking on Get Started in the bottom left-hand corner, you have the option to import an existing account.

Google Authenticator import existing accounts

We’re then presented with instructions on how to proceed, and we want to click on the ellipsis icon in the top right corner of the app on our old phone, and choose Export accounts.

Click continue and you’ll be required to enter your passcode. Having done so, you then have the option to choose which accounts you wish to export.

By default all your account will be selected but you can click on the tick to deselect and reselect them. When you’re happy, click Export which will generate a QR code.

Back on the your new phone, click the button to scan the QR code, and having done so your accounts will be transferred.

Google Authenticator import existing account scan QR code

To finish up you can choose to either remove your codes from your old phone or keep them. It’s recommended that you delete them from your old phone, however I wouldn’t be so hasty.

I would recommend logging into a few of your accounts using the codes on your new phone, so you’re completely satisfied everything is working correctly before deleting the codes from your old phone.

It’s also worth noting that if you use an iPhone and restore your new phone from an iCloud backup taken from the old phone, then your codes will be transferred as part of this process. So that’s always an option too.

Again, just be sure not to erase your old phone before you’ve tested the codes on your new phone, just in case.

So that is how to use Google Authenticator. For more tips like this, please check out my Youtube playlist of Internet Security Apps. See you there!

Facts of Apps

  • Previous versions of Google Authenticator were open source, but since 2013, the new releases are propriety.
  • Common alternatives to Google Authenticator are Microsoft Authenticator and Authy.
  • Compared to SMS or text, apps such a Google Authenticator provide better protection as it is harder to intercept.
  • If you lose your phone with Google Authenticator in it, anybody who can access your phone can now generate your 2FA codes. They would still need your username and password to login to your online accounts, but better not take the risk. You would need to login to each of you online accounts, and change the linked authenticator app.
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