Tips & Advice

How to access accounts protected by two-factor authentication if you lose your phone

Lisandro Carmona de Souza, 26 January 2015

How to access accounts protected by two-factor authentication if you lose your phone

Avast explains how to use two factor authenticationQuestion of the week: I use two-factor authentication when logging into my accounts to keep them safe, but what happens if I lose my phone? Can I still access my accounts?

Security-minded individuals know the benefits of using two-factor authentication to keep their online accounts safe. For those of you who are not familiar with it, two-factor authentication is a security process which uses a combination of two different components, like something that you know, a master password or PIN, for instance, and something that you possess, like a token which can generate a number code or, more conveniently, your smartphone.

Using these two things in combination can provide unique identification when entering a site because you provide the password as well as a one-time use security code generated by your security token. If someone learns your password, your accounts are still protected because they need the security code too. Two-factor authentication can reduce the incidence of identity theft and phishing, and we suggest the use of it.

Google Authenticator Google Authenticator gives you a security token to use with your own password.

There are a number of authenticator apps made for Android smartphones. For example, Google Authenticator lets you use a security code and your own password for sites and services like Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote, and WordPress. The app creates a link between your account and your device.

I lost my phone. How do I access my accounts?

If you are so security-minded that you use two-factor authentication to begin with, then you have probably taken precautions before you lose your phone. The majority of authenticator services allow a way to recover your access and remove the authorized device from your account. That is, if you change your mobile device, then you can disable the two-factor authentication from your account before doing so. Most commonly, you would use backup codes, send the codes via SMS to a trusted backup phone, or use a trusted computer. Sometimes, the service providers take several business days to verify your identity and, if possible, grant you access again.

But, if you failed to plan ahead and you lose your phone or if you buy a new smartphone without disabling the account, to use two-factor authentication again, you'll need to install an authenticator app on your new device. The old device and the old backup codes won't work anymore. Some of the sites you have synced to may also have their own procedure, for example, Dropbox.

Recently, an app is making the use of this security measure much more convenient. Authy is an app that manages your two-factor accounts on Android devices, iPhones, and even your PC. Any of these devices could be used to generate tokens and sync with each other. One authorized device could de-authorize a stolen one. A master password could block the access to Authy in these multiple devices and your settings are all kept encrypted locally. Neither Authy's developers nor hackers would be able to access the tokens.

Avast Anti-theft is a free app for Android devicesMaybe this complex recovery process is what does not make two-factor authentication omnipresent. But, after all, you just need to take a few precautions to increase your security a lot.

What to do before your smartphone is lost

Of course, it's better not to lose your devices and for this, you should install and configure Avast Anti-Theft, which can help you find a lost device and even recover a stolen one with its tracking features. It can be downloaded and used for free from the Google Play Store.