Backup Your Authenticator? Why Didn’t They Tell Me!

Backup Your Authenticator

Backup Your Authenticator? Uh sure, I’ll do that ASAP. If that is you, you need to turn ASAP into “today!” or face the alternative.

There you are, having to prove that you are not a scammer! You want the people you are working with to make it VERY hard on scammers. however that means that they are VERY hard on you too! You end up going through contortions, multiple tries, dealing with support staff who barely speak your language, and having a headache from banging your head against the proverbial brick wall. All because you didn’t take five minutes to backup your authenticator. Now you really wish you had backed the D#$!M thing up.

When Do You Need to Backup Your Authenticator?

Some times you might need a backup are pretty obvious. For example, when you uograde your phone or your phone dies for reasons unknown (You’re not going to tell them you dropped it in the toilet. Right?)

  1. New Phone – EVERYONE runs into this one.
  2. Phone is broken
  3. Phone stolen
  4. Phone and Computer stolen
  5. You have to do a factory reset on your phone to fix a major issue.
  6. House fire or flooding wipes everything you own out.
  7. The phone is fine, it just happens to be elsewhere, and you really need to login to a site that requires Two Factor authentication.

I’d say as long as we are backing the Authenticator, we might was well handle all of these situations.

Protect Yourself from Three Different Threats.

There are three major threats you need to consider. We cover each of these below.

  1. No longer having the device the has the Authenticator App and the codes. (Described in the previous paragraph.)
  2. Hackers getting an unencrypted copy of a QR code containing all your codes.
  3. Your forgetting the password to unencrypt the QR code file after you encrypt it.

Threat 1 – Not having access to the device with the Authenticator app.

We take care of this threat when we backup your authenticator.

How to Backup Your Authenticator App.

Okay, you know what might happen where you need an authenticator and how that might happen. Now the question is: “How Do You Back It Up?”

Wait a minute. I just heard a plaintive question. What the heck is an Authenticator? Is that something the IT department handles? This is certainly the kind of tech that used to reside in the back room with the IT guys and it was Geek Speak to the rest of us. No longer. Now days it getting so that you can’t log into your bank without an Authenticator.

For most of us, Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator are simple Apps or our phone. I’m going to focus on the Google Authenticator here, since it is the one I am most familiar with.

The Authenticator App is in the Play Store or the Apple Store. Its icon looks like this.

You search the store for it and install it, just like any other app.

Backup your authenticator

Your Authenticator will look something like this. On phones like my Android, the phone will not let me take screenshots “For Security Reasons.” That makes perfect sense, however, it does make getting images more interesting 😁 (The black bars are the names of my accounts that I have blanked out.)

Start by clicking the thre vertical dot menu un the upper right corner of the screen.

The small menu appear. Select the “Transfer Accounts” option.\

it appears the they have removed the IMPORT option. It has been replaced by a PLUS sign.

Choose Export

it appears th\ate they have removed the IMPORT option. It has been replaced by a PLUS sign.

It will ask you to verify that you know how to unlock the phone. I use this pattern, you may use a different method.

You use the checkboxes to indicate which accounts you are going to transfer. Of course for a backup, you want to transfer them all.

This QR code will appear. The simplest transfer is to use another phone and go through the same steps, except you choose IMPORT instead of EXPORT. You will be given an option to SCAN a QR code.

Another option involves taking a picture of the QR code on this screen.

Importing To Another Smart Phone or Tablet

On the other phone, you install the Google Authenticator app and the click on the same three dot menu and choose the TRANSFER ACCOUNTS option.

This is the NEW Screen. It has a plus sign at the bottom. You use that to add a new QR code or to replace an existing one.

Backup your authenticator


I left this screen in since some phones may have this version.

Before they added the plus sign on the home screen, this was where you chose the IMPORT option on a second phone.

You will see there instructions. Click the button.

The scanning process tells you to place the QR code inside the red lines. There is a little icon you can drag to make the box bigger if it makes things easier. Once the system has recognized the QR code, the process is complete. Both phones can be used to supply the Two Factor Authentication (2FA) numbers.

Foe me this is not enough. There are too many situations where both phones in a household need to be replaced at the same time. A house fire is one, however the more common one is where you upgrade both phones at the same time and just don’t think about the Authenticator. Some phone companies have an upgrade system that will move all the data from the old phone to the new one, but they don’t always work. Other companies don’t have them at all.

Uploading to a Chrome Browser on a PC to Back up Your Authenticator

On my Windows 10 laptop, there is a camera option. I start it up and hold my phone in front of the laptop camera and take a picture. The picture becomes a file on my laptop.

There is an AUTHENTICATOR extension for the Chrome Browser. Using this option is a convenience (you don’t have to activate the App on your phone to get the six digit code) AND it is a form of backup

Click the three dot menu in your Chrome Browser.

After you click the three dot menu (#1), click on More Tools (#2) and Extensions (#3).

A screen will appear with the Extensions you are already using. Click the Menu in the upper left corner.

This screen will appear. The option to open the store is way down at the lower left.

You can enter Google Authenticator in the search box and you will see the one we want. It is just called “Authenticator.”

Click the “Add to Chrome” button.

We want this extension to show at the top of our browser. If it is there (#3), you can skip this step, otherwise, click the Blob shaped icon (#1) and click the PIN icon (#2) beside the word “Authenticator.”

Now when you click the Authenticator Icon, (#1) your numbers (#2) will pop up, but not until you have imported your codes. You will be able to use these to sign on to sites that requires Two Factor Authentication (2FA).

Click the Gear Icon (#3) to start the IMPORT process.

Click on BACKUP.

Click on IMPORT BACKUP (#1). We will come back and do #2 later.

Click the center tab (#1) and then the “Import Backup File” (#2) button.

You navigate to the picture you took (it should be in your Pictures Folder) and click Open. If you took a good picture, you will see this screen.

This is fairly secure and If you have your Browser set to Synchronize using you email account, the extension and the codes should appear on other PCs when you log onto your Google Account in Chrome.

Backup Your Authenticator to Dropbox – One level further

Go back and follow the steps to get to this screen. I am going to backup the code to Dropbox, since many people have a Dropbox account AND they have an option to password protect a file.

Click the Dropbox button.

backup your Authenticator

The extension reminds you that you should protect the file you are going to backup onto Dropbox and asks you to sign into your Dropbox account.


Once you sign up, this screen tells you where it is putting the backup file. (I have two Dropbox accounts so it needs to know which one to use.)

That’s it for the Authenticator extension. We have one more step to do.

Other Options in the Authenticator Extension

Scan a QR Code

There is another way to read an image of the QR code.

Click the icon.

backup your Authenticator

A image with a moving cursor appears and tells you to place this screen over your image. Tou drag the plus sign to make the window big enough to cover your QE code.

It will tell you if it successfully reads the QR code.

NOTE FOR SYSTEMS THAT SHOW A QR Code ON A PC SCREEN:): When you set up your authenticator (called 2 Factor Authentication) You can scan the QR code with the Authenticator on your PC and then scan the QR code with the Google Authenticator on your Phone.

Update Your Phone Authenticator From Your PC

If you end up with a new phone and need to update the autenticator there are three ways you can do that.

  1. Login to the site you need to update on your phone using the authenticator code from your PC. Then scan the cod e with your phone and update the code on your PC (You will need to remove the duplicate on your PC.)
  2. Use the backup menu option on your PC. Click on the file that is created and one of the apps on the PC will display the QR and you can scan that with your phone.
  3. If you just have one authenticator code you need to update, you can click an icon beside the code you want to transfer. A QR code will be displayed, and you can scan that with your phone. See below

Click on ghix icon beside the code you want to transfer to your phone. You will see the next screen.

Open the Authenticator on your phone and scan this code.

If You Lose Your Phone AND your PC (theft, fire. etc)

If you have your Chrome browser setting set to Synchronize between devices, the Chrom extension you added before (Authenticators) will be fully populated when you open your Gamil account and click on the Authenticators Icon on your new PC.

Hacker Threat 1 – Password Protect Your Backup File.

backup your Authenticator

I could show you how to zip the file and encrypt it, however that still leaves you at risk for losing your PC due to hardware failure, theft and fire.

So we are are going to backup our file to the web. In this case I’m going to use Dropbox.

Open a tab in you browser and log into Dropbox.

backup your Authenticator

I did a search for Auth which was enough to find the folder.

Click on the file and click the SHARE icon.

Now Create the Link

backup your Authenticator

The link name will change (#1). Click on Settings (#2).

backup your Authenticator

We are changing the default “Anyone with the link” tp “People with the Password”.

Hacker Threat 2 -Delete the QR Code Files on Your PC

For most of us deleting the files and then flushing the Recycle Bin will be enough. The data is still on your hard drive and hackers can find it. If your PC is stolen, go to your various accounts and reset the Two Factor Authentication. You will get a new code for your Authenticator APp so the old ones on your stolen PC are useless.

If you really want to be safe there are third party Apps.

There are several apps that will overwrite the data on your hard drive so that the original data is gone.. One of those is called ERASER. The link at Stanford University is ERASER DOWNLOAD.

Eraser is easy to download and install.

backup your Authenticator  - shred the qr code images

Navigate to the file you want to really erase (#1) and right click. Eraser is now an option in the menu (#2)

Click on the ERASE option (#3). Your PC will ask if it is okay to let Eraser change files and Erase will ask if you rally want to totally erase the file. Once you have said yes, the file is not recoverable.

Threat 3 – Forgetting the Password to Unencrypt your file.

It doesn’t help to backup your authenticator if you can’t remember where the backup is and how to unencrypt the, his article contains several good tips: How to remember your Passwords

I recommend using one of the systems mentioned in the article and then writing a list if important phone numbers and these tips. Put the list in your wallet. These days we rarely enter phone numbers. We select the people from our Contacts List. You you get separated from your phone a long way from home, you need a way to contact your family and in some cases get into your accounts.


We have covered:

  • Why backup your Authenticator codes (Two Factor Authentication -2FA)
  • How to move the codes from one [hone to another.
  • How to move the codes to the Chrome browers
  • Hpw to backup and password protect the codes on Dropbox
  • How to REALLY erase files from your PC.
  • In general we covered three threats”
    • Getting separated from your phone for any reason
    • Protecting against Hackers
    • Remembering your passwords.

Until Next time – Have a Great Day! Oh Hale Yes!

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