Google Authenticator Recovery

How to backup or transfer Google Authenticator to a new phone

Our regular readers know that we highly recommend two-step verification wherever possible. In the modern world, where database leaks are a constant, two-step authentication is not an option, in fact it is a must. If you use two-factor verification, the hacker will need to have both your unique password and the tool that generates verification codes to break into your account. 
Thus, two-factor authentication protects against brute force, keyloggers, and most cases of phishing and social engineering. It also complicates man-in-the-middle and man-in-the-browser attacks. 

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So why is two-factor checking still undesirable? Sure it creates an extra step that needs to be taken to log in, but most users ignore it not because of this extra time and effort, but because they fear losing access to their credentials if something goes wrong with their authentication devices.

Of all the options available to generate or deliver one-time passwords (SMS, emails, hardware and software tokens), most people choose Google Authenticator or other similar applications like Authy, Protectimus Smart, etc. Tokens – Generates authentication codes to log into your account directly on your smartphone.

It is very convenient to use a smartphone for two-factor verification, but there are always these annoying questions: What do you do if you lose the smartphone that generates your one-time passwords? What happens if you switch smartphones, do you lose the entire account? How to transfer Google Authenticator to a new phone? In this article, we will answer these annoying questions and help you protect your priceless personal data.

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3 Ways to Backup Google Authenticator

1. Backup Codes

Google, as well as some other websites where you can protect your user account with two-step authentication, provide backup codes. These are one-time-use tokens that allow you to log into your account if you lose access to your OTP token. After using a backup code once it is permanently gone. Most people print out these backup Google Authenticator codes and keep them on hand.

It is necessary to understand that Google Authenticator is a multi-token and thus you can register many tokens for different websites using a single application. Some of these websites provide backup codes, and the user can access these websites in case they lose their smartphone. But what do you do with sites that don’t support backup codes?

Another point against Google Authenticator backup codes is – they are as secure as a password written on paper. A hacker can easily copy it if it is in the vicinity and use it to gain access to your account. Sure, the intruder must be among your mates and know the user’s password, but you know things happen.

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Other things you might want to keep in mind when it comes to printing backup codes:

  • You don’t have them on hand at all times
  • You may accidentally lose or damage the paper
  • Only a few services provide them

Google Authenticator backup codes have their advantages, but you also need to be prepared to face disadvantages.

2. Save screenshots of secret keys

This is the easiest way not to lose access to your account. When you first set up Google Authenticator, simply take a screenshot of the barcode with the secret key. Keep your screenshot very secure, if someone finds it in your vicinity can access your data. Please, keep in mind, if this really happened and someone stole your secret key, they would still need to know your user password, so make sure it’s not a simple guessable combination.

3. Programmable hardware code

Created as a more secure alternative to authentication apps, Protectimus Slim NFC hardware tokens can be used with Google, Facebook, GitHub, Dropbox, etc. These tokens are easily programmed using an Android app with NFC support.

The token looks like a credit card and can be carried around with you effortlessly. So you will always have an alternative source of OTPs at all times, for example, if your smartphone battery ran out, you reset the phone, or you accidentally deleted the code.

The device token is more secure than a backup token on paper or a screenshot of the key – extracting the secret key from the token is absolutely impossible. Protectimus Slim NFC allows unlimited reprogramming, so every time you change a token in a service, you can simply reprogram it and stay protected.

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Use this token and forget about Google Authenticator backup problems

The main drawback here is that one token allows only one secret key.

How to transfer Google Authenticator to a new Android phone

1. Use the built-in Google Authenticator to  transfer accounts

If you are using Google Authenticator on your Android smartphone, there is now an easier way to transfer it to a new phone. We are talking about the all-new Account Transfer feature that was added to Google Authenticator recently. Unfortunately, this feature is only available for Android phones as of now. If you are using an iPhone, please see the instructions in the next paragraph

There is no need to turn off two-factor authentication on all your accounts and activate it again. It is enough to click one button on the Google Authenticator on your old phone, and the application will generate a QR code, after which you will need to scan this QR code using the Google Authenticator application on your new Android phone. That’s it, all tokens will be transferred.

Here is a step-by-step guide for your convenience:

  1. Download and install the  Google Authenticator app  on your new smartphone.
  2. Open Google Authenticator on your old Android phone.
  3. Tap on the menu button at the top right of the app and choose Transfer Accounts.
  4. Choose Export accounts.
  5. Select the accounts you wish to transfer to a new phone and click Next. You must scan this QR code using the Google Authenticator app on your new phone.
  6. Now open Google Authenticator on your new Android phone.
  7. Tap on the menu button at the top right of the app and choose Transfer Accounts.
  8. Choose Import accounts.
  9. Scan the QR code on your old phone. The tokens you selected will be transferred.

Besides, you will see a notification “Accounts were recently exported” in your old app. Pay attention to this message. If it wasn’t you who transferred your Google Authenticator codes to a new phone, take action. Transfer all your tokens in all your accounts to the new one.


2. Manually extract credentials [root only]

Note:  There are many ways to transfer Google Authenticator manually if you have an Android smartphone with root access. We don’t recommend using it though  Rooting can seriously damage the security of your apps and make your device vulnerable to viruses and bugs.

This is a very time and effort consuming way to transfer the Google Authenticator key to the other smartphone. It requires you to root the smartphones.

To extract secret keys manually, you need to give root access in adb, this is easily done using an app like  [root] adbd Insecure  if you have a stored ROM. And in the case of a custom ROM, you may already have the adb needed to root, so no additional apps are needed.

Set adb to unsafe mode with the application or directly, connect the smartphone to your PC or laptop and copy the Google Authenticator databases to the computer using the commands.

This is the path name:

adb pull /data/data/

After copying the file, you can open it and see the keys using the following sqlite editor commands:

sqlite3 ./Databases

select * from accounts;

Now you have your secret keys and you can add them to your new device.

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Restore Google Authenticator for iPhone

1. Transfer the authenticator to a different phone using your Google account settings

Note: You will only transfer the Google token this way. This method works for Android phones as well.

With Google, it is very easy to transfer the authenticator and all the secret keys in it to another smartphone. All you have to do is go to the two-step verification page, click the Get Started button, enter your password to verify your identity, and click the Change phone button. Then scan the QR code or barcode, or enter the secret key on the other tool manually. This is it.

This only works with a Google account, other accounts where you use Google Authenticator for two-step authentication may not support this option. You will only transfer the Google token this way. So you may want to try the following two options instead.

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2. Disable and re-enable two-factor authentication

Disabling two-step verification is very easy if you still have your old smartphone. It is usually required to enter the one-time password of the token currently in use to disable two-factor authentication on any account. To disable two-factor authentication (2FA) for a while, simply click the Turn Off 2-Step Verification, Delete Token, Disable 2-Step Verification or similar button, depending on the service you’re using. You’ll find it on the two-step verification page in Security Settings.

Then add the authenticator app to your new gadget and follow the usual steps to set up Google Authenticator on the new phone.


Two-stage authentication is a reliable and reasonable way to protect your priceless personal data. Whether you use a hardware token or apps like Google Authenticator or Protectimus Smart, you now know how to stay safe even if you change devices or lose your smartphone.

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We showed you easy ways like backup google codes and screenshot secret keys. And we showed you a more secure option like Protectimus Slim NFC device code.

You also now know how to extract Google Authenticator data manually, move Google Authenticator to another phone and even turn off two-factor verification if you need to.

So far you have no excuses for not protecting your information better. All that’s left to do is come up with proper user passwords and not your cat’s name!

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