If you switch on two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts—and you really should—then you need something else besides a username and a password when you log in on a new device. That’s where a good authenticator app comes in.
Many people will opt for giving the service their phone number so they can be texted a code to authenticate. But text message, or SMS, authentication is easy to hack. There’s also the privacy concern of giving, say Facebook, your phone number. Instead, you should use an authenticator app, which supplies a code via an app on your phone. The app is usually unique to your specific device so hackers will need physical access to get around it, and you’re not having to give up a phone number to big companies who may use it inappropriately.
Some accounts ask you to install a very specific authenticator app, but for others (including Google) you can take your pick: The Android and iOS app stores have a number of options to pick from. If you’ve always defaulted to one authenticator app in particular, it’s worth having a look at what else is around.
This is the app you might have gravitated towards for your Google account—because it’s made by Google—but this is actually one of the more basic authenticator apps out there. Adding accounts is easy enough at least, and just involves scanning a QR code with your phone’s camera or typing in a numerical code. You can be up and running in seconds.
Changing phones is relatively easy too, and Google guides you through the process step-by-step so you don’t suddenly find yourself locked out of your key accounts—see here for the instructions. In terms of advanced features though, an integrated dark mode is about as good as it gets, so there’s no support for multiple devices or for cloud syncing.
Simple and reliable, like Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator supports a wide range of accounts besides your Microsoft one. The visual approach is largely the same, though there is a little bit more of a visual flourish here than there is in the Google equivalent—better styling on the codes list and visual icons for each of your accounts.
The Microsoft Authenticator does offer a number of extra features that make this app worthy of your consideration: Cloud backups for example, so you can sign in on a new device to get your codes if you lose access to the original one, and the option to protect the app with the same PIN, fingerprint or face that’s already in place as your screen lock.
Authy really is the gold standard as far as authenticator apps goes—it works with a host of different accounts and comes packed with just about every feature you can think of for an app like this. Everything gets backed up to the cloud securely, so you can swap between devices easily or even use multiple devices to get access to your 2FA-protected accounts.
Besides the ease of use and the extensive feature set on offer here, Authy is a treat to look at as well, with all the accounts you’ve added shown in a grid at the bottom of the main screen—just tap on an icon to get the necessary code. Most of the major accounts are supported here as well, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Dropbox and more.
Most password managers also double up as authenticator apps, so you can use the apps to generate 2FA codes as well as remembering all your login credentials, but we particularly want to highlight LastPass on this occasion—you can pick from both free and paid-for versions of the app, and it functions seamlessly across all of your devices and browsers.
As far as the specific LastPass authenticator app is concerned, it’s a breeze to use: It can work with SMS messages and push notifications for your logins, as well as generating codes, and it will keep all your accounts and codes backed up in the cloud as well. The interface isn’t the most polished we’ve ever seen, but it manages to get the job done.
Duo’s security services are mainly aimed at businesses, but anyone can make use of its clean, reliable authenticator app—like the other apps we’ve mentioned here, it supports a wide variety of third-party accounts (from Amazon to Snapchat), and set up is as swift and as simple as you would hope (it usually just involves a couple of taps and a QR code scan).
If you’ve got multiple accounts set up inside the app then they’re easy to identify and manage from one master list, and if the services you’re using support push notifications then these can be handled on your phone as well. Plus, if you’ve got biometric security set up on your handset, then Duo Mobile can use this to help verify your identity.