You’ve decided to take some extra steps to improve your privacy and security and are considering using an authenticator (or TOTP) app as a method of 2FA. But, you’re not sure which app is right for you.
As is usually the case, the internet has a wide variety of options for anything and the same is true when it comes to authenticator apps. While we can’t review all of them (and we wouldn’t want to because many of them aren’t great), we wanted to compare some of the two most commonly used ones – Google Authenticator, and Authy.
A quick intro to authenticator apps
Authenticator apps are a form of 2FA (two-factor authentication), which add a layer of security when you log on so that your accounts are more secure.
To use it, you have to download an authenticator app and sync It to whatever account you want to enable 2FA on. Then, whenever you want to sign into your account, the app will give you a code to input or a button to press in order to authenticate you and give you access to your account. Depending on the app, your phone doesn’t need to be connected to the internet to use it (so it works well while you’re traveling).
The champ: Google Authenticator
Google Authenticator is pretty simple to use and set up. You download the mobile app and start syncing the app to any of the accounts you want to secure by scanning a QR code. Of course this is only an option if the account accepts authenticator apps as a 2FA option (this is true of all authenticator apps)
You’ll see that Google will begin generating six to eight-digit codes that change every thirty seconds. These codes will refresh and continue to stay ‘active’ for those thirty seconds. You can log into your accounts simply by opening your authenticator app and inputting the code that’s currently being generated by the app.
The fact that the codes last thirty seconds also provide a very small window of opportunity for a bad actor on the off chance that your code is seen on your device.
For certain Google services, the app offers a ‘prompt’ option. This means you don’t have to enter in a code and just have to confirm that you’re trying to log-in after you type in your password. The security is just the same, and it’s just an option that adds convenience.
The Challenger: Authy
Authy works very similar to Google Authenticator – you sync the app to accounts and then start receiving your codes to input whenever you need to log in. Because the apps use the same underlying technology, the codes are also refreshed every thirty seconds. Authy also offers the same ‘prompts’ Google authenticator does for additional services outside of Google, which adds a bit of convenience.
One of the biggest differences between Authy and Google authenticator is multi-device support.
If you want to use Authy across multiple devices or if you have a new phone and need to reconnect your authenticator app, Authy allows you to do that straight from the cloud. This is also a huge benefit if you happen to lose your device. You can still use Authy with a new or temporary device just by downloading Authy again.
With many authenticator apps, you’re often locked out of your account if you lose or get a new device until everything is reauthenticated. This is a major pain and part of the reason people avoid using authenticator apps. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Authy.
Instead of having to manually rescan each QR code for each account tied to your authenticator app, you can just authenticate Authy and it’ll auto-populate the authentication codes for each account. It’s an added convenience that many authenticator apps (including Google Authenticator) don’t offer.
Our recommendation – Authy
The convenience of being able to use Authy across multiple devices and easily sync your apps with it is the reason why we recommend Authy.
We place a lot of value on anything that balances privacy and convenience well. Authy offers convenience at little to no cost when it comes to privacy or security. It also makes it easier to access your accounts in case you lost your device or it breaks, so it’s an additional failsafe.
The differences between Google Authenticator or Authy aren’t that large so depending on your personal feelings, you may be swayed one way or another. Google isn’t known for a pristine reputation when it comes to privacy so if you have some reservations about whether Google is a company you want to continue to engage with, that may be an additional reason to consider Authy.
On the other hand, however, you may have more trust in Google (you use Gmail, an Android device, Google Home, etc). If that’s the case, your comfort might lie in Google if it makes you less comfortable trusting a different company to provide you access to your accounts.
You have our recommendation, it’s up to you to choose the best one for you.