How To Use Google Authenticator with a PC

Posted by Jamie on December 15, 2018

Account security is a critical concern for everyone in these days of hacks and data dumps. Your Google account is one of the most important online accounts you have, in all likelihood – you’re getting important email there, your browser and search information are there – a lot of data that you would not want to see released out “into the wild”. Fortunately, there is a tool you can use to greatly enhance the security of your Google account – the Google Authenticator. Google Authenticator is Google’s tool for implementing two-factor security. Here is how to use the Google Authenticator with a PC.

What is two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is steadily growing in popularity. Thanks to its simplicity and the fact that it can seriously upgrade your security, many platforms are encouraging us to implement it on our online accounts. Gmail, Outlook, Battle.net, Origin, ArenaNet and many other companies use two-factor authentication to help secure your account. Two-factor authentication (2FA) uses a traditional login and password with a secondary element. That could be a dongle that generates a code to be entered onto the login screen, an SMS sent to your phone with a code, or something else. If you use internet banking or have a Blizzard Authenticator, you’re already using 2FA.

The advantage with this technology is that even if your account details are exposed, the hacker will not be able to access your account without that extra code. While there are bots out there who try to crack these codes, the limits on attempts make it almost impossible to hack. That’s why many online platforms use 2FA. It’s cheap, effective and keeps your account secure.

Google Authenticator

Google has long used 2FA to secure Gmail and your Google account. It uses an SMS or voice call that provides a code that you need to enter into the login screen to gain access to your account. The Google Authenticator is an app you install onto your phone that is available if you don’t have SMS or voice capability such as areas with no signal.

Set up 2FA

For it to work, you already need to have 2FA via SMS or voice set up. Then you can install the Google Authenticator and go from there.

  1. First go to this page and sign into your Google account.
  2. Select Get started and follow the wizard.
  3. Review your settings, verify your phone number and then set a backup phone number.
  4. Test the setup there and then to make sure it all works.

From now on, when you log into any Google account, you will receive an SMS or voice call with a code. You will need to enter that code alongside your normal login information to access your account.

Set up Google Authenticator

Once you have 2FA set up, you can now integrate the Google Authenticator app.

  1. Download and install the Google Authenticator app onto your phone.
  2. Give the app the permissions it asks for.
  3. Visit this page while on your PC and select Get Started.
  4. Select Alternative second step and Authenticator app.
  5. Select Setup and follow the wizard.
  6. You will also need to open the Authenticator app on your phone.

Setting up is simple. You can scan a QR code that contains everything necessary to set it up or use a Secret Key which will be emailed to your Gmail account. I found the QR code the easiest way to do it as the code contained the install information. I just needed to hit Install and let the app take care of the rest.

Once installed, the Authenticator app should generate a code. Enter this code next to where it says Code in your browser on the PC and hit Verify. If you typed the correct code, you should see a confirmation message on screen. Hit Save to confirm the configuration and your Google Authenticator is ready to go!

Google Security Key

If you don’t have use of a smartphone or work somewhere they aren’t permitted, you could always use a Security Key. This is a USB dongle like an RSA token that generates codes that enable you to log in. It requires Chrome to work properly but is otherwise very low maintenance.

You will need a key compatible with FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) but Google does not provide them. You will need to buy one yourself (around $20) and sync it with your phone and with Google. The process is fairly straightforward and as long as the key you buy is compatible with FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), you’re good to go.

When you want to log in, you will either need to pair the key with your phone or plug it into a USB port on a PC. It will then verify and allow access. More details on the Google Security Key can be found here.

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