Cyber security awareness is on the rise, so there are more people enabling two-factor authentication on their accounts. However, it's been proven that receiving a code via SMS is not the most secure route. Fortunately, we have authenticators such as Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator to help. They both take snapshots of the QR codes found in the settings of supported websites to connect to the user’s accounts. They're then able to display the synchronized one-time password at all times, and the user just needs to open the app to know the code they need to introduce. Still, these two solutions are not entirely equal, and each one has its own set of features.
While Google Authenticator is one of the most popular authentication apps, it's hardly the best. Although it's effortless to use, its simplicity comes at the expense of a few features some people might miss.
Adding new accounts to the app is pretty straightforward. Just take a picture of the QR code – which can be done without leaving the app – and you're done. However, it would be nice to have the option to add a second level of security, such as locking the software through a PIN, a master password, or fingerprint lock. In other words, anyone who is able to unlock the mobile phone can access all codes stored in the app. Another feature that's lacking in Google Authenticator is the option to sync 2FA codes between devices. Although the software works both on iOS and Android, if for whatever reason you need to get a new mobile phone, you'll have to go through the process of adding all your accounts all over again.
Microsoft also offers its own free authenticator app that works on both Android and iOS. It generates six-digit TOTP codes for third-party two-factor authentication by snapping a QR code just like the other popular authenticator apps on the market. However, it has the advantage of integrating with other Microsoft accounts seamlessly, where it supports one-tap notifications.
Microsoft Authenticator can be set up on multiple devices simultaneously, where all authentication codes are encrypted and synced through the cloud. Consequently, any properly set up equipment can be used to respond to two-factor authentication prompts. The application also backs up all added accounts, which is a nice safety net in case the user loses their mobile phone and needs to install the app on a new device.
Businesses can also set up the authenticator app on Azure Active Directory accounts. The administrator needs to enable multi-factor authentication from the admin console, and from there the users manage their own security verification.
At their core, Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator have the same job and work in similar ways. However, it's impossible not to notice that Microsoft offers a more comprehensive product. Not only is it possible to sync multiple devices, but it also provides the ability to create a backup that's going to be essential if the user ever needs to get a new phone. Furthermore, if you use Microsoft products on a daily basis, using an authenticator from the same developer makes it easier to connect to the respective accounts – users just have to tap a notification. Nonetheless, people who already own a password manager account can just stick with that one piece of software, as there are various password managers – such as Enpass or 1Password – that offer this type of service.
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