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How to Retrieve Microsoft Authenticator in Case of Lost Phone

Almost everyone knows Microsoft for the iconic Windows operating system and for Microsoft Office productivity suite, products for which the company has a leadership in the IT sector. Still, Microsoft has also a good portfolio of online services that is easily able to compete with Google, despite this last company is still maintaining the most popular search engine in the world and other services that are the first choice of users. In addition to online services and to computer software, the Redmond company has decided to set a presence even on the mobile platforms, so by joining also the revolution of mobile devices, instead of just sticking with computers. Several apps created by Microsoft are available for free on the Google Play Store and on the Apple App Store, so that people who have set their digital life on the Microsoft ecosystem can easily have an experience of it even on devices that do not feature a Microsoft operating system (in the past the Redmond company used to offer Windows Phone as an alternative to Android and iOS, while actually this operating system doesn't exist anymore and so Microsoft has managed to keep a presence in the mobile market by just producing apps for the two leading mobile ecosystems). Apps like Outlook are surely among the top choices of mobile users, as they are the mobile counterparts of iconic software installed on millions of PCs, but there are also other less-known apps that have still a high relevance, for example Microsoft Authenticator.

The welcome screen of Microsoft Outlook app installed on an Apple iPad device.

The welcome screen of Microsoft Outlook app installed on an Apple iPad device.

Microsoft Authenticator: An All-In-One Security App

Microsoft Authenticator is an app that allows people to authenticate access to their Microsoft Account protected with multi-factor authentication, a security measure additional to username and password that involves typing a temporary OTP code sent via SMS or generated through specific apps. The Authenticator app allows to easily approve or deny login requests made to a Microsoft Account, so that, even in the eventuality a hacker has gained login credentials to access it, without authorization made through the app they won't be able to complete the authentication.

In addition to be a must-to-have security app for those who want to enforce the maximum level of safety on their Microsoft Account, Authenticator also allows to generate OTP codes for every other service supporting multi-factor authentication, including Google and Facebook, by being so a valid alternative to Authy, Google Authenticator and other similar apps. Finally, there is even the ability to save passwords in an encrypted form and use the Microsoft Authenticator app to universally login to all the services for which the passwords are stored, so that the app is even a good password manager that works universally on all the browsers installed on the Android or iOS device.

What to Do if a Phone Used With Microsoft Authenticator App Gets Stolen or Lost

Microsoft Authenticator, like Google Authenticator, stores tokens used for generating OTP codes physically on your devices, but there is a big difference between the app made in Redmond and the Google counterpart: the last one is completely cloud-free, so there is no cloud backup option for the tokens, meaning that, in case a phone gets lost or stolen, one should reset all their tokens on every account and create new credentials, otherwise they can make manual backups of the tokens and maybe store them in Google Drive (even if this is an unofficial trick, as Google Authenticator still doesn't provide any cloud backup option, in a way to enforce a higher security). In the case of Microsoft Authenticator, there is instead a built-in cloud backup option, so that installing the app on a new device means all the tokens can get easily restored in few taps.

The Microsoft Authenticator backup & restore feature works differently on iOS and Android devices:

  • if Microsoft Authenticator is used on an iOS device, backup is encrypted and stored on iCloud: in case of security leaks or violations against Apple ID, the backup cannot be used without pairing it with the associated Microsoft Authenticator;
  • if Microsoft Authenticator is used on an Android device, backup is directly stored in the Microsoft Account, so without apparent involvement of external cloud services.

In the case of a lost or stolen phone, recovering Microsoft Authenticator will be immediate, provided that there is access to the same Apple ID (in the case of iOS devices) or Microsoft Account (that should rely also on a backup authentication system, like OTP codes sent via SMS, as logging in from a new device without being able to access the old phone containing Authenticator app means getting locked out).

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Alessio Ganci

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