Mark Jaquith

Two-Factor Backup Codes

August 11, 2023

Two-factor authentication (a.k.a. 2FA) has been around for a while, but recently it has become ubiquitous. Most of the sites and services I use offer 2FA in some form. Two-factor auth is great, but if you lose access to your authentication device or app, you could be locked out of your most important accounts.

Two-factor authentication backup codes are usually generated when you sign up for two-factor authentication. It’s just a list of authentication codes that don’t change over time (and can usually only be used once). They are precisely designed to keep you from being locked out of your account if you lose access to your authentication device.

I recently changed what I use for two-factor authentication, and as a part of moving all my accounts over, I made sure to print my backup codes.

I had printed or written down some before, but this time I made a concerted effort to print them all.

For each service, I printed the codes on its own sheet of paper. I then printed out an envelope with the name of the service on it. I put the codes in the envelope, and sealed it. When I was done, I put all the envelopes together in a safe place.

A stack of envelopes with two-factor authentication codes

It’s such a small thing, but it’s a good feeling to know that I have a backup plan for my two-factor authentication codes. I know where they are, I know they’re all fresh and good, and I know that if I ever need to, I can get back into my accounts without going through a complicated recovery process (I’ve done these recoveries before, and they are not fun).

In all, with updating my 2FA info for all these sites and printing out the codes, this took me a couple of hours. But something about the tidy printed envelopes and the stack of them all living together makes me feel like I got a small bit of my life in order. Highly recommended!