December 16, 2021

Authy vs Google Authenticator

Written by

As data breaches become more prevalent and costly, small businesses need the right resources to ensure only authorized users can access company systems. When 20% of breaches start with compromised credentials, many IT leaders are exploring zero trust security practices to gain better visibility into who is accessing which systems when.

Two-factor authentication tools like Authy and Google Authenticator prompt users to verify their identity using another device, adding a second layer of security for business applications. By requiring users to provide another way of verifying their identity, organizations can protect against unauthorized access through compromised credentials or weak passwords.

With so many options available, choosing the right two-step authentication software for your business can be challenging. Two of the most popular choices, Authy and Google Authenticator, are great free options to help your organization embrace a zero trust security approach. Here’s everything you need to know to choose which option is best for your small business. 

What is Authy?

Twilio’s Authy is a free two-factor authentication app (or 2FA app) that allows anyone to leverage improved security using their cell phone.

Typically, when a user logs into an application or service on their computer, they’re asked for a username and password. However, those credentials can easily be stolen and used by bad actors to access an account. Authy provides an additional layer of security by generating a single-use token on their cell phone.

Users enter this unique, timed six-digit code on their computer to securely access their account. Since this code is unique to the user’s phone, a hacker would need access to that user’s credentials and their cell phone to successfully access the account.

Authy lets users sync 2FA across multiple devices, so every login experience is secure. Features like TouchID and Encrypted Backups add even more peace of mind for users and prevent lockouts, even if they lose a device.

What is Google Authenticator?

Google Authenticator is one of the most popular free 2FA apps. Like Authy, Google Authenticator lets users generate timed six-digit or eight-digit codes on an iPhone, Android, or Blackberry to strengthen login security. This 2FA option also uses QR codes to create a token for each website you want additional security for.

Google Authenticator started as an open-source product, but once Google designed a proprietary version, it became known as the minimalist and familiar alternative to newer 2FA applications. For users who leverage the full suite of Google products, Google Authenticator has remained a top choice.

Beyond time-based one-time passwords (TOTP), Google Authenticator also offers the more user-friendly event-based passwords (HMAC-based one-time passwords, or HOTP), which eliminate the time-based element and generate a new key by request that users can enter in their own time. 

The differences between Authy and Google Authenticator

Choosing the right 2FA application is essential to keep your sensitive data and systems safe.

Here are the primary features to look for in a 2FA application and how Authy and Google Authenticator stack up on these critical aspects. 

Large range of supported services

The most powerful two-factor authentication apps work alongside the tools, systems, and websites your team uses most. When you’re able to leverage 2FA security across multiple applications, you have the highest likelihood of protecting your data. While almost all 2FA tools work with the services listed in the 2FA directory, some sites may offer more robust protection with different 2FA tools.

Google Authenticator has been the standard for 2FA for over a decade, so almost all third-party apps and operating systems work well with this tool. Plus, accounts can easily be added to the Google Authenticator app using a QR code, making onboarding new apps and systems quick and easy, even if each device must be set up separately. Google Authenticator supports Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices.

Authy takes support a step further than Google Authenticator. While it may not connect with as many third-party applications, it supports many more devices beyond Android and iOS devices; Authy also works with desktop computers running Windows, Linux, or macOS along with Apple Watches. One account easily links to multiple devices, making it easy to set up. However, Authy does not currently support Blackberry devices.

Authy also leverages QR codes to set up accounts, but only on mobile devices. Desktop applications must be added to the Authy app manually

Security capabilities

2FA is popular because it depends on using another device as a second form of authentication, making it particularly difficult for malicious actors to access. However, should your employee’s phone or computer fall into the wrong hands, it’s critical that your 2FA app is protected, so they don’t gain access to all of your business applications.

Authy enables a PIN and biometric authentication like TouchID to protect data against unauthorized use. Plus, Authy encrypts all backups, so your data is protected against breaches. If a user loses their device, the cloud-based backups allow them to easily access their passwords again on another device.

Additional security is one of the weak points of the bare-bones Google Authenticator app. Without passcodes or biometric sign-on options, Google Authenticator can put your data at risk if a device is lost or stolen. Plus, a misplaced device can present an even bigger headache; without backups, restoring your Google Authenticator account is a commonly referenced pain point, forcing users to reconfigure all of their accounts on a new device or leverage complicated workarounds to create a backup. This is one of the main reasons why users often switch from Google Authenticator to Authy. 

Also Read: Are Biometrics the Answer to MFA’s Shortcomings? Probably Not.

Streamlined user experience

Many employees consider 2FA to be a necessary evil, protecting company data at the expense of an inconvenient user experience. A streamlined user experience and good UI can make a big difference in encouraging your team to leverage two-factor authentication.

Simple, user-friendly Google Authenticator may not have a modern UI, but the minimalist style makes it extremely easy to use. Generating TOTP or HOTP codes is quick and easy, making logging in a breeze. However, the options for logins are still comparatively limited; while Google Authenticator offers the less-secure HOTP option, it forgos the one time password (OTP) options like SMS and voice calls as verification options. 

It’s also worth noting that Google Authenticator does not offer push notifications, so scrambling to open the app and generate a code for login can be a pain for some users and slow productivity.

Meanwhile, Authy’s sleek UI makes it a user favorite. This easy-to-use app leverages push notifications to help you authenticate your identity faster and access systems easily. Plus, while it doesn’t offer the untimed HOTP codes like Google Authenticator, it does present both TOTP and OTP capabilities to provide more convenient authentication options no matter what device users have nearby.

How to use Authy and Google Authenticator for your small business

Small businesses often need to give employees access to critical systems, but allowing access to your sensitive information can be unsettling without additional security precautions. While 2FA apps can’t replace a robust cybersecurity strategy and IT support, they can make remote access more secure and more accessible for small businesses, giving business owners peace of mind.

Using Authy or Google Authenticator helps small businesses confidently support workers operating remotely or within an office. By requiring an extra level of authentication, businesses can use multiple services and applications more securely on a wide range of devices. Plus, these free options are an affordable way to protect your business against data leaks and unauthorized access.

Looking for more information about protecting your small business’s data? Contact the TechnologyAdvice team today to explore cybersecurity software that fits your needs!