How can I save my Google account?
The information portal for safe cell phone use
The password for the Google account is particularly valuable. It not only opens access to services such as the Google Play Store, Gmail or YouTube. Under certain circumstances, attackers can use Google's remote access function to find out the whereabouts of a smartphone, set up a screen lock or delete it remotely.
You can log in and protect your Google account via the My Account website. You will find all the options described below under the menu item "Security".
Gold standard: Register with a second factor
Usually you need a password to sign in to your Google account. If you follow the most important rules about passwords, this is still a safe method.
You can, however, set up an additional backup under the item "Sign in to Google": The "Confirmation in two steps".
If you have chosen this option, Google will ask for an additional confirmation step in addition to the password when you log in. This could be a code or a message that Google sends to a mobile device, or a hardware security key that looks similar to a USB stick.
The "two-step verification" is very secure because a third party cannot log in even if they stole the password.
Note: Under the item "Sign in to Google" you will also find the option "Sign in via smartphone". This process is no more secure than the normal login with a password - but some people find it more convenient.
Pitfalls with the second factor
If you use your cell phone as a second factor, you will no longer be able to log in without a cell phone. This is fatal if you miss your cell phone and want to locate it using your Google account. Hence, Google requires that they set up a backup option in case you lose your phone. If you set up the two-step confirmation, you will have to "try it out" first before you will be presented with the backup options. You can choose between:
- Store telephone number: Here you can, for example, enter your landline number or the number of a person you trust. Google then sends an SMS or a voice message to this number with the second factor. If you choose someone you trust: Don't forget to remove the number if your relationship with this person deteriorates.
- Replacement codes: If you tap on "Use another backup option" when prompted for a telephone number, Google generates a series of codes that you can save or print out. If you don't have your cell phone with you, you can use one of these codes as a second factor. Store these codes so that you can easily find them again even after a long period of time.
In addition, you can set up the browser on your PC so that Google trusts it and does not ask for a second factor when logging in. When logging in for the first time, tick the box next to "Do not ask again on this computer" with the second factor. Please note, however, that this setting is saved via cookies. If you delete your cookies, Google will no longer recognize your browser as trustworthy.
In an emergency: restore your password
If you've forgotten your Google Account password, Google offers a number of ways to recover it. Unauthorized persons often take advantage of these possibilities to gain access to third-party accounts.
The procedures at Google differ depending on the information you have stored and whether you only log in with a password or whether you use a second factor.
If you only log in with a password, Google will first send a password recovery message to the mobile devices that are linked to the Google account in question.
If an unauthorized person gets one of these devices unlocked, he only has to confirm the message with "Yes" and can set up a new password immediately. The linked devices become the second key for the account.
If you do use this method, make sure that all of your devices are secured with good screen locks.
Store your email address
We also recommend that you enter an e-mail address under "Methods for verifying your identity". If you do not have a linked device at hand, you can have a link sent to this stored email address.
You should not use this e-mail address for normal e-mail correspondence and you should not set it up on your mobile phone.
Reset password with the second factor
If you use the "two-step login" feature, password recovery is also more secure.
In this case, Google first asks for the second factor - via a cell phone or security key - and then sends a link to the stored email address, for example.
Duplicate keys in many ways
Google offers several options as to how the second factor can be queried. You can change the method by navigating your Google Account to: Security> Sign in to Google> Two step verification> (enter password)> Scroll down to "Set up alternative second step". There are the following methods:
- Push message: The standard method is now the "request by Google". Here, Google sends a push message (not an SMS) directly to the mobile phone. It comes from the Google Play Services app. The mobile phone has to be online for this, the transmission is well encrypted.
- SMS: Google sends a six-digit code to your mobile phone with which you can authorize access. You need a cellular connection. SMS are not encrypted.
- Google Authenticator: You can download this app from the Play Store. It generates a new number code every 30 seconds, which you can use for activation. In order to link your own account with the app, you have to scan a QR code once. You don't need a phone number, the app works offline and supports "two-step registration" for other apps and services as well.
- Yubikey: Finally, as a fourth option, a hardware key, for example the Yubikey, can be used as a second factor. These keys look similar to a USB stick and cost between 25 and 60 euros. As Google emphasizes in a manual, it must be compatible with the "FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F)" system and should support Bluetooth or NFC. This method is considered to be the safest of them all, but it is not yet widely used.
What are "less secure apps"?
Some apps require direct access to the Google account. For example, email clients, i.e. apps that manage your emails. In order to manage emails from GMail, such an app needs access to the Google account. Of course, you have to set up this access manually.
But not every app that wants to access Google services also supports the two-factor method. Google describes such apps as "less secure". By default, they are denied access to Google services if two-factor authentication is switched on. You can change this setting in the Google account, but this is not recommended.
If you use such an app, you should check particularly carefully whether it is reputable.
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