This is the story of how I helped him save his notes

Evernote, like many other companies, lets us use two-factor authentication. This means that, once you enable this function, you’ll always need to use a randomly generated code in addition to your password to gain access to your account. I see it as a good security feature that we all should turn on in every App where it’s available.

It’s usually activated by scanning a QR code with a so-called Authenticator App, which then starts generating random numbers. But here’s the catch: if you lose access to that App, you are in trouble because no one else has those codes.

As a last resort, there is always a list of one-time-use numbers that can unlock the account in case of an emergency. But not everyone saves that list, despite being instructed to do it every time we turn on two-factor authentication in an App.

The Problem

This unique combination of problems is beyond my comprehension, but criticizing him for not having the printed list of codes would not help. The facts are that this person only had Evernote logged in on his iPad, and he lost access to the Authenticator App.

I don’t believe the support team at Evernote or any other company would be able to help someone in this situation. After all, the codes are generated on the person’s device.

The suggestion

Before anything else, I asked him to try something that would probably not work on the iPad, but who knows? I’ve heard that some people have disabled the authentication layer by accessing the Evernote settings on the computer App. Unfortunately, as expected, it didn’t work on his iPad.

Time for a more drastic approach.

The plan was to move all his notes to a new account. On the iPad, he would have to go to each notebook and share it with the new account. On the new account, he would then create a local notebook and move the shared notes to it.

An important detail to remember is that one can only move 100 notes at a time, and there’s no way to select multiple notes on mobile clients. So, the easiest way to do everything on his new account is on a computer with Evernote’s App installed.

How can you prevent this from happening?

First, you should remember to take care of the Authenticator App you are using and to print the one-time-use numbers list. By the way, a good place to put this list is wherever you keep all your personal documents.

A password management App is another option. Many of them can read the original QR code and generate the authentication codes. As they are synchronized with the cloud, you will still have access to the information, even in the event of losing or permanently damaging your phone.

However, if you don’t like this type of Apps, you may want to also print the first QR code you have to scan when you create the code generator for that account. That QR code can be used to recreate the code generator on a different Authenticator App. Just be extra careful with where you keep it because anyone with that QR code can recreate the code generator.

Also published on Medium