Communication Cutoff Disaster Averted

Boring Practicalities – the perils of Google two-step verification when traveling overseas

Who knew that sitting in the Toyota Car Showroom customer service area of Penistone Road in Sheffield could be quite so enlightening!

The reason I’m here is because my new-to-me car is subject to a safety recall. New airbags.  I’m hoping I’ll never need to activate these to find out for myself it they are meeting the required quality standards, but on balance it seems sensible to take up the offer.  Whilst I’m not that far from the many delights of Hillsborough, I thought I’d take advantage of the free wi-fi to catch up on some emails and just wait for the repair to be completed.  This turned out to be an unexpectedly good move.  Proof that indeed it is an ill-wind that blows nobody any good, a Dull wind too on this occasion, but trust me, if yu are also heading overseas, and have a Google account, you will be pleased you stumbled across this post.


For my part, there were two reasons why this imprisonment amongst the garish furniture and haze of car cleaning products and air-fresheners paid off.  Firstly, because I’ve been having a nightmare with my home wi-fi connection which even a five-hour (yes that’s FIVE HOUR) phone call to plusnet has failed to resolve.  The only explanations outstanding are that there is some unknown new device recently acquired by a neighbour which is causing interference or I have an intermittent problem with my ‘device’ – that’s my laptop.  I really didn’t think I had, but it is good to be using it on someone elses wifi and find it is working fine.  At least I wont have to get my computer repaired just before going off traveling.  On the downside I don’t have wi-fi at home anymore, but I have been so ground down by that battle I’m almost past caring.  Maybe it will have magically resolved itself by the time I get back….

The second reason why this use of an unusual wi-fi location turned out to be fortuitous was entirely unexpected.  It is simply this.  When I came to log on to my Google email, the vigilant all-seeing eyes of this global surveillance operation espied I was showing unusual activity.  They therefore immediately activated two-step verification, which I was entirely unaware I had.  This means that basically, if you have given them a mobile phone number, they then automatically text that number with a security code, which you then have to input into your device in order to log on.  Now, this worked fine here in Sheffield, because I have my mobile phone with me.  However, and this is the point, my mobile phone wont work in Cambodia, or indeed en route there.  Consequently, if I’d tried to do this for the first time overseas, I’d have been locked out of not just my email, but presumably, my contact lists, google drive docs and photos, back ups of passport EVERYTHING.   As it is forewarned is forearmed.

So, dear traveler, there are some workarounds.  It took a bit of Googling, but I got there in the end.  Basically, you can just turn off your two-step verification so that it wont implement this check in future.  Clearly, this reduces the security of your account, but then again you can re-implement it once you have a new sim card in the new country.  On the other hand, it is a balancing act between taking a risk re losing your device and/or log in details and the inconvenience of not having access to a phone due to loss/ travel or just a flat battery.  There is apparently, another option, you can print off 6 back up codes to use whilst travelling, but although I tried quite hard, I couldn’t work out how to do this – and they could be lost too.  Similarly, you should be able to just log your device to the two-step process, so it won’t ask ever ask for two-step verification on that particular device, but would for any new/unexpected ones.  That seems the best solution.  Currently, I can’t work out how to do that either, but I do have some weeks in hand(ish).  However, I will implement some work arounds, and I’m so relieved I found this out now, and not the hard way by losing all my stuff for all eternity. Which would be horrid.  I would inadvertently disappear off the face of the earth.  I thought that was supposed to be hard.

More on google two-step verification here

Scare story here

scare story with workarounds here from and lonely planet forum on the topic here.

Is it just me who finds most of my IT security systems seem most effective at keeping me out of my accounts whilst probably being eminently hackable by any serious con artist seeking to get in there.  Aargh.  Am I destined to be forever hoisted by your own petard. Whatever that is…  Shakespeare may find this a source of merriment, I do not.







One response to “Communication Cutoff Disaster Averted

  1. Pingback: Boring Practicalities, F**?!£$%ng Google | Cambodia Calling·

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