TIL: Own a backup smartphone

Two days ago, my smartphone started to misbehave: The notification bar didn’t show notifications anymore and the home and recent button were not working anymore.
Google revealed a known Marshmallow-Bug that apparently hit a couple of users before. Since LineageOS is not officially supporting my S7 anymore, I also didn’t got updates and the discussed workaround was not working for me. So, I got stuck with a partly working smartphone.

I decided to give a manual update to a unofficial ROM a try. The phone is in no acceptable state and I got desperate so this justified this approach. OF course, flashing a ROM is always dangerous - so before, I was backing up most of my important phone data. When flashing a ROM, always expect that your phone ends up bricked.
Because, of course, that’s exactly what happened.

It took me a hell lot of time to get the phone working again, and I could also restore some of the saved apps by transferring the data/app folder back to the phone but in the end I learned two things

  • If you are using 2-factor authentication (which you should!) your phone gets as important as your house keys.
  • If you loose your primary smartphone it has practically the same implications as loosing your house keys: You lock yourself out.

When configuring my newly flashed smartphone I wanted to restore as much as possible from my Google Account. The problem is, that Google rightfully requires a second factor to login - and your Authenticator with your one-time passwords went bye-bye. I only have a USB-Hardware token without NFC, so that’s also not an option and sending a confirmation SMS to the smartphone that your just want to reinstall is also not gonna work. I luckily had a second phone number that I could use to verify. Pew ….

Own a backup smartphone

Lesson learned: Your smartphone is a key. And because it’s complicated software (and will inevitably break at some point) always have a spare key.

I think the way to go is to get an refurbished backup smartphone, where the most crucial apps are installed or mirrored. Apps like OTP-Authenticators and Online-Bank-Verificators. One backup phone per household should be sufficient, so everyone has their own user on the same phone. This phone gets then stored somewhere safe and is allows you to authenticate/verify in the (hopefully never occurring) case, something happens to your first one.

I got lucky because I could make a backup of my misbehaving phone beforehand. I’m just imagining what would happened, if my phone would be lost or stolen without having a recent backup. Here goes your day re-configuring every OTP-password and every stupid second-factor app … When was the again last time you copied your contacts away?

Learn from your mistakes

Situations like this are very inconvenient but they shows you the weak-points of your daily drivers and your workflow. I learned to have a backup phone, because I rely on it as a second factor on a daily basis. I also learned that I need to harden my backup strategies because some things got lost during the process.

Learn from your mistakes and mitigate the damage. That’s probably one of the most important survival lessons, applicable in the analog and in the digital world.