Although passwords and virtual two-factor authentication can be effective safeguards, the push to protect our digital data has crossed back into the physical realm. As protection against data breaches becomes more crucial, security keys, which plug into our devices like flash drives, have become the latest line of computer defense.
Just like a physical lock and key, security keys can keep your information safe by locking down your computer either via Bluetooth or by sticking the device into a USB port. The security key allows you the added protection of two-factor verification and the ability to sign in without your phone.
Security keys: When you’re serious about protecting your personal information
Before we get too deep into it, here’s some basic background on how security keys work.
With increasingly sophisticated hacking mechanisms able to crack the most complex passwords and businesses and individuals becoming increasingly vulnerable to phishing and hacking schemes, the world’s leading internet security experts are turning to public key cryptography as an added safeguard for our computer systems.
Many of the standards and protocols put in place for security keys have been established by the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance, which describes itself as “the world’s largest ecosystem for standards-based, interoperable authentication.”
This alliance relies on two sets of specifications, U2F (Universal Second Factor) and UAF (Universal Authentication Framework) protocols. U2F basically lets you bolster your existing security password with a second, secure method. UAF allows the user to combine multiple authentication mechanisms such as fingerprint + PIN, etc.
3 things you need to use a security key
Before you can use a security key with your accounts, here’s what you need:
- Up to date browser: Your computer must have the latest version of Chrome, Firefox or another compatible browser.
- USB port: So that the key can be plugged in, your computer must have a working USB port.
- Security key: You need a compatible security key that plugs into a USB port and works with U2F.
Here are some of the more popular security keys available on the market in 2018:
Titan security key
Photo credit: Screenshot via Store.google.com.
To get started, you can buy a Titan Security Key from the Google Store and add it to your Google account. “Each key bundle comes with a physical USB security key and a Bluetooth security key — one for your primary use and one for safe keeping,” the company says on its website.
The Titan Security Key is built with firmware from Google, so it’s compatible with the company’s Advanced Protection Program. The technology also adheres to FIDO standards, which means that it can be used with other Google products, apps and most Android devices.
The Yubikey combines hardware-based authentication, public key cryptography, and the U2F and FIDO2 protocols to safeguard any device you use it with. Yubico, the makers of the U.S. and Sweden-manufactured key, bills the key as offering the strongest level of authentication to Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, GitHub, Dropbox, Dashlane, Salesforce and other platforms.
The Yubikey is waterproof and crush-resistant, making it very difficult to destroy. It’s costs less than half of what the Titan Security Key goes for.
Key-ID FIDO U2F security key
Photo credit: Screenshot via Key-ID.com.
The Key-ID FIDO U2F security key is the most affordable option on the market when it comes to security keys. It also comes with a handy key ring so that you don’t lose it. Like the other services, Key-ID bolsters the security of your social media, bank and cloud accounts, and follows U2F standards.
Price: $8.15 from the manufacturer.
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