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The best YubiKeys: What's the difference between each key?

If you have important online accounts, you need one (perhaps, two) of these. They also make great stocking stuffers.

Whenever I'm asked for things that are a must-have, a YubiKey is on the top of my list no matter what platform or operating system people are using -- Windows, Mac, or Linux, Android or iOS.

It doesn't matter.

Everyone needs a YubiKey.

A hardware authentication device made by Yubico, it's used to secure access to online accounts, computers, and networks. The YubiKey 5 Series look like small USB flash drives and come in a range of different connectors -- USB-A, USB-C, and USB-C and Lightning combo. There are versions that also include support for NFC.

It offers two-factor authentication (also known as multi-factor authentication or two-step verification) for hundreds of online services, from Facebook, Google, and Twitter, to more specific services such as Coinbase, Salesforce, and Login.gov. Your YubiKey can also be used to secure password storage services such as Bitwarden, Password Safe, and LastPass.

The YubiKey 5 Series keys support a broad range of protocols, such as FIDO2/WebAuthn, U2F, Smart card, OpenPGP, and OTP. Having a YubiKey removes the need, in many cases, to use SMS for two-factor authentication -- a method that has been shown to be insecure.

If your online accounts are keeping something that you can't afford to lose, a Yubikey makes perfect sense. I've been using YubiKeys for years now, and they have been flawless and foolproof.

While one YubiKey is enough to get started with, I have several. Not only does this give me a backup in case I lose one (I haven't yet!), but if I pick a couple with different connectors (say the USB-C/Lightning and a USB-A with NFC), this gives me the flexibility to log into accounts across a range of devices.

YubiKey 5 NFC

USB-A and NFC support

YubiKey 5 NFC

This YubiKey features a USB-A connector and NFC compatibility. Like all YubiKeys, this one is water and crush resistant.

  • USB type: USB-A
  • Features: WebAuthn, FIDO2 CTAP1, FIDO2 CTAP2, Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), Smart card (PIV-compatible), Yubico OTP, OATH – HOTP (Event), OATH – TOTP (Time), Open PGP, Secure Static Password
  • Certification: FIDO 2 Certified, FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) Certified
  • Password manager support: 1Password, Keeper, LastPass Premium, Bitwarden Premium

Pros:

  • USB-A and NFC offers broad support
  • Low cost

Cons:

  • No USB-C support

YubiKey 5C NFC

USB-C and NFC support

YubiKey 5C NFC

This YubiKey features a USB-C connector and NFC compatibility.

  • USB type: USB-C
  • Features: WebAuthn, FIDO2 CTAP1, FIDO2 CTAP2, Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), Smart card (PIV-compatible), Yubico OTP, OATH – HOTP (Event), OATH – TOTP (Time), Open PGP, Secure Static Password
  • Certification: FIDO 2 Certified, FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) Certified
  • Password manager support: 1Password, Keeper, LastPass Premium, Bitwarden Premium

Pros:

  • USB-C and NFC offers broad support
  • Low cost

Cons:

  • No USB-A support

YubiKey 5Ci

USB-C and Lightning support

YubiKey 5Ci

This YubiKey features a USB-C connector and a Lightning connector for the iPhone.

  • USB type: USB-C and Lightning
  • Features: WebAuthn, FIDO2 CTAP1, FIDO2 CTAP2, Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), Smart card (PIV-compatible), Yubico OTP, OATH – HOTP (Event), OATH – TOTP (Time), Open PGP, Secure Static Password
  • Certification: FIDO 2 Certified, FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) Certified
  • Password manager support: 1Password, Keeper, LastPass Premium, Bitwarden Premium

Pros:

  • USB-C and Lightning offers broad support

Cons:

  • No USB-A support

Yubico FIDO Security Key NFC

USB-A and NFC support and FIDO certified

Yubico FIDO Security Key NFC

A cheaper version of the YubiKey, this one is FIDO certified and works with Google Chrome and any FIDO-compliant application on Windows, macOS, or Linux. Use this to secure your login and protect your Gmail, Dropbox, Outlook, Dashlane, 1Password, accounts, and more.

Note that this YubiKey is not compatible with LastPass, which requires a YubiKey 5. Always check for compatibility with the services you want to use before buying.

  • USB type: USB-A
  • Features: WebAuthn, FIDO2 CTAP1, FIDO2 CTAP2, Universal 2nd Factor (U2F)
  • Certification: FIDO 2 Certified, FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) Certified
  • Password manager support: 1Password, Keeper, Bitwarden Premium

Pros:

  • USB-A and NFC offers broad support
  • Very low cost

Cons:

  • No USB-C support

What is a YubiKey?

A YubiKey is the ultimate line of defense against having your online accounts taken over. And with prices starting at $25, it's one of those indispensable gadgets for the 21st century.

What's the main difference between the YubiKey 5 series and the YubiKey FIDO?

The YubiKey FIDO key supports far fewer protocols and services, and is more aimed at the home users, hence the low price.

What if I lose my key?

Most services to allow you to set up a recovery mechanism in case you lose your security key, but it is highly recommended that you have a minimum of two keys, authenticate all these keys you have with all the services you use. That way you have a backup key in case your main key is lost, stolen, or damaged.

Do YubiKeys have a battery or need recharging?

No, they draw their power from the USB port and there's no battery to charge or replace.

How robust are YubiKeys?

Very. They are crushproof, waterproof, and impact resistant. I've carried YubiKeys on my keyring for years and not had a problem. That said, they're no indestructible, so don't go deliberately abusing them.

YubiKey 5 NFC and YubiKey 5Ci hands-on: Hardware-based 2FA security


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