YubiKey: Protect your Facebook, Google, and other online accounts with this hardware authentication key

YubiKey offers a faster and more convenient alternative to text-messages or authenticator app two-factor authentication.

Looking for a quick, easy, and affordable way to protect your Google account, Facebook, GitHub, Dropbox, Salesforce admin account (and much more)? Or maybe you're looking for a way to harden your Mac or Windows login credentials.

Take a look at the YubiKey.

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YubiKey is a small multi-protocol security key manufactured by Yubico that can be used to secure access to a wide range of applications, including remote access and VPN, password managers, computer login, FIDO U2F login (Gmail, GitHub, Dropbox, etc.) content management systems, popular online services, and much more.

YubiKey gives you a way to activate two-factor authentication on your accounts, but without having to mess about with text messages or third-party authenticator apps. You just plug the YubiKey into a USB port, tap the metal button, and you're authenticated. While some services will still require you to use the Yubikey in association with the correct username and password, with the key giving you the second-step authentication and added security, with FIDO2 and WebAuthn support added to the latest series of keys, the YubiKey can allow for passwordless logins as well on services like Microsoft Accounts. .

The wide range of support makes YubiKey a great choice for personal use, business, enterprise, or even developers.

Also: VPN services 2018: The ultimate guide to protecting your data on the internet

Physically, the YubiKey looks like a small USB flash drive (with different versions for USB-A and USB-C), and there is a version that also incorporates NFC. The keys range in price from $45 for the YubiKey 5 NFC, to $60 for the YubiKey 5C Nano USB-C key.

The keys are robust, and seem to live up to the promise of being waterproof and crushproof -- I've carried YubiKeys keys both on a chain around my neck and on my keyring for over a year now (I started out with the YubiKey 4 and YubiKey NEO, and have since transitioned to the YubiKey 5 NFC), and while the end up looking well worn, they have never failed me. Despite prolonged exposure to sunlight, sweat, seawater, mud, oil, and chemicals such as sunblock, they still clean up well and works perfectly.

A chart detailing the available keys along with their specific functionality can be found here.

Now, rather than outlining how you protect your accounts with YubiKey (the instructions on the Yubico website are detailed and will guide you through the myriad different services you can secure with your YubiKey more efficiently than I can) I'm going to look at the pros and cons of that I've come across over the past months.

Pros:

  • Cheap (with prices starting at $20)
  • Far less hassle than using text messages or a third-party authenticator app, and speeds up logging into accounts on new devices
  • Broad browser support: Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Edge supports FIDO2/Webauthn
  • The keys don't require recharging or battery changes
  • Without your username and password, even if it is stolen, it's useless to a third-party
  • Easy to use (if you can figure out two-factor authentication, you can figure out how to use YubiKeys, and if you get stuck, there are some good instructions available to guide you)
  • Keys are incredibly robust and totally waterproof (one of mine lives on my keyring and gets bashed about a lot, the other I wear around my neck on a chain most of the time)
  • Pretty indistinguishable from USB flash drives so the keys don't attract unwanted attention
  • Scalable (customization tools and custom programming options available for business)
  • Support for Open PGP encryption and code signing
  • Offers an easy way to secure Windows, Mac, or Linux systems

Cons:

  • Ideally, you need two keys in case one gets lost, stolen, or damaged in some way.
  • There are big gaps in services that support FIDO U2F (for example, no support for Yahoo!, PayPal, banks, and so on -- come on folks, get your act together!)
  • Some of the documentation can be a little intimidating at first

See also: