A hardware security key, also known as a security key, is a physical form of authentication that provides you with access to systems, applications and accounts. Hardware security keys are often used as a second form of authentication or as a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) method.
Read on to learn more about hardware security keys and the advantages and disadvantages of using them.
How Hardware Security Keys Work
In order to understand how hardware security keys work, you’ll first have to know how the key is registered. When you purchase your security key, you’ll first have to find an application or service that supports the key. When you do, you’ll go to the application’s security settings and navigate to where it says “Two-Factor Authentication.” Once there, you should be given the option to register your security key. Depending on the device you’re using, you’ll insert or tap the key.
Once your security key is registered, you’ll be able to use it as an additional authentication method to your username and password. When you go to log into an account, you’ll input your username and password like you usually do and then you’ll be prompted to tap or insert your key into your device to authenticate who you are.
Why Use a Hardware Security Key?
Hardware security keys are considered one of the strongest forms of 2FA or MFA. Security keys fall under the “something you have” type of authentication factor because they’re physical objects that you have with you. Other authentication factors include “something you know” like a password or “something you are” like Face ID. Because you’re the only person who has access to the security key, the potential of a cybercriminal gaining access to one of your accounts without it is minimal.
Advantages of Using a Hardware Security Key
Here are a few advantages of using hardware security keys.
They’re convenient to use
Security keys are one of the most convenient 2FA methods, as well as biometric authentication. Unlike One-Time Passwords (OTP) or Time-based One-Time Passwords (TOTP), all a user needs to do to authenticate their identity with a security key is tap or insert their key into their device.
With an OTP code, a user would have to request a code, check what it is and then type it. Similarly, with a TOTP code, a user would have to check their authenticator app for their code and then type it before they can successfully log in to an account.
Because security keys are physical objects that you own, it’s nearly impossible for cybercriminals to gain access to them. Even if a cybercriminal were to compromise your username and password through social engineering tactics, they wouldn’t be able to log into your accounts without your security key.
Disadvantages of Using a Hardware Security Key
Here are a few disadvantages of using hardware security keys.
Not all applications and websites support them
There are a limited number of applications and websites that currently support security keys as a form of authentication.
Some of the applications that do support hardware security keys include:
The cybersecurity landscape is ever changing so it’s likely that more applications will allow security keys as an authentication option in the near future.
They cost money
Hardware security keys, unlike other authentication methods, aren’t free. The price for a security key can range from as little as $20 to as much as $75. To make the most of your investment, you’ll want to ensure you can use the security key on all your devices and for most of the applications you use on a regular basis.
Can get lost or misplaced
Since security keys are physical objects and they’re small, there’s always the possibility that you may lose or misplace yours. For example, you may use your security key for work and forget it at home when you go into the office.
So, what happens if you lose or misplace your security key?
What Happens If I Lose or Misplace My Security Key?
If you lose your security key or simply forget it, most applications and services offer an alternate way for you to authenticate your identity. However, it’s important to note that each application has its own policy when it comes to losing your security key.
For example, some applications may allow you to use another authentication method to log in if you already have it set up. But each application or service is different, so it’s best to check the policies they have in place.
Does Keeper Support Hardware Security Keys?
Yes, Keeper Security supports Yubikey FIDO2 and WebAuthn security keys with lightning connectors or NFC (Near Field Communication). NFC allows users to tap their security keys without having to insert them into their devices.
Once a security key is registered to your Keeper Vault, you’ll be able to use the security key as an additional authentication method – providing your account with an extra layer of protection.