How to Protect Your Online Accounts With a Physical Security Key

(Credit: Yubico)

A password isn’t enough to fully protect your accounts and logins anymore. Websites and apps offer two-factor authentication and biometric login features, but another way to secure your accounts is through a physical security key.

A physical key serves as a backup to your password for verifying your identity. The right type of key can work with your computer and mobile phone, through a physical or wireless connection. Even if someone were to discover the password for one of your accounts, they wouldn’t be able to sign in without the physical key. As long as the key is safe and secure, your private information is protected.

You’ll find a variety of security keys for sale, including ones from Google, Yubico, and Thetis. The key you need depends on your specific needs. If you’re looking to plug it into your computer, choose one with a USB connector. For mobile devices, there are keys with USB-C or Lightning connectors for Android or iOS devices. You may also want one that uses NFC to connect wirelessly, which will cover all your bases and not require you to plug the key in each time.

For this story, I’m using a YubiKey 5C NFC security key from Yubico because of its support for computers and mobile devices. This key has both a USB-C connector and built-in NFC for a wireless connection. Here’s how to use a physical security key to secure your online accounts.


Set Up a Security Key With a Windows PC

One action you might want to take is to secure your Windows 10 login with a security key. In this instance, the key acts as a backup form of authentication beyond your username and password. There is one major limitation here, however. The YubiKey works only with a local Windows account; it won’t work if you use a Microsoft Account to sign into Windows 10. You can have both a Microsoft account and a local account on the computer, but the YubiKey will only log you into the local one.

yubikey setupYubico Login for Windows application by clicking on Yubico Login for Windows (64 bit) or Download Yubico Login for Windows (32 bit), depending on your flavor of Windows 10. Install the program and reboot your computer. At the Start menu, open the folder for Yubico and click the shortcut for Login Configuration, then follow the steps in this tool to set up your key.

windows loginYubico Login for Windows Configuration Guide.

google security keyFIDO2 standard. The number of websites that work with this standard and with security keys is limited but growing. Google supports it, though, so services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Docs, and YouTube are compatible. 


Set Up a Security Key With Online Accounts

security key optionsGoogle Accounts page. In the left pane, select the setting for Security, then scroll down the page and click 2-step verification. At the next screen, click the Get Started button and sign in with your Google account, if prompted. 

2 factor securityiOS, Android) on your device. Open the app and follow the steps to connect the YubiKey to your phone using USB, Lightning, or wireless NFC. 

yubikey databaseTwitter, and select the Get Setup Instructions button. 

security key login

January 19, 2021
To Top