What are hardware security keys, and should you use them?

Have you ever seen someone tap a small device or plug it into a USB port to log into something? Have you ever wondered why they need such things? 

They are hardware security keys, which can be the most failsafe authentication method available.

Read on to find out what hardware security keys are, and why they can be the best security investments that you can make.

hardware security key

What are hardware security keys?

Hardware security keys prove that the person trying to access the account is someone that you can trust and not a criminal.

It provides a method of multi-factor authentication or two-factor authentication. It works by providing an extra layer of authentication – requiring a PIN code or biometric authentication – when you log into your account

There are several different types of hardware security keys available, including USB keys, NFC keys, and Bluetooth keys. Some security keys are designed to be used with specific devices or platforms, while others are more versatile and can be used with multiple devices or platforms.

However, the use of these keys is not universally supported by all devices and platforms. But more and more are adopting them, including password managers such as Locker.

Should you use hardware security keys?

The answer is: yes! Hardware security keys are an affordable and worthwhile investment for your cybersecurity. It will also reduce the hassle that comes with authentication.

You may have come across other forms of two-factor authentication, such as SMS text messages or authentication apps using another device. Using hardware security keys is much more convenient than these methods, as you can unlock your device without waiting for a text message or rushing to get another device for authentication. Instead, you can unlock with just a tap or plug-in of the key, then entry of a PIN code or biometric ID.

Hardware security keys are also more secure than these traditional forms of authentication.

Why? The physical keys are less vulnerable to certain types of attacks, such as phishing or SIM swapping. At the end of the day, providing a “possession factor” to prove that you physically own access to the credentials can be considered the most trustable form of authentication.

Imagine your account was a fortress that contains treasures and confidential documents. Only those who were specially-made brooches with the fortress symbols are allowed into the fortresses. Hardware security keys are these brooches for your device to recognize who is allowed into the gated fortress. 

Advantages of hardware security keys

  • Convenience: as discussed above, using the keys requires fewer steps than other forms of authentication. You are not required to install any driver or device to use them, which people find cumbersome in other methods of authentication.
  • Security: the keys provide protection against cyber attacks to which. other methods still fall prey. These attacks, including phishing, SIM swapping, or identity theft, are more common than you think.

Disadvantages of hardware security keys

Of course, there are some downsides that come with hardware security keys. With proper planning and preparation, you can overcome these disadvantages to get the most out of your security keys:

  • The risk of losing or misplacing keys: you will have to carry the key with you to log in every time. Due to its small size, the keys can be misplaced among your wallets, other keys, and phones, or completely forgotten at home. While most platforms allow you to authenticate using another way, it is best to reserve using the keys for important but less frequent log-ins.
  • Some keys may only work with specific devices: each key supports one or more forms of communication to devices, including USB-A, USB-C, NFC, and Bluetooth. Make sure that the key that you get has a compatible form of communication with your devices.
  • Cost: while the keys are quite affordable, they are not entirely free. For a large organization, the cost of getting a key for each device can add up. 

Bottom line

Hardware security keys are an amazing and secure method of multi-factor authentication. If you or your organization is at risk of common cyber attacks, or just want a more streamlined authentication process, you should consider investing in this useful device.

As a leading commercial password manager, Locker is proud to be one of the first in the market to support this form of authentication.
Contact Locker now and get a free trial for a Business package that can support your entire organization.