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As the world increasingly becomes connected, security has become an essential part of our daily lives on the internet, with data privacy issues arising. Technology has since grown past just the use of usernames and passwords to secure your account against attackers. 

Two-factor authentication has widely been adopted as a more secure way of protecting and granting access to user accounts through a two-step login process. In this article, we will cover what two-factor authentication is, why it is essential, and look at some of the best hardware security keys for Two-factor authentication.

What is two-factor authentication?

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security mechanism in which users are required to verify their identity using a two-step authentication method, unlike the previously widely adopted single-factor authentication (SFA), where a user only requires their login credentials.

2FA authentication requires an additional factor of verification, such as a token or biometric factor, before access is given to a user’s account and the data it holds, making it difficult for hackers to gain access in the occurrence of the user login credentials being exposed.

What are authentication factors?

Authentication simply requires you to provide proof of identity before granting access to a user. Over the years, adoption in technology has increasingly seen different means by which user are required to prove their identity, but these various means can be broken down into factors such as

  1. Knowledge factor (What the user knows): One of the most widely used factors is knowledge-based, in which users must prove their identity by providing something they know, such as a username, password, or answer to a secret question. This is usually the first step to every SFA, 2FA, or MFA.
  2. Possession factor (What the user has): Often, users must prove ownership by providing something they own or approving a login request from a device they own. This could be anything from a user’s ID card, passport, mobile device, account statement, etc. 
  3. Inherence factor (What the user is): With the increase in technological innovation, inherence has since been adopted in authentication. This is done by requiring the user to provide information based on something they have/are. Modern devices provide users with authentication means such as finger biometric scans, voice activation, facial recognition, and other attributes related to the individual’s physical nature.
  4. Location factor (Where the user is): This authentication factor is based on the user’s physical location when trying to gain access to an account. This usually includes the tracking of the IP address of the device, GPS coordinates, or other geographical details from the device being used to gain access to a system. This can be generally seen with organizations giving access to users only when around the office premises.
  5. Time-based (When the user is): Using time as a constraint is also the only factor included in authentication. When users are granted access to an account only within a specific timeframe and not outside that time window. 

Several systems use multiple factors to ensure the systems are secured from unauthorized access. The combination of this multiple-authorization factor makes it difficult for attackers to gain access due to the various requirements needed for authorization.

Methods of Authentication

There are various methods of authentication used in offering two-factor authentication. You could find some systems built with multiple authentication methods and others with single methods. In this section, we will closely examine the various authentication methods used in 2FA.

#1. Token

Tokens are unique identifiers given to a user and required in the authentication process. Authorization tokens may either be soft tokens generated on the users’ devices or hardware tokens, such as smartcards or key fobs. These tokens are basically codes that will be required for the users to provide in order to gain access to their accounts.

#2. Push notification

Push notification involves verification of a user when an authorization attempt is in play by sending a notification to a device the user has marked as being secured, which the user is required to accept the authentication attempt before access can be granted. 

#3. Biometric

The use of inherent factors in authentication is growing in adoption with recent improvements in technology development. Systems now enable two-factor authentication that requires users to scan their fingerprints over a biometric scanner, carry out facial maps, voice authorization, and so on. A critical factor in the adoption of biometrics is mainly dependent on hardware.

#4. One-time password OTP

A one-time password is also widely adopted, and it involves users receiving a one-time usable password required to gain access to their account. The OTP is sent to the user when the first step of authentication is carried out, usually using the knowledge factor, then the users will be required to input the OTP sent to be granted access.

#5. Authenticator

Apps like Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator, which are used to generate a verification passcode similar to OTP, are required when the authentication is done. These authenticator apps help mitigate some of the challenges when using methods like SMS notifications that can be hacked.

#6. Security key

These are physical devices that are required in the process of authentication. They are similar to the door and key system. When a user tries to get through a locked door, they will be required to get the key, insert it into the keyhole, and unlock the door before having access. The Same applies to security keys, which must be plugged in via a USB port or be in range when authentication is required.

How do hardware security keys work?

Hardware security keys are used as an additional authentication method in two-factor authentication. They basically serve as an extra layer of verifying the user’s identity and ensuring that only the right users are granted access.

Let’s say you have just purchased your new security key; you will need an application or service that supports your key. Once that is done, navigate to settings, locate two-factor authentication, and activate your key.

You will be required to insert or tap the device to activate it. On logging into your account, after providing your username and password, you will be required to insert the key to your device or tap to verify your identity before getting access.

Best hardware security keys

With the rise in social accounts and email hijacked by hackers, OTP for 2FA is becoming less secure. On the other hand, security keys for two-factor authentication are getting more secure as they do not have credentials that attackers could steal to gain access to a system.

Using a security key requires that the physical key is plugged into your device during the process of authentication, making it difficult for anyone who needs access to the hardware key to gain access to your accounts.

Below are some security keys that are available on Amazon to help secure your accounts.

Yubico – YubiKey 5C NFC

Yubikey 5C NFC is one of the most protective USB and NFC security keys that provide security to a wide range of services. It is FIDO-certified and works on Mac, Windows, and Linux. Also supports touch-based applications for NFC on Android and iOS devices. Yubikey 5C NFC is water-resistant, dust-tight, crush-resistant, and tamper-resistant.

Key features: 

  • YubiKey 5C NFC is FIDO-certified.
  • USB-C port.
  • Tap and gain authorization.
  • NFC enabled.
  • Tamper-resistant, water-resistant, and crush resistant.
  • Multi-protocol support including FIDO2, FIDO U2F, Yubico OTP, OATH-TOTP, OATH-HOTP, Smart card (PIV), OpenPGP.

OnlyKey FIDO2 / U2F Security Key

OnlyKey FIDO2 is not just a security key but also a Hardware Password Manager that can be used for two-factor authentication. It supports multiple platforms, such as Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and Android. OnlyKey is built to be highly durable, waterproof, and tamper-resistant.

Key features:

  • Supported on websites like Twitter, Facebook, GitHub, and Google.
  • Supports multiple protocols, including FIDO2 / U2F, Yubico OTP, TOTP, and Challenge-response.
  • Waterproof and tamper-resistant.
  • PIN authorization.

OnlkKey is secured by a pin, which is entered directly into the device, providing an extra layer of protection when the device is stolen, with a built-in security mechanism that wipes all data after ten wrong attempts.

FEITIAN BioPass K26 Plus

FEITIAN BioPass K26 Plus is designed to be compact and lightweight, with biometric authentication making it much easier to use.

Key features:

  • Supports FIDO2 (WebAuthen and CTAP), FIDO U2F, and PIV.
  • USB Type-A or Type-C.
  • Supported OS: Chrome OS, Windows, Linux, Mac OS.
  • Supports up to 128 credentials.
  • Security Algorithms: ECDSA, SHA256, AES, HMAC, ECDH.

FEITAN BioPass K26 Plus is a FIDO2 security key with support for biometric authentication and can be used on every service that supports FIDO2, FIDO U2F, and PIV.

Octatco EzFinger2

Octatco EzFinger2 is FIDO2 & FIDO U2F Certified security key that can serve as a secure gateway for authentication to ensure that your data is secured and only accessible to you. 

Key features:

  • Biometric authorization.
  • FIDO2 & FIDO U2F Certified.
  • Supports OS: Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7 and Windows Hello.

Octatco EzFinger2 supports fingerprint biometrics and is functional on Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers.

Hideez Key 4

Hideez key 4 has the capacity to store over 1000 credentials in an encrypted hardware password vault, and with the push of a button, access can be granted. Hideez Key 4 eliminates the traditional means of SMS-based 2FA with FIDO U2F and FIDO2 passwordless access.

Key features:

  • Passwordless authorization.
  • FIDO U2F and FIDO2 certified.
  • Maximum number of credentials: 1,000.
  • Bluetooth enabled.
  • RFID keycard.

With its innovative logout feature, Hideez Key 4 automatically logs out a user when the key is not within a proximity range, making your account even more secure. It can also be used to open RFID doors and is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Android.

Thetis Universal 2FA USB

Thetis Universal two-factor authentication USB is compatible with all U2F protocol compliance websites and can be used on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux with the latest Chrome browser or Opera browser installed.

Key features:

  • Advanced HOTP (One Time Password) technology.
  • Compatible with U2F protocol.

Thetis Universal two-factor authentication USB guarantees a strong-factor authentication to your account, protecting you against any attack.

Yubico YubiKey 5C

Yubico YubiKey 5C uses a USB type-C connector, making it compatible with modern devices. It supports FIDO U2F and FIDO2, which are widely used for 2FA, but does not support NFC, unlike Yubico Yubikey 5C NFC.

Key features:

  • USB-C connector.
  • Passwordless authorization.
  • Password manager.

It provides passwordless authentication and support for various devices, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

TrustKey T110 

Turstkey T110 is FIDO2 and U2F compatible security key that provides users with fast, easy, and secure login.

Key features: 

  • FIDO2 certified.
  • USB Type A connector.
  • Supported OS: Windows, macOS, Linux, iPad OS, Android, and Chrome OS.

TrustKey T110 supports multiple protocols, including FIDO2, FIDO U2F, HOTP/TOTP, to protect your account against phishing and breach, it allows usage on multiple devices.

Thetis FIDO U2F Security Key

Thetis FIDO U2F is a mobile friend security key that supports iPhones and Android devices, making it universally compatible. It uses ECDSA SHA Standard/SHA-256 to generate 256-bit hash length characters, making your account an impenetrable fortress.

Key features: 

  • Supported OS: Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • FIDO U2F CERTIFIED.
  • Bluetooth enabled.
  • U2F protocol supported.

Pros and cons of hardware security keys

On the positive side, hardware security keys usually leverage FIDO’s U2F (Universal Second Factor), which makes it difficult for phishing to occur, making your account phishing-proof. Security keys provide easy and secure access to your account.

These keys are usually built to be compact and durable and can be carried around easily. Since these keys are usually made to be functional on several OS and applications, their advantage cannot be downplayed, as a single security key could protect multiple accounts.

A major drawback to security keys is their cost; they could be expensive, making it difficult for organizations and individuals to acquire compared to the alternative software options.

Final thoughts

Security is very important when it comes to managing data over the internet. Hence, it is essential to maintain adequate measures to ensure that cases of possible breaches are averted. Hardware security keys are not the holy grail, but they do absolutely well compared to other multi-factor authentication methods. 

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  • Aminu Abdullahi
    Author
    Aminu Abdullahi is an experienced B2B technology and finance writer and award-winning public speaker. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook, and has written for various publications, including Geekflare,…
  • Narendra Mohan Mittal
    Editor

    Narendra Mohan Mittal is a versatile and experienced digital branding strategist and content editor with over 12 years of experience. He is a Gold Medalist in M-Tech and B-Tech in Computer Science & Engineering.


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