The best security key

Internet & Streaming

You can use a phone-based passcode for multi-factor authentication but phone lines are easier to hack than an online transaction. Security keys are safer options.

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Which security keys are best?

A computer security key can help protect your online accounts. Safe online practices are the first line of defense against potential problems, but employing multi-factor authentication (MFA) measures with a security key can give users the digital protection they need.

The best choice for an unobtrusive security key from a trusted brand is the Yubico YubiKey 5 Nano. Users like the compact design and versatile protection it provides.

What to know before you buy a security key

Type of USB port on your computer

Not all keys are the same scale or meant for the same port, so check what slots are on your PC. USB 2.0 and 3.0 have been common for a long time, but there are other types with totally different form factors. Before buying any security key, check that it is compatible with your device.

What you are protecting

If you want to prevent people from accessing locally stored files on a computer hard drive, a security key for online accounts is not what you need. You can use some for logging into a computer, but you should check with the manufacturer. If you do need a security key for your online accounts, you can take measures to protect your online presence before you get your hands on a key. Consider password-management services or managing your passwords yourself in carefully documented files. Regularly changing your passwords also helps protect you without a security key.

Are you concerned about certain information being stolen?

If you are worried about identity theft, for example, there are services you could sign up with in addition to using security keys. Credit monitoring services are available, and there are more ways to help secure your information than just a security key. For information about how to set up a security key and get started with protecting yourself online, look at BestReviews’ explanation.

What to look for in a quality security key

Authentication methods

The best security keys provide multiple methods for authenticating your identity and ways to protect yourself if someone steals the physical security key. Some keys have built-in pin codes and fingerprint sensors are available. Security methods should adapt to what the users need, and high-quality security devices allow for multiple methods of securing your accounts.

Connection

Not all keys fit the same type of USB port but some are objectively better than others because their connection method is more universally available. The primary form factors to look for are USB, USB-A and USB-C because these are commonly used across many different devices. Depending on what computers or mobile devices you plan to use a security key for, the form factor will differ. There are plenty of keys available to suit different types of ports.

Versatility

Some security devices only protect a single physical device, but you can link proper security keys with multiple accounts. This makes it much more convenient for the user to be safe while plugging in only one key to access the information they keep protected.

How much you can expect to spend on security keys

For simple, basic protection, you can get an affordable security key for less than $30. More expensive does not necessarily mean better quality, so be wary; however, better security keys sell for about $30-$50.

Security key FAQ

What is a U2F device?

A. Web security sometimes refers to a security key as a U2F device. It means “Universal Second Factor” and it is the same sort of item that provides protection. Most security keys or U2F devices are designed to provide additional security and often come with codes and backup measures to allow users to maintain their security protection even if the physical device is damaged or lost.

Is a security key better than a fingerprint reader?

A. The two are similar, but they accomplish different tasks. You mainly use a security key to protect access to online services and accounts, verifying your access through an online transaction with the cloud. Fingerprint reader security devices use locally stored physical copies of your fingerprint to identify the user. Fingerprint readers are mainly for accessing the computer itself, while security keys can help protect an online account.

What’s the best security key to buy?

Top security key

Yubico YubiKey 5 Nano

Yubico YubiKey 5 Nano

What you need to know: This is a versatile security key from a trusted brand that provides solid protection.

What you’ll love: The YubiKey works with many apps and online platforms providing the best security possible. You can leave it in the computer without it sticking out from the USB port as much as other USB devices. It is highly durable and has a compact profile.

What you should consider: The small size of the key makes it potentially easier to lose. A few customers reportedly have received faulty copies.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Top security key for the money

Thetis FIDO U2F

Thetis FIDO U2F

What you need to know: These easily affordable security keys create multi-factor authentication that is easy to use.

What you’ll love: It has a built-in protective lid that prevents potential damage to the key. It easily hooks onto your keychain or other safe storage spots. For the price, it is hard to find a better option.

What you should consider: The physical design of the key is a little bulky and it protrudes from the computer about as much as a regular USB storage device.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Worth checking out

Yubico YubiKey 5 NFC Two-Factor Authentication

Yubico YubiKey 5 NFC Two-Factor Authentication

What you need to know: It is a more traditional and durable build by Yubico that provides solid, mid-level security.

What you’ll love: This key is waterproof and resistant to crushing and impact. It works with USB-A ports and allows for authentication using an NFC-supported Android or iOS device. This allows for quick, touch-based authentication.

What you should consider: It does not have a very streamlined or slim profile, sticking out awkwardly from a USB slot. Some customers have had issues with the setup process.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

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Elliott Rivette writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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