We live in a world where our digital lives are constantly at risk. Cybersecurity has become a top priority for individuals and businesses alike. Previously on this blog, I explained how to encrypt everything and how to secure your online accounts.

One of the most effective ways to protect your online accounts is by using a hardware security key that can be used for two factor authentication. YubiKey, a physical security key developed by Yubico is my favorite hardware security key. In this blog post, we will explore the different types of YubiKeys, their various uses, and how to set up and use a YubiKey with an online service, using Gmail as an example.

Setting up and using a YubiKey with Gmail

Before diving into the different types of YubiKeys, let’s explore how to set up and use a YubiKey with an online service like Gmail. I’m using Gmail as an example because it is pretty popular. But the steps would be similar for any account that supports hardware keys.

Step 1: Purchase a compatible YubiKey

First, ensure that you have a compatible YubiKey. For Gmail, you’ll need a YubiKey that supports FIDO2 (Fast Identity Online 2.0) or U2F (Universal 2nd Factor) authentication protocols. Most YubiKeys from the Yubikey 5 Series and Yubikey Bio Series will work with Gmail.

Step 2: Log in to your Google Account

Log in to your Google Account and navigate to the “Security” section, which can be found under “Manage your Google Account.” In the “Signing in to Google” section, click on “2-Step Verification.”

Step 3: Enable 2-Step Verification

Follow the on-screen instructions to enable 2-Step Verification for your Google Account. This may require you to provide a phone number for receiving verification codes via SMS or voice call. Once 2-Step Verification is enabled, you can add your YubiKey as a security key.

Step 4: Register your YubiKey

In the “2-Step Verification” section, click on “Add security key.” Insert your YubiKey into your device’s USB port or, if it’s an NFC-enabled key, place it near your NFC-enabled smartphone. Follow the on-screen instructions to register your YubiKey with your Google Account. You may be prompted to touch the gold contact on the YubiKey to confirm the registration.

Step 5: Use your YubiKey for 2-Step Verification

After registering your YubiKey, it will become one of your 2-Step Verification options. The next time you log in to your Google Account from an unfamiliar device, you will be prompted to use your YubiKey to verify your identity. Just insert the YubiKey into the USB port or use the NFC feature, and you’re good to go!

Now that we’ve covered the basics of setting up and using a YubiKey with Gmail let’s explore the different types of YubiKeys and their various uses.

What is a YubiKey?

A YubiKey is a small USB or NFC (Near Field Communication) device that provides an additional layer of security to your online accounts. It acts as a second factor of authentication, which means that even if your password is compromised, an attacker would still need physical access to your YubiKey to gain access to your account. This is known as 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) or MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication), and it greatly enhances the security of your online accounts.

Different Types of YubiKeys

Yubico offers a range of YubiKeys to cater to different needs and requirements. Here are the most common types of YubiKeys and their specific uses. Each type has unique features and supports different protocols to meet various user requirements. Understanding these differences will help you choose the right YubiKey for your needs.

1. YubiKey 5 Series

The YubiKey 5 Series is the most versatile and widely used YubiKey. It supports multiple protocols, including FIDO2, U2F (Universal 2nd Factor), OTP (One-Time Password), PIV (Personal Identity Verification), and OpenPGP. This series is available in various form factors, including USB-A, USB-C, and NFC-enabled devices.

The YubiKey 5 Series is perfect for individuals and businesses looking for a single device that can support various authentication methods and work across various platforms and services. The versatility of the YubiKey 5 Series makes it a popular choice for users who need a security key that can adapt to their ever-changing digital landscape.

YubiKey 5 NFC

The Yubikey 5 NFC is a popular choice for those who need a security key that supports both USB-A and NFC connectivity. This makes it compatible with a wide range of devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It is particularly useful for users who want a single security key that works seamlessly with multiple devices, as the NFC feature allows for easy authentication on mobile devices.

YubiKey 5C NFC

The Yubikey 5C NFC is similar to the YubiKey 5 NFC but comes with a USB-C connector. This makes it an excellent choice for users with newerdevices that support USB-C. As USB-C becomes the standard for most modern devices, the YubiKey 5C NFC ensures compatibility with current and future technology. This forward-looking design ensures that you can continue using your YubiKey as your devices evolve.

2. YubiKey 5C Nano and YubiKey 5 Nano

These Yubikey nano are designed for users who prefer a low-profile device. They are small, unobtrusive, and are meant to remain plugged into a USB port. The YubiKey 5C Nano comes with a USB-C connector, while the YubiKey 5 Nano has a USB-A connector. Both devices support FIDO2, U2F, OTP, PIV, and OpenPGP.

The compact design of these YubiKeys makes them easy to use and carry, ensuring that you always have your security key with you. The low-profile design is particularly useful for those who frequently travel with their laptops, as the YubiKey can remain plugged in without obstructing other USB ports or posing a risk of damage.

3. YubiKey Bio Series

The YubiKey Bio Series introduces biometric authentication to the YubiKey lineup, using fingerprint recognition as an additional layer of security. The YubiKey Bio Series is available in two form factors: YubiKey Bio and YubiKey Bio C.

YubiKey Bio

YubiKey Bio is a USB-A device with biometric capabilities, offering a combination of physical and biometric authentication for enhanced security. With fingerprint recognition, the YubiKey Bio ensures that only the registered user can access the protected account, adding an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access.

Biometric authentication is particularly useful for users who require higher levels of security or who have difficulty remembering multiple complex passwords. The YubiKey Bio streamlines the authentication process while maintaining strong security standards.

YubiKey Bio C

The YubiKey Bio C is similar to the YubiKey Bio but comes with a USB-C connector, making it compatible with newer devices. It provides the same biometric capabilities as the YubiKey Bio, ensuring that users with USB-C devices can also benefit from the added security of fingerprint recognition.

4. YubiKey FIPS Series

The Yubikey FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) Series is designed for government agencies and organizations that require FIPS 140-2 certification. These keys support PIV, OTP, and U2F protocols and are available in USB-A, USB-C, and NFC-enabled form factors.

The YubiKey FIPS Series is ideal for organizations that must adhere to strict security standards and regulations. By offering a range of form factors and supporting multiple protocols, the FIPS Series ensures that organizations can find the right YubiKey to meet their unique security needs.

In conclusion

YubiKeys offer a robust, user-friendly solution to secure your digital accounts against unauthorized access. By understanding the different types of YubiKeys and their uses, you can choose the best security key that meets your needs and enhances your online security. Whether you’re an individual looking to protect your personal accounts or an organization seeking to secure sensitive data, YubiKeys provide a reliable and effective way to safeguard your digital life.

As demonstrated with the Gmail example, setting up a YubiKey is a straightforward process that can greatly improve your account security. By investing in a YubiKey and incorporating it into your cybersecurity practices, you can take a proactive approach to protect your digital assets and enjoy greater peace of mind.

1 Comment

  • Best Yubikeys for Personal Security - Neotheone's Thoughts, June 14, 2023 @ 2:13 pm Reply

    […] blog posts, I mentioned how Yubikeys can be part of your personal cyber security regimen, and described the different types of Yubikeys available. In this post, I will list the four best Yubikeys for personal security. So without further ado, […]

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