Have you heard of Universal Serial Bus (USB) keys? They’ve become increasingly popular in recent years. USB security keys aren’t storage devices. Rather, they live up to their namesake by acting as a “security key” to your accounts. You can use a USB security key to protect your personal and/or business-related accounts from breaches. For a better understanding of USB security keys and how they work, keep reading.

What Is a USB Security Key?

Also known as a U2F key, a USB security key is a physical device with a USB connector that’s used for multi-factor authentication (MFA) purposes. MFA, of course, is a multi-step login process. It consists of multiple steps to log in to a given account. Each of these steps will authenticate your identity. You’ll still have to enter your username and password. With MFA, though, you’ll have to perform at least one other authentication step, such as using a USB security key. The USB security key will authenticate your identity while subsequently granting you access to your account.

How USB Security Keys Work

While they may sound complex, USB security keys work in a simple manner. They feature a unique identifier for each of the accounts with which you use them. Most USB security keys support the FIDO U2F standard. Developed by Google, the FIDO U2F standard allows for the creation of tokens, which act as unique identifiers. You can use a USB security key to generate a token for each of your accounts.

With a USB security key, you can enable MFA with your accounts. You can then create tokens for these accounts. When you’re ready to log in to an account, you can insert the USB security key into your computer, at which point it will read the token to authenticate your identity.

Tips on Choosing a USB Security Key

Not all USB security keys are the same. If you’re going to use a USB security key, you’ll need to choose the right type. For starters, you should consider the security standard. While FIDO U2F is the most common, some USB security keys use a different standard. The standard is the protocol that a USB security key uses to create tokens and, thus, authenticate your identity.

Keep in mind that some USB security keys support Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi, you won’t need to insert them into your computer. Rather, you can connect them to your computer wirelessly via a built-in Wi-Fi card.

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