FAQ: What’s a YubiKey? And Why Does Apple Compatibility Matter?

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YubiKey finally offers support for Google’s two-factor authentication on iOS devices, and that’s a big deal for those who need top-tier security. On the other hand, if you’re wondering what in the world YubiKey is and what it has to do with security, it’s time to talk about security keys, YubiKey, and why this could be the ideal security solution that you’ve been looking for.

All About Security Keys

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A physical security key looks a lot like a little USB stick. It plugs into a port on your computer and includes authentication information to unlock things like supported services, cloud storage, specific files you may have locked, your Google profile, and so on.

Without inserting and activating the key, no one can access those things even if they do have access to your computer. It’s a type of real-world two-factor authentication that uses a physical key instead of another corresponding device.

Physical keys come in many varieties depending on the type of security you want. Some have fingerprint readers. Some have little dials to input a numeric password that only you know. And most also have a variety of software options for holding digital keys. As you can see, this makes it very difficult for a hacker to access any information that you want hidden, even if you run into problems with malware or theft. The downside, of course, is that you always have to keep your security key nearby.

Why YubiKey Is Important

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YubiKey is a brand of security key created by Yubico. They are very good, probably the best security keys on the market for the average user. The current YubiKey 5 series includes options for USB-A, USB-C, and NFC connections, and supports FIDO2/WebAuthn, U2F, Smart card, OpenPGP, and OTP security protocols. Yubico also has some less expensive, more limited keys designed for more casual use.

The YubiKey works on anything that supports its services, including Gmail, Dropbox, Facebook, Salesforce, Duo, and general computer logins. However, it’s primarily a Google-focused line of devices, which brings us to our problem with Apple.

YubiKey and New Apple Compatibility

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Traditionally, YubiKeys haven’t been interested in fully supporting iOS or macOS. Yes, you could use them to log into your Mac with the right ports, but Yubico’s focus was always on the Google side of security. Recently, that has begun to change, especially when it comes to mobile devices. YubiKey even came out with a version of the key last year that included an Apple Lightning port connection to make a connection with iPhones and iPads easier.

But one important piece was missing: WebAuthn compatibility. WebAuthn is Google’s own protocol for two-factor authentication. YubiKey didn’t support WebAuthn for iOS devices until June 2020, when they officially updated their platform. This is a big deal because it now allows iOS users to use the security key to protect Google-related data.

That means Google Accounts, Nest accounts, YouTube, and Meet and other things that Google owns can all be protected via YubiKeys on any Apple device you may have. YubiKeys on iOS are now also eligible for Google’s Advanced Protection Program for even more security options for their services.

Where to Get a YubiKey

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If you want the best security possible for your Apple ecosystem, YubiKey is probably looking like a good option. You can take a look at prices and buy right from Yubico whenever you want. However, if you are particularly focused on iOS devices then you’ll probably want to get the YubiKey 5Ci, which includes a Lightning port adapter.

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