Protecting your data can involve digital and physical tools, with one of the most powerful being a USB security key. Our favorite is the YubiKey 5 NFC, for its ease of use, complete authentication protocol support, and portability. But it’s not the only USB security key we like. There are plenty of great options for those with grander budgets or more specific needs.
USB security keys like these can help log you into computers and protect your profiles, email, browser history, and more, with an extra layer of security that’s innately hard to hack.
If you want to take further steps to protect yourself and your loved ones, make sure you have a robust antivirus solution and consider powerful parental control software to keep your kids safe online.
Best USB security keys
Yubico’s series 5 NFC keys work well with both USB-A and USB-C ports and Near Field Communication. The NFC tech means that instead of plugging it in, you can just tap the key against the right devices to activate the authentication. This feature is particularly handy when using smartphones. The key works with iOS and Android, so it has more usability than the average USB key, which doesn’t typically work with phones.
The Yubico 5 NFC also supports many authentication protocols beyond the common FIDO (U2F) and FIDO2/WebAuthn, as well as Smart Cards and OTP if you want alternative or more open-source security options. This feature makes the 5 NFC ideal for those who need to manage hundreds of services with a single key or wish to secure individual browsers and operating systems. We also like the simple design, including a small hole you can loop a string or chain through for more comfortable transportation.
The highly-affordable Thetis USB-A and Bluetooth key is a reliable model that will work with all FIDO U2F compatible data — this includes Chrome browsers; MacOS and Linux; services like Dropbox, Salesforce, and Facebook; and mobile devices with Bluetooth Low Energy. It does lack email compatibility, however.
The Thetis has a particularly excellent design, made out of an aluminum alloy with a flip-around system that lets you hide the USB port for better protection in your pocket or case. A one-year warranty is included on this model, making it ideal for those seeking a reliable key at a low cost.
Google released its proprietary security key line in the fall of 2018 with options for all kinds of people. Our favorite is the Bluetooth/NFC/USB-A model, which gives you multiple options for connecting. Google also has a USB-C version of the Titan key and more affordable models, depending on budget and desired features, including Google’s most robust security measures, the Advanced Protection Program, or APP.
While their ABS composition is not as flashy as some other keys, Google’s Titan keys offer PC and Mac access, and they’re compatible with iOS and Android smartphones, as well as any Google phones, tablets, and anything running APP or Google Chrome. These keys are great, but we are downgrading them a little due to past vulnerabilities in some low-energy Bluetooth Titan keys, which led to a hasty recall from Google. These problems are now in the past, but it wasn’t a good look back in mid-2019.
This Yubico USB-A key is similar to our top pick, but it’s more affordable and doesn’t come with NFC technology. If you don’t need to use a key on your phone or another mobile device, you can save some money with this model. The design includes that loop-friendly hole we like and is both water- and crush-resistant. That gold circle you see is how this particular key is activated — just insert the key and tap the circle to activate it. Easy!
SoloKeys is an indie developer specializing in open-source FIDO2 security keys, a fantastic option for security fans who prefer to dig into the software and ensure everything is working correctly. One way that FIDO2 provides more outstanding security standards for mobile and desktop computing is by creating crypto-based logins for each website you visit and never backing them up to a server, leaving you with the only means of access. While SoloKeys offers a few models to choose from, we’re fans of the USB-C option. Your current devices probably have USB-A ports, and any USB-C ports are likely otherwise occupied, but USB-C won’t take long to become the only USB design available, so this is a handy way to future-proof your key.
Okay, one activation button is understandable, but what is this key doing with six different buttons? They’re an added layer of security and password access that makes this key unique among its contemporaries and potentially very powerful, depending on how you prefer to manage your security. Each button can register either a long press or a short press, giving you 12 potential options.
Each of these 12 can hold its password for a device, and you can enable a PIN for each password to activate it — and if our math is right, that raises you to three-factor authentication! Best of all, OneKey can save up to 24 passwords, URLs, user names, and OTP accounts. The key also supports multiple authentication protocols like FIDO2 and Yubikey OTP2, giving users a security key for an unlimited number of sites with these protocols. It’s not exactly an easy way to save time, but if you want extra, extra security, it’s hard to do better.