Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Things I learned when setting up hardware keys for Google accounts

Here are some items that are potentially useful to know when setting up a hardware key (i.e. Yubikey) for online security.

1.  Yubikey is grossly overpriced.  HyperFIDO has fully compatible keys at a quarter of the cost, and they even protect the USB plug contacts - something Yubikey does not do. 

(Why most key makers choose designs that expose the USB contacts, I will never understand.)

They also have a mini version.  Reviews say it is not as well built, but at this price, you can afford to buy spares.  Plus it comes with a cap to keep grunge out of the USB plug.

Unfortunately, they don't have a Bluetooth / NFC version.  For that you should consider a Feitian at half the cost of a Yubikey.


2.  You can't use Firefox for setup.  You can use Firefox for ongoing use, but to set up, you must use Google Chrome.

3.  With Google, you can add many keys.  I was able to add five to my Google account.  If there is a limit, I've not found it yet. 

This is most excellent since you can have multiple keys for difference purposes (desktop, laptop, travel) plus pre-registered backups stored in a safe place for when you lose/break your primary key(s). 


4.  You still need your passwords.  Hardware keys supplement passwords, but - currently and somewhat oddly - do not replace them.

5.  Phone/text verification is fairly secure, but not as secure.  After you enroll your keys, you should consider removing your mobile as an option for 2-step verification.


As far as I know - and I've not yet tested - for ordinary two-factor authentication, you can use a physical key for your desktop, but you do not absolutely need one for your mobile.  I intend to find out as soon as I can.

If, however, you enroll in the Google Advanced Protection program, you (apparently) must have at least one key for your mobile.  This usually means a Bluetooth or NFC key, though USB-C keys are also available.


Other notes:

- Adding and removing keys is a snap.

-  The LED light on the Mini is fairly bright.  There is an LED on the Titanium also, but it is not obtrusive.

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