How to Make a USB Security Key for Your PC or Mac

Add extra security to your computer with a USB access token

What to Know

  • You can use a free or paid app to create a USB key. We recommend USB Raptor for Windows or Rohos Logon Key for Mac.
  • USB Raptor is compatible with Windows 10, 7, 8 and XP. Rohos Logon Key is compatible with macOS 10.8 Mountain Lion and newer.

This article explains how to create a USB security key for both Windows and Mac computers (you can use just about any USB drive.)

How to Create a USB Security Key For Windows

If you want to secure a Windows 10 computer, you have a lot of options. We'll show you how to use USB Raptor, because it's free, but there are also a number of paid apps that do the same thing if you prefer having access to extensive user support in case something ever goes wrong. Some paid apps, like Rohos Logon Key, work on both Windows and Mac.

Here's how to create a USB security key using USB Raptor:

  1. Navigate to the USB Raptor project on SourceForge and click Download.

    A screenshot of the USB Raptor SourceForge site.
  2. Save the USB Raptor software to your computer.

    A screenshot of saving USB Raptor to a Windows PC.
  3. Unzip the USB Raptor archive to the location of your choosing, and run the USB Raptor application.

    A screenshot of the USB Raptor application in Windows 10.
  4. Read the terms of service, indicate that you have read it, and click I agree to proceed.

    A screenshot of USB Raptor terms of service.
  5. Type a password into the encryption field.

    A screenshot of entering a password into USB Raptor.
  6. Select the USB drive you will use for your key, and click Create k3y file.

    A screenshot of creating the k3y file in USB Raptor.
  7. Click the check box next to Enable USB Raptor.

    A screenshot of USB Raptor.
  8. Click the Advanced configuration check box in the upper right corner of the app.

    A screenshot of USB Raptor armed.

    At this point, your computer will lock if you remove the USB key. However, it will not be protected the next time you start your computer unless you complete the next step.

  9. Under the general settings tab, click the check boxes next to the following:

    • Run USB Raptor at Windows startup
    • Start in system tray
    • USB Raptor always starts armed
    A screenshot of USB Raptor advanced settings.

    There are a lot of useful settings in USB Raptor, but these are the only ones required to make it work automatically.

  10. Click Minimize to tray.

  11. The next time you turn your computer on and log in, USB Raptor will launch. If the USB key isn't in place at that time, the computer will lock until you insert the key.

How to Make a USB Key For Your Mac

There is no free USB security key app for macOS like there is for Windows, but there are a number of options that provide a free trial. Rohos Logon Key is one option that's available for both Windows and Mac, and it has a free trial, so you may want to try it out if you use Macs exclusively or if you use a mix of Macs and Windows computers.

Unlike USB Raptor for Windows, Rohos Logon Key for Mac adds an additional layer of protection. When you don't have the key installed, it actually isn't possible to log in at all even if someone has your password. That makes Rohos Logon Key for Mac a bit more secure.

Here's how to create a USB security key for Mac using Rohos Logon Key:

  1. Navigate to the Rohos Logon Key for Mac site and click Download.

    A screenshot of the Rohos Cloud Drive site.
  2. Navigate to your Downloads folder (or wherever you have your downloads saved) and unzip the files. Click the RohosLogon installer.

    A screenshot of macOS.
  3. Click Continue.

    A screenshot of the Rohos Logon Key installer.
  4. Click Continue > Agree.

    A screenshot of the Rohos license agreement.
  5. Select Install for all users of this computer, then click Continue.

    A screenshot of installing Rohos Logon Key.
  6. Click Install.

    A screenshot of installing Rohos Key Logon.
  7. Enter your user name and password if prompted, and click Install Software.

    A screenshot of installing Rohos Logon Key
  8. Click Close.

    A screenshot of the Rohos Logon Key installer.
  9. Connect a USB drive to your Mac.

  10. Open Rohos Logon Key, and click USB Drive.

    A screenshot of Rohos Logon Key.
  11. Select the USB drive you want to use, and click OK.

    A screenshot of setting up Rohos Logon Key.
  12. Select Lock the desktop from the dropdown box.

    A screenshot of setting up Rohos Logon Key.
  13. Rohos Logon Key will now protect your Mac when the USB drive is not connected.

Why Use a USB Security Key?

Strong passwords go a long way toward securing our computers and online accounts, but they can't stand up against keyloggers and other attacks. When you set your computer up to use a USB security key, you ensure that nobody will be able to access it without the key.

The downside of using a USB security key is that you'll also be locked out of your computer if you lose it. Some USB security key apps allow you to leave the option of inputting a password in place to bypass the key, in which case they key is more of a convenience and less of a security measure.

How Do USB Security Keys Work?

To set up a USB security key, you need a USB drive and a USB security key app. You install the app on your computer, set it up, and then use it to create your USB security key. Whenever your computer is on, the app constantly scans your USB ports for a device that contains a specific encrypted file. If that file is not located, the computer is locked down until you insert the USB security key that contains the file.

There is a brief moment of vulnerability with some USB security key apps when you first turn your computer on and log in. If someone has your password, but not your USB security key, they will be able to log in and have a few moments to view and access your files before the USB security key software launches and secures your computer.

Additionally, anyone with access to your computer can set the USB security key software to not launch when your computer starts up. With that in mind, it's important to maintain password secrecy and lock your computer by removing the USB security key whenever you step away from it.