Why You Should Use a Physical Authenticator Key

An extra layer of security

Key Takeaways

  • Google has updated its Titan security key offerings, adding NFC to every model.
  • You can purchase a Titan key to protect your Google account, as well as other third-party accounts that support it.
  • Experts say users should consider using a physical authentication key—or even just multi-factor authentication—to increase their account security.
Google Titan security key

Google

Experts say physical authenticators offer the highest level of security available for your online accounts, and all users should consider purchasing one.

Google is tightening up its Titan Security Key offerings, adding NFC support to all of the physical authenticators it offers and completely removing one of the options it used to offer. Bringing NFC support to each of its security keys means users can log into their accounts using their smartphone and other smart devices. Experts say the move has made it even easier for everyday consumers to take advantage of the highest level of security Google offers for their accounts.

"With phishing attacks on the rise, Google’s Titan Keys are a great investment for everyday consumers as well as employees on work devices. These physical security keys are inexpensive and offer a very high level of protection from phishing," Scott McDonald, security director and practice lead at Cloudbakers, told Lifewire in an email.

Reaching New Peaks

We use online accounts for just about everything, from social media websites to online banking, and even to pay for things like our water and electric bills. Every account you have contains valuable information—from credit card details to personal information like your address, birthday, or even parts of your Social Security number. Protecting that info is paramount.

While you can make passwords strong without a physical authenticator—or even a digital authenticator app—your account could still be at risk of that password being stolen. By adding an additional level of authentication, you increase the security of your account by forcing bad actors to also get access to the verification method. The reason Google’s Titan Security Keys—and other physical keys like it—are so strong, though, is because they require anyone logging into your account to have that physical key on their person.

"Titan Keys physically authenticate users to offer significantly stronger security than software-based solutions (like those traditionally tied to your cell phone)," McDonald explained, noting the biggest difference between app-based and physical verification systems. By forcing you to physically insert or connect the key to your device in some way, you make it almost impossible for anyone to gain unfettered access to your accounts. 

Protecting Yourself

Ultimately, it comes down to doing everything you can to protect yourself from the risks that come with online access. With the chance of your logins being stolen by malware steadily on the rise, the fight to combat cybercrime is one consumers have to be aware of, and do everything they can to help secure their information. 

Without taking precautions, you could end up as one of the millions who have had their information stolen by malware and phishing attacks in the past.

Woman at home unlocking external hard disk drive to print photos from laptop by using small portable printer

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There are, of course, other types of security keys out there, and they aren’t that expensive. In fact, even Google’s two options start at a modest $30 for the USB-A key, while the USB-C key sells for $35. That price may seem a little steep for something you only have to plug in when logging into your account, but the overall increase in security could make it worth every penny, McDonald says.

Because your Google account can encompass so much—your browsing data, your email account, access to Google Pay and other services—getting extra protection should be one of your priorities in the digital age. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to go about protecting yourself, though as mentioned before, physical security keys are one of the best ways available.

"With phishing attacks on the rise, Google’s Titan Keys are a great investment for everyday consumers as well as employees on work devices."

Google’s keys also work with other FIDO-compliant services, including password managers like 1Password, so you can enjoy added security on those accounts, too. And, of course, because there’s always the chance of something physical being lost or misplaced, Google and other brands let you purchase multiple keys and connect them to your account, allowing you to easily remove the other keys if they become compromised in any way.

"For Google account users, adding two Titan Keys to your account and taking advantage of Google's Advanced Protection, Google’s strongest level of account security, is highly recommended," McDonald said. "Utilizing two Titan Keys ensures you always have an account recovery path. If one Titan Key gets lost, stolen, or breaks, your backup can provide account access. Without a backup key, you may be locked out of your Gmail account."

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