Protecting accounts by password alone is risky. Even with super-strong, randomly generated passwords stored in a password manager, there’s always the chance someone will get hold of it. That’s why most online services now offer two-factor authentication, where you have a second means of proving your identity. The YubiKey Security Key C NFC is designed to be that second method – a small, physical key that you either plug into a device’s USB-C port or press against your phone’s NFC sensor. It’s secure, but is it convenient? Here’s my YubiKey Security Key C NFC review.
How does the YubiKey Security Key C NFC work?
The YubiKey Security Key C NFC is pretty simple to set up – at least, on some devices.
A whole host of online companies support two-factor authentication with YubiKey, including Google, Apple, Dropbox and many more.
I tested the hardware by attempting to protect my Google account, and it was a simple set-up process on my Mac. You visit Google’s security settings, switch on two-factor authentication, pick YubiKey from the list and plug the key into a USB-C port to complete the process. It took a couple of minutes, tops.
To test that I could unlock my Google account with the key, I grabbed a Windows laptop that hadn’t been previously signed in with Google. When I entered by Gmail address and password, I was prompted to insert the YubiKey in the USB-C port and all worked fine. You have to dab your finger against a little sensor on the top of the key, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s a fingerprint reader. If someone else steals your key and passwords, they could get access to the account. But that’s far less likely than password theft alone.
What didn’t work?
Where things went wrong for me was when I tried to use the YubiKey Security Key C NFC on my phone. At first, I couldn’t get the contactless NFC to work at all when I tried signing into my Google account. To see if I could rectify the problem, I downloaded the company’s Yubico Authenticator app to see if I could get this to recognise my key, but I subsequently discovered this only made things worse, as by granting permission for the app to access the key in Android, it prevented the key from working in other apps, such as my phone’s browser.
I should add this was a mistake on my behalf, as the app isn’t compatible with this particular key, although this wasn’t made abundantly clear.
Only after a back-and-forth with Yubico’s PR department and a video call with the company’s technicians did we finally get the key working with my phone. And even then, only by plugging the key into the USB port. It took about five minutes of subsequent fiddling with the phone and the key to get NFC to work, and this involved removing the case from my phone, and taking the key off its keyring, so that I could carefully lay the key flat against the phone in exactly the right position for the NFC contact to register.
To be fair to Yubico, the experience was much smoother when I attempted to login via NFC on an iPhone 12. However, it still needed me to remove the key from the keyring and press it perfectly flat against the phone, with a bit of hunting required to find the right spot.
In short, the NFC reader is not the last word in convenience.
How much does this cost?
The YubiKey Security Key C NFC currently costs around £25, but bear in mind that the company (rightly) recommends you buy at least two of them. Why? Because if you lose one key, you might not be able to get back into any accounts you’ve secured with the key, unless you have an alternative means of two-factor authentication on that account. Some, such as Google, provide alternatives. Others do not.
That means you’re looking at an up-front cost of around £50 to get going with these.
YubiKey Security Key C NFC review verdict
There’s no doubt the YubiKey Security Key C NFC does offer a greater degree of security. It worked flawlessly on the Mac and PC, and even despite the difficulties I had with NFC on the phones, you could always just slot the key into the phone’s USB-C socket for quick access. The key is lightweight and unobtrusive on a keyring, so it’s easy to carry everywhere in your pocket.
That said, the experience wasn’t as smooth as I’d like it to be. And when you’re paying £50 for a security measure, you want it to be flawless. For that reason, I can’t quite bring myself to recommend the YubiKey Security Key C NFC.
Value for money
YubiKey Security Key C NFC summary
A secure way to protect your online accounts, but bear in mind you’ll need two of them
- Super-easy to set up on Mac/PC
- Small, light and easy to carry on a keychain
- NFC set-up was buggy on our test Android phone
- NFC contact is fiddly and unreliable