U2F: the Future of Two-Factor Authentication?

December 18, 2014

9:00 am

Two-factor authentication is a concept that almost everyone is probably familiar with right now, given the amount of discussion, information and services using it that are around at this time. Anyhow, two-factor authentication refers to the system where a password (something users know) is paired with a second item, like a code sent to the user by SMS or something generated in an app (something users have).

It goes without saying that two-factor authentication is more secure than using a password alone, especially if the best service is utilized. In this niche TeleSign leads the way, providing useful services like “Mobile Identity”, where a phone number works as a user, “Data and Fraud Signals”, that assess fraud based on a phone number, and others.

But the ones mentioned above are not the only mechanisms of two-factor authentication. U2F, short for Universal 2nd Factor, is yet another interesting alternative, that gets a little bit more “physical”. Most U2Fs consist of something looking like a USB drive, used as the second factor in two-factor authentication. Just like it happens right now with other second factors, they need to be linked to sites/services in order to be used.

Yubico is one of the most well-known producers of U2F. Their models’ circuitry is tamper-resistant and their firmware cannot be updated, making them a stronghold of security for two-factor authentication. U2Fs key should be plugged to the devices at the moment of login – in some of them simply plugging is sufficient, while in others there is the need to tap a button in order to send the login information.

U2Fs build by Yubico actually have a very interesting feature: they are masked as USB keyboards, so the OS recognizes the device as something that, in truth, it is not, which is very helpful in order to increase security.

U2Fs are a fairly recent tool so there is not a lot of financial backing for its development, but that should change in the near future, where most likely we all will have one on our keychains.

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25 y/o, born and living in Portugal. Majored in Biology, but tech and computers were always a passion. Wrote for sites like Windows.Appstorm and MakeTechEasier.

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