I been listening to the SecurityNow! podcast raving about the coolness of the Yubikey, created by Swedish startup Yubico. It seems like the device has captured the imagination of quite a few people, and I have been kind of curious about it. So I was quite pleasantly surprised when I got one a few days ago, since we are testing it as a new way to authenticate to our VPN at work.
The immediate impression is that is impressively small! Compared to a standard USB memory stick, it is significantly smaller, and most importantly, very thin. This means that they can be sent in a regular envelope in the mail, since it is about as think as some folded papers. It also helps when you put it on your key chain, I guess. I don’t know if I dare do that yet, since my pocket tends to be fairly crowded with heavy sharp keys that could well scratch the innocent little Yubikey. Here is a picture of the key along side a Sandisk Cruzer USB memory stick:
When it is attached to a computer, the little button ring lights up. When the computer is asleep, it pulsates nicely too.
Driver installation was automatic on my Vista machine, showing up as a human-interface device with no particular characteristics. That is the very idea of the Yubikey: it is a USB keyboard as far as the computer is concerned, which is amazingly simple and clever. Here is what Vista says about it:
In use, the Yubikey is still a bit of challenge to me, for one simple reason: the button feels hard to get pressed in the right way. It seems that I have to push pretty hard and for a long time to activate, and then I want to hold the key with my other hand too so that I do not break it at the point where it is connected to the computer.
Apart from that, it is a beautiful device, and compared to the security solutions I have with my various internet-based banks, it is much easier to use. No codes to type in, no 9-digit numbers to type into online forms (that is what ICA Banken currently requires you to do, copy a nine-digit number from a security device into which you insert your bank card…).
So overall, I really like the Yubikey, and it will be interesting to see how it lasts, physically, as I start taking it with me everywhere.
Update: The Yubikey does work to have on a key chain, I have started doing that and so far it works in the sense that it does not affect the physical size of the chain much. There is also some logic to the use mode of inserting the key from the key chain into my computer to “unlock” secure functions.