YubiKey vs Yubico Security Key: What’s The Difference?

Yubico is a leading name in the world of multi-factor authentication (MFA) keys and offers a variety of solutions. To choose the best option, it is good to understand what sets their products apart.

So, in this article, we'll break down the main distinctions between the YubiKey 5 Series and the Yubico Security Key series to help you pick the perfect solution for your needs.

Communication Support

There are multiple ways to connect with modern devices; some ports are associated with mobile devices, like USB-C. These are oval in shape, and cables can fit either way, unlike USB-A ports that are rectangular and can only accommodate the cable in one direction.

Despite being similar in appearance, USB-C and Lightning ports are not the same. The most significant difference is that Lightning is a proprietary connection used on iPhones and other Apple devices.

The fourth type of connection to be aware of is NFC (near field communication) - this is the same technology that enables contactless payments because it allows two (supported) devices to talk to each other when they're close together.

Table Communication Support Comparison Security Key vs YubiKey 5

Once you have decided on a Yubico product that can speak to your device or devices that you want to protect, the subsequent step is to see what security software it works with.

Yubico Software

 The YubiKey Manager

The YubiKey Manager is used to configure the functionality of your Yubico product on Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. All the YubiKey products, including the 5 Series and the Yubico Security Keys, are compatible with the YubiKey Manager.

The Yubico Authenticator App

Next is the Yubico Authenticator app, which generates a code used to verify a user’s identity when they are logging into various services - making it a great solution at scale. All the YubiKey products in the 5 Series tick this box and can connect with the Yubico Authenticator app. However, the Yubico Security Key products are not compatible with the Yubico Authenticator app.

The YubiKey Personalisation Tool

The YubiKey Personalisation Tool provides a user with the ability to customise configurations and do things like batch programming. Similar to the Yubico authenticator app, all the products in the YubiKey 5 Series support the YubiKey Personalisation Tool, but the Yubico Security Key products do not.

Table Compatible Software Comparison Security Key vs YubiKey 5

Understanding The Security Functions

Your next consideration also has to do with communication, but these are the security protocols which use cryptographic techniques to let two or more intercommunicating devices achieve a mutually desirable goal.

Let’s start with the four protocols that all Yubico products adhere to:

  1. WebAuthn: WebAuthn or Web Authentication API allows applications to perform secure passwordless authentication that verifies registered users.
  2. FIDO2 CTAP1: This is the new name for FIDO U2F, and CTAP stands for Client to Authenticator Protocol and refers to two protocol versions.
  3. FIDO2 CTAP2: Where CTAP1 lets the YubiKey or Yubico Security Key interoperate with the device, CTAP2 is responsible for communicating with the website or account using the authenticator. (If this is all still sounding a bit foreign to you, check out this helpful explanation on the Yubico website for CTAP.)
  4. Universal 2nd Factor (U2F): Simply put - this protocol bolsters the security provided by two-factor authentication (2FA).

In addition to the above, the YubiKey 5 Series also complies with the following protocols:

  • Smart card (PIV-compatible)
  • Yubico OTP
  • OATH - HOTP (Event)
  • OATH - TOPT (Time)
  • OpenPGP
  • Secure Static Passwords

Another important consideration is the certificate issuance of your Yubico product. Because a security certificate is a small data file employed to confirm the identity and authenticity of a user and a website, it ensures that any data shared between the two systems remains impossible to read.

In the table below, we’ve outlined the differences in this regard between the products in the YubiKey 5 series and the products in the Yubico Security Key series.

Table Certifications Comparison Security Key vs YubiKey 5

Need a YubiKey that is NIST - FIPS 140-2 compliant? Take a look at the YubiKey 5 FIPS Series.

Lasting Security

When it comes to essential features, the Yubico Security Keys and the YubiKey 5 Series stand on equal ground. Both series boast exceptional design and durability, offering users peace of mind in any environment.

All Yubico products are built to withstand the elements, being water-resistant, crush-resistant, and dustproof. Their robust construction ensures that they remain reliable even in demanding conditions. Additionally, they are low maintenance, having no moving parts and requiring no batteries.

In terms of authentication methods, both the Yubico Security Keys and the YubiKey 5 Series offer a comprehensive range of options, including passwordless, two-factor, and multi-factor authentication. This makes them ideal for businesses as well as individuals who want top-tier security that will last.

To conduct your own comparison between the various Yubico products, view Yubico's comparison tool.