Apple iOS 13.3 is finally here with a bunch of cool new features, including the ability to use security keys with the Safari browser. News that security keys such as the iPhone compatible 5Ci YubiKey would be supported in iOS 13.3 first arrived in November as part of the release notes for Apple’s second developer beta.
As iOS 13.3 hits today (December 10), it’s now been confirmed that your iPhone will support NFC, USB, and Lightning FIDO2-compliant security keys in Safari.
Previously, the ability to use security keys wasn’t available to users of Apple’s Safari browser, although they could be used with some apps such as 1Password.
Security keys represent a general move away from passwords to authenticate you in a more robust way. They are easy to use and protect you from phishing attacks, where hackers try to tempt you to into entering your details on a fake log-in page.
Using security keys in iOS 13.3
If you want to try out this iOS 13.3 option on your iPhone, you will of course need to buy yourself a security key. The iPhone compatible YubiKey 5Ci is the first featuring USB-C and lightning connectors on a single key so it’s probably your best option at the moment.
Once you have also installed iOS 13.3, there are a few things you need to consider when using security keys.
Firstly, support for YubiKey is limited. But this is likely to change as time goes on and isn’t a reason to stop you from trying it out. Ethical hacker John Opdenakker says it’s “good to see that iOS 13.3 will make it possible to use security keys, like YubiKey, with Safari.”
But he adds: “The number of sites that offer authentication via security keys is still limited.”
However, YubiKey maker Yubico offers the ability to protect your online accounts if a service doesn’t offer built-in support for security keys with an additional service: an authenticator app.
Another consideration to take into account with the physical security key is the fact that you need to keep it safe: Losing it could be a disaster. However, if you have another back up key to access your account, you can then revoke the main one if you lose it.
Security in Apple iOS 13: What to do
Apple iOS 13 comes with multiple features that help you take control of your security and privacy, and this is just one of them. But there has been criticism of Apple’s privacy and security changes in iOS 13, with lawmakers saying that new rules being applied to rivals such as Google and Facebook are not being applied to Apple itself.
Then last week, Apple came under fire when it emerged that it was tracking the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11’s location even when told not to. It later admitted that the range’s new ultra wideband chip is to blame.
But Apple should still be lauded for its security focused approach. Among other features, iOS 13.3 also adds more parental controls, offering more communication limits over who your kids can call, FaceTime or message.
So should you get a security key? It depends: They are great for people who know what they are doing, but they might be too complex for the less technical user, at least for now. “I think that broader adoption will only happen when more online services offer authentication via security keys and when they drop in price,” says Opdenakker.
Even so, security keys shouldn’t be discounted: In an age when passwords can be stolen at the drop of a hat (HaveIBeenPwned is a useful tool to check if any of yours have been stolen), extra methods of authentication are needed.
Of course, biometrics such as Face ID and Touch ID are an additional useful layer, but security keys are also well worth trying out.