New iOS option makes it super hard for someone to hack into your iCloud

New iOS option makes it super hard for someone to hack into your iCloud

Apple now lets you protect your Apple ID and iCloud account with hardware security keys, a major upgrade for those who want maximum protection from hackers, identity thieves, or snoops.

Hardware security keys are small physical devices that communicate with USB or Lightning ports or with NFC wireless data connections when you sign in to a device or account. Since you must have keys in your possession to use them, they are effective at thwarting hackers trying to access your account remotely.

Support for the keys arrived with iOS 16.3 and MacOS 13.2 on Monday, and on Tuesday Apple released details about how to use security keys with iPhones, iPads, and Macs. The company requires you to set up at least two keys.

Apple has been working on tightening security for the past few months, stung by iPhone breaches related to Pegasus spyware from the NSO Group. Apple’s Advanced Data Protection option arrived in December, giving a stronger encryption option to data stored and synced to iCloud. And in September, Apple added a iPhone Lockdown Mode that includes new guardrails on how your phone works to thwart outside attacks.

One big caveat: While hardware security keys and the Advanced Data Protection program do a better job of locking down your account, they also mean Apple can’t help you restore access.

“This feature is designed for users who, often because of their public profile, face collective threats to their online accounts, such as celebrities, journalists and members of the government,” Apple said in a statement. “This takes our two-factor authentication even further, preventing even a sophisticated attacker from getting a user’s second factor in a phishing scam.”

Hardware security keys have been around for years, but the Fast Identity Online or FIDO group has helped standardize the technology and integrate its use with websites and apps. A big advantage on the internet is that they are linked to specific websites, for example Facebook or Twitter, so they thwart phishing attacks that try to trick you into logging into fake websites. They are also the basis for Google’s advanced protection program, for those who want maximum security.

A screenshot of Apple adding support for hardware security keys

Apple has added hardware security key support to iOS 16.2 and MacOS 13.2.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

You must choose the correct hardware security keys for your devices. To communicate with relatively new models of both Macs and iPhones, a key that supports USB-C and NFC is a good option. Apple requires you to have two keys, but it’s not a bad idea to have more in case you lose them. A single key can be used to authenticate to many different devices and services, such as your Apple, Google, and Microsoft accounts.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yubico, the top maker of hardware security keys, announced two new FIDO-certified YubiKey models in its consumer-grade Security Key series on Tuesday. They both support NFC, but the $29 model has a USB-C connector and the $25 model has an older-style USB-A connector.

Google, Microsoft, Apple and other allies are also working to support another FIDO authentication technology called access keys. Passkeys are designed to replace passwords and they don’t require hardware security keys.

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