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One tap and you're logged in: NFC two-factor authentication comes to mobile

You spent all that time setting up two-factor authentication on your laptop and work computer, but what about your mobile? Now, a USB key is offering serious but simple mobile security with a tap.

The Yubikey authenticates your online accounts through NFC.
Josh Miller/CNET

This story is part of CES 2016. Our editors bring you complete CES 2016 coverage and scour the showroom floor for the hottest new tech gadgets around.

If you're security minded enough to not guard your email account with the old "12345" password, then you're probably already familiar with two-factor authentication. Want to log-in online? You'll need your password as well as a second 'key' (whether digital or physical) to verify your identity.

While the practice is well established on desktop, mobile security has been slow to catch up to quick and easy two-factor authentication, until now.

Yubico has introduced the first physical USB key that allows you to login to your online accounts on your mobile phone via NFC. The Yubikey Neo taps against your phone to verify your login credentials without need for an app like Google Authenticator.

Think of it like a house key. Your email address and password are like your street address, but in order to get into the house you need a physical key to open the door. The same goes here: you log into your Gmail account, for example, and when it comes time to verify yourself, you hold the key against the back of your NFC-enabled phone to authentic. If you're on desktop, just slide it into your USB port, give it a tap and you're in like Flynn.

The idea of a physical key is not new, and Yubico itself has been playing in the space for some time with a straight USB key for desktops, adding login support for Dropbox and Github in 2015. But the move to mobile is a welcome development -- particularly when you consider how portable and personal our phones are.

There are no personal details stored on they key, but it's not matched to an individual fingerprint or user, meaning anyone with the key (and, importantly, your login details) could use the Yubikey.

Still, the convenience of having a physical fob that you carry on you and can quickly use to login has a lot of potential. Since two factor authentication standards got an update last year to add support for wireless connectivity, we may see even more accessories -- like Bluetooth keyboards or your favourite wireless mouse -- get this kind of capability in the future.