A key fob is a compact, programmable gadget designed to grant access to various physical objects. Also referred to as a hardware token, a key fob offers single-factor authentication directly on the device, streamlining access to systems or devices such as automobiles, computer systems, restricted areas, mobile devices, network services, or various keyless entry systems.

With a key fob, users are spared the need for traditional manual keys to unlock devices. In addition to enabling remote access, key fobs offer enhanced convenience and security.

Key fobs belong to a category of physical security tokens that encompasses smart cards, proximity cards, and biometric keyless entry devices.

How a Key Fob Functions

A key fob is equipped with a short-range radio transmitter and a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip paired with an antenna. It utilizes radio frequencies to transmit a unique coded signal to a receiving unit within the target device.

Within this receiver unit lies an RFID tag, which stores specific information. The transmitter in the reader sends out a signal to the key fob, which synchronizes with the transmitter’s frequency. When a user presses a button on the key fob, an instantaneous communication exchange occurs between the fob and the receiver device.

The RFID chip embedded in the key fob is engineered to transmit precise RFID tag data. This data always aligns with what the receiver device has been preprogrammed to accept.

For instance, a key fob configured to function with a particular vehicle will exclusively lock or unlock that specific car, rejecting all other key fobs. Therefore, if the data transmitted by the receiver tag matches the information requested by the fob, the locking or unlocking operation is executed. Conversely, if there’s a mismatch, the operation will not proceed.

RFID key fobs often offer the flexibility to be programmed for various commands. For instance, automotive key fobs frequently feature distinct functions assigned to different buttons. In addition to remotely locking and unlocking the vehicle, these functions can encompass:

  • Initiating ignition
  • Activating or deactivating the security system
  • Opening the trunk latch
  • Managing automatic windows
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Key Fobs and Multifactor

Authentication Key fobs also play a vital role as one of the authentication factors in systems that require two-factor (2FA) or multifactor authentication (MFA). These authentication methods are essential for safeguarding a company’s network, devices, applications, and data.

In contrast to traditional password-based systems, MFA necessitates multiple authentication methods to verify a user’s identity before granting access to these resources. These methods encompass the following factors:

  1. Possession: Something you have.
  2. Inherence: Something you are.
  3. Knowledge: Something you know.

The utilization of these diverse factors significantly increases the difficulty for malicious actors attempting to steal or compromise credentials, enhancing overall security beyond the limitations of passwords.

In a typical deployment of a key fob within a 2FA/MFA system, the user initially enters a personal identification code to initiate access to the network or device. The key fob generates a pseudo-random token code, often referred to as a passcode. This passcode serves to validate the user’s legitimacy and authorization to access the system or network. Upon successful validation, the user is granted access.

Crucially, the passcode has a limited duration, typically ranging from 30 to 60 seconds. Should the user fail to input this passcode within the allotted time frame, it will automatically expire, rendering it unusable. To regain access to the system or service, the user must generate a fresh passcode using the key fob.

Key Fobs and Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication relies on a user’s distinct biological characteristics, such as fingerprints, iris scans, and voice prints, to verify their identity. In the context of multifactor authentication (MFA), biometric authentication is increasingly employed as the inherence factor and can be integrated into key fobs to enhance security measures.

While some devices utilize traditional fingerprint recognition methods, others require users to swipe the key fob. This action captures and analyzes the fingerprint’s ridges and the seven layers of skin on the finger pad to authenticate the user.

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Pros and Cons of Biometrics in MFA

What Are the Advantages of Key Fobs? Hardware key fobs offer a significant advantage by adding an extra layer of security in enterprise environments. Passwords are vulnerable to interception and theft through brute-force attacks, phishing schemes, or social engineering tactics employed by attackers.

These vulnerabilities grant malicious actors access to networks or systems, enabling them to install malware, lock systems for ransom, steal data, commit identity theft, engage in espionage, and perpetrate various cybercrimes.

Key fobs effectively mitigate these risks. Attempting to breach a system requires more than just compromised credentials; attackers also need physical access to the key fob. Although key fobs can be cloned or hacked, their theft and subsequent use for cyberattacks are improbable when users exercise caution in storing these devices.

Furthermore, key fobs generate passcodes randomly, transmitting a unique access sequence each time and expiring after a predefined period. This prevents attackers from reusing intercepted passcodes, even if they manage to capture them. Key fobs offer a user-friendly interface, minimizing friction for users.

Key Fobs for Multifactor Authentication

Key fobs enhance security by generating one-time passcodes for multifactor authentication purposes. With the assistance of backend software managing all connected RFID readers from a centralized server, administrators can remotely program multiple key fobs. The server communicates with numerous fobs and readers to grant or deny user access.

Administrators can establish multiple tiers of access control, effectively governing who can access their network, facility, or devices. This hierarchical remote access control is particularly suitable for establishments requiring stringent security and access management without the need for frequent lock and key replacements.

The versatility and security provided by hardware key fobs make them applicable in a variety of commercial settings, including:

  1. Factories
  2. Offices
  3. Restricted areas like server rooms
  4. Laboratories
  5. Hospitals