This Tiny Device Makes It So You Never Have to Remember Another Password

YubiKey 5 Series
YubiKey 5 Series
Yubico

In our increasingly online world, password management has become an overwhelming chore. You probably use dozens of passwords on any given day—for your email (work and personal), your social networking accounts, your Spotify, your Seamless, your online bank account, your Venmo, every single store you’ve ever made an online purchase from, and any other site you set up a profile for. Personally, my password manager holds almost 200 different passwords that I’ve created over the past two years. There has to be a better way. And there is. According to Wired, the new YubiKey 5 Series could make passwords entirely a thing of the past.

Made by Yubico, a security company founded in Sweden in 2007, YubiKey is a type of physical token called a security key that you plug into your computer as a way to verify your identity in place of the usual two-factor authentication methods like texting a number to your phone. You can use it in conjunction with your existing password as an extra layer of protection for services like Gmail, password managers like LastPass, and some Windows and Mac devices, kind of like how you need both a physical debit card and a pin to use an ATM.

With the launch of its latest version, the 5 Series, Yubico is now moving toward hardware options that don’t require passwords at all. It uses near-field communication (the same technology behind some keycards and tap-to-pay systems) and a new open authentication standard called FIDO2 that’s designed to protect login information from getting into the wrong hands. Instead of using information that can be stolen to verify your identity—that probably not-that-secure password you always forget—this method allows sites to authenticate your identity with a physical object like a YubiKey that you carry with you. While a hacker can steal your password off the internet from anywhere in the world, it’s much harder to fraudulently log in to someone’s account if you need to steal their YubiKey from off their key ring to do so.

The passwordless future hasn’t entirely arrived, though. Companies like Mozilla, Google, and Microsoft are still working on implementing the FIDO2 standard, so while you will one day be able to use passwordless logins for things like Chrome and Firefox, that’s not the case yet—you still can only use it for two-factor authentication, using the key in conjunction with a password. And passwordless doesn't mean you won't have to remember any information to log in. Even when you can use the key alone in place of a password, you will likely still want to use a PIN with it, just as you use one with your debit card.

YubiKey isn’t the only security key available. Google makes its own key, called Titan, though it doesn't yet support the new FIDO2 standard. There’s also an open-source version in the works called Solo. As a security measure, these keys have been shown to be very effective. Google, for one, began requiring all of its employees to use security keys in 2017, and it hasn’t fallen prey to any phishing attacks since then.

If you have a tendency to lose things, you might worry about tying all of your existing online accounts to a piece of hardware that you might lose at any moment. There are a few ways to get around that very plausible occurrence, though. Most rely on the particular service you’re using the key to access, so if you lose the device, you’ll have to go through and disable your YubiKey authentication for any application you have linked it to. You may have to go through the steps you would normally take to reset your password, essentially, using another form of two-factor authentication like SMS. LastPass, for instance, offers a way to disable your YubiKey authentication if you lose your key. Some services allow you to register multiple authentication keys, too, so you could also buy and register a back-up key to use if your primary one goes missing. Being a little forgetful about your belongings is no excuse for poor security, in other words.

[h/t Wired]

Why You Should Never Charge Your Phone in Public USB Ports Without a USB Data Blocker

Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images
Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images

The USB charging ports that have popped up at airports, coffee shops, and even outdoor stations around cities in recent years are definitely a lifesaver when your smartphone is down to its last bit of juice. A dead phone is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst, so it’s totally understandable why you’d jump at the chance to revive it at your earliest opportunity.

However, those public ports might not be as benevolent as they seem. According to Afar, hackers can load malware onto those stations—or on the cables left plugged into the stations—which can then deliver passwords and other data right from your device to the hacker’s. If you have used a public port recently, don’t panic; TechCrunch reports that these cases are fairly rare. Having said that, it’s definitely better not to risk it, especially considering what a nightmare it would be to have your identity stolen.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office explains that the easiest way to prevent becoming a victim of this type of scam, often referred to as juice-jacking, is simply to abstain from using public USB charging ports. Instead, invest in a portable charger, or plug your own charger into an actual AC power outlet.

But unoccupied power outlets are notoriously hard to come by in public places, and portable chargers themselves can also run out of battery life. Luckily, there’s a small, inexpensive device called a data blocker that will enable you to use public USB charging ports without worrying about juice-jacking. It looks a little like a flash drive with an extra slot, but it lacks the two wires usually found in USB chargers that can download and upload data. That way, your device will charge without transferring any information.

You can get two of them for $11 from Amazon here.

[h/t Afar]

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12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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