Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
At just $49, and with its multifunctional remote, the Hideez Key is a useful addition to any keyring. Just don't rely on it for passwords, and ignore the OTP feature.
Security problems stalk us day and night. Passwords dance through our minds, out of our ears, and often end up jotted on sticky notes. Password managers can help, as can devices that can securely unlock our phones, tablets and computers with a single click. Oh, and did you ever lose your keys?
The Hideez Single Digital Key fulfills all three of these roles.
Available for $49, this intriguingly small device sits neatly in your pocket, keys attached, ready to be used to unlock computers, doors, websites… anything you like, really. Well, that’s the intention. But does it work that way?
What Is a Digital Key?
In short, it’s a compact, portable device that enables you to authenticate your access to a portable device or website. Capable of storing encryption keys, passcodes and other personal data, a digital key can also store one-time passwords (OTP), and encrypt any data required.
Of course, with such a small device packed full of features, some software is required. Typically a mobile app might be used, but there is also compatible software for the Hideez Key available for Windows and macOS, as well as Android and iOS. By syncing the device with your smartphone or computer, you can use it to:
- Lock or unlock a PC, tablet or smartphone.
- Store application and website user account credentials.
- Generate a one-time-password (OTP) for two-factor authentication on your favorite websites.
Additionally, the Hideez Key has some extra features when used with an Android smartphone:
- Find your keys when the Hideez Key is attached.
- Authenticate users with eye vein scanning technology.
- Snap photos of unauthorized users.
- Run scripts on the phone for camera control and other functions.
- Send the current location to a predetermined phone number.
Given the device is so small, it’s amazing that all of these features are supported. But do you really need them?
The Importance of Security
You use passwords, right? Your PC has a secure login, and your phone and tablet should both be secured with a passcode. If not, then you could run into problems. Losing a phone, for example, can leave your contacts list, social media accounts, and other personal information (online shopping apps, perhaps) accessible by whoever finds it.
Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough that your phone is handed back to you untouched. In most cases, the data on it will be accessed and used against you.
The same can happen with a lost or stolen laptop, or even on a PC that goes nowhere. If people can get access to your computer while you’re not there, then the data on it is at risk. This is why security is important. In short, it can cost you your identity, your reputation, and your bank balance.
While password managers and two-factor authentication apps on your smartphone are solutions, they’re not as lightweight, flexible, or wearable as a digital key.
What’s in the Box?
At first glance, this is a small, unassuming package. Can it really do everything that is promised?
In the box, you’ll find the Hideez Key device. Although a battery is already in the device — it’s ready to use — a CR2032 coin-style cell is also included, along with a keyring.
It’s a funny little device. Around 1 inch square, and with a hole to attach the ring, and subsequently, your keys. A grey panel running from the center is in fact a button, covering an LED. This glows depending on the device’s status. There’s also a beeper inside.
Not in the box, however, is an instruction manual. You’ll have to head to the website at www.hideez.com/download to find this. Instead, you’ll find a small Quick Start Guide in the box, a single square sheet that provides QR codes for the manual, and for the Hideez app.
Should you need to open the Hideez Key fob, however, you can do so by inserting a finger nail or a piece of plastic in two of the corners, where gaps can be found, and pulling. The battery is replaced by pushing out the old cell, and replacing it with a new one.
Setting Up the Digital Key
To use the Hideez Key, you’ll need to begin by installing one of the apps. Currently, the Hideez Key will work with Android (4.4 and later), Windows (8.1 and later), macOS (10.11+) and iOS (9.3+). We tested mainly with the Android version of the Hideez Safe app. We had less success with Windows: Hideez refused to sync with our Windows 10 laptop from HP (with Windows 10 preinstalled, not downloaded as an update), and a brand new Microsoft Surface Pro.
Clicking the Get Started button prompts the creation of an account. Once the confirmation email is acted upon, you’ll need to allow the app access to your device’s location. After this, it takes just a moment to press the button on the Hideez Key and sync it to the app. You even get the chance to rename the fob! Meanwhile, you can check the browser-based interface via your desktop computer to see your account details (which can be changed) and the activated Hideez Key details.
Setting up a Password
Further permissions need to be assigned to the Hideez Safe app, via the app’s unique settings page when you click My Passwords, the recommended starting point.
It is here that we discover the truth. The passwords you use with the Hideez Key are genuinely stored on the key, not in the app or anywhere else on your phone. You’ll appreciate how neat this is. Once this is set up, the app assigns a security level, a little bit of gamification that’s useful in helping you to understand the changes being made, and how they affect your security.
Passwords for websites and apps can be set up here, and you also have the option of a one-time password secret key.
Configure the Theft Alarm
The next stage of setting up your Hideez Key is to enable the Theft Alarm. This uses the signal strength between your phone and your Hideez Key to determine whether the device has been stolen.
Setting this up requires you to enable Do Not Disturb access for the Hideez Safe app. This basically means that even when your phone is in DND mode, it will alert you when your hardware has gone walkabout.
With this done, there is then the option of setting trusted places for the phone to go out of reach — such as at home — as well as adjusting sensitivity. A device sound can also be enabled for the Hideez key, but this comes with the caveat that the battery will be drained quicker.
Enabling the Theft Alarm increases you to “Security Level 2”.
Guard Your Device from Unauthorized Access
The final set up stage is to enable Touch Guard. Want to find out who is fiddling with your phone? This part of the Hideez Safe companion app deals with that, snapping photos of unauthorized users. Interestingly, this is set to work only if the Hideez Key (and by extension, you) is not present.
With this option set, you can choose which cameras to shoot from, and the frequency. The Touch Guard feature can even send emails to your account when the phone is accessed, and as with the Theft Alarm, trusted places can be configured.
By enabling Touch Guard, you successfully set up the Hideez Key and the companion app. Security Level 3 is reached!
Is the Hideez Digital Key Easy to Use?
It’s quite admirable to bundle remote unlock feature, password storage and encryption into a $49 key fob. But even with all the security in the world protecting your data, if it cannot be used easily, that security is pointless.
So, can the Hideez Key be used reasonably easily? Or will you be subjected to painful syncs with your smartphone or PC, subjecting yourself to endlessly repeated actions as you struggle to get it to work? Initial syncing, as described above, is reasonably straightforward. However, subsequent syncs can prove problematic. Typically, this requires you to switch off Bluetooth and Location, then switch them back on and try again. Hardly ideal: this can take a few minutes to sort out.
One promised feature appears to be missing in the Android app, meanwhile: the ability to unlock your device simply by having the Hideez Key nearby. While useful for a desktop PC, perhaps it isn’t overly necessary for a smartphone — but it would be nice to have the option! It seems that of you’re using Android 7.0, this feature has been deprecated. That’s not great. For extra security, it would be good to enforce a PIN or password to open the app. Currently, that’s not the case, and having the Hideez device AND your PC or mobile stolen is a concerning possibility. Imagine the thief being able to unlock your PC and access all of your accounts just by clicking the Hideez Key…
On a more hardware related note, the lack of a rechargeable cell seems a bit short-sighted. While there are advantages to a replaceable battery, it’s less convenient than just plugging a USB cable to charge every so often.
Making Security Easy
As portable and easy to use as the Hideez Key is, there is one area where it fails. The creation of one-time passwords for two-factor authentication is one of the biggest disappointments for end user security I have ever encountered.
In short, the idea is to store the secret key used for the generation of one-time passwords on your Hideez Key. Great, you might think. And in theory, you would be right. Unfortunately, the process is slow and takes up half a page in the manual. For security enthusiasts, this is great; for everyone else, it’s a nightmare. A device like the Hideez Key should be making security simpler for its customers, not more complicated.
In short, it’s a good idea to steer away from the OTP feature, and stick to existing tools and apps (such as Google Authenticator).
Various additional features and functions for the Hideez Key can be configured via the Show More button in the app. These include Look for device, which helps you find the Hideez Key based on signal strength, and Button Setting, which can be used to assign commands to the Hideez Key button. These range from switching between PC and smartphone to turning off the device completely.
It can even be used to take a photo, or start and stop video recording — useful if you’re looking for a way to capture some selfie footage! There are also options to backup and restore data from your Hideez device.
A Useful Security Fob
If you want to secure access to your accounts and apps, a tool like the Hideez Key might be ideal for you. Introducing a physical element into the mix of password management makes every security decision you make more tangible. However, it has its downsides.
The mobile app isn’t perfect, storing credentials on an easily-stolen device is questionable, and the whole OTP situation is one of the biggest pains I’ve ever encountered in 15 years of information security. It’s simply unworkable for a standard user.
I had previously considered that any form of device that encourages the use of passwords and enforces the importance of security is a good thing. Having used the Hideez Key for the past month, I’m not so sure.