Sacramento adopts hardware-based authentication

To fight account-takeover attacks and streamline remote access, city officials issued Yubikeys to make multifactor authentication easy and secure for 500 employees.

About 500 city workers in Sacramento, Calif., are using portable multifactor authentication technology to better protect networks.

As phishing scams and account takeover attempts targeting city workers increased, the IT department set a goal of implementing more restrictive but easy-to-use security measures and landed on multifactor authentication. IT officials tried various approaches: a one-time password that workers got via a phone call when they needed it, SMS messages that provided several-digit codes and mobile authenticators, or apps that provide one-time use codes to access devices or programs.

“All those were really good, but the major challenge that we faced was with a lot of our employees, they don’t receive a city-issued mobile device or receive a stipend, like a tech allowance, so we can’t mandate having these employees use their personal devices to receive just that code,” said Curtis Chiuu, principal systems engineer for the city.

He learned about Yubico’s YubiKey, a hardware-based authentication device, at a conference in 2018 and after testing it with IT staff, deployed it to field workers who use virtual-private networks to connect remotely. When most employees became remote last year due to work-from-home orders, Sacramento distributed more of the devices.

To use it, workers register the key through the security settings of a supported device and select two-factor authentication. On a computer, they insert the YubiKey into a USB port and touch it to verify that the user is human. For phones with near field communication, users tap an NFC-enabled YubiKey to authenticate.

The city placed an order for another 500 devices on May 26, potentially doubling the number of users there, said Jeff Phillips, Yubico’s head of public-sector sales. Chiuu said it’s unlikely that all 4,500 city employees will get one, although he said he would be “ecstatic” if they did.

“Malicious actors are changing the display names or changing the language in the email [so that it] looks legit, and you really have to focus on that,” he said of phishing emails. In the past, phishing victims have replied to these scam emails by sending usernames and passwords or confidential data. “That’s one of the biggest issues that we’re facing,” he said.

Between the end of April and the end of May, the city scanned about 3.5 million emails, 2,000 of which it identified as phishing. About 2,800 messages had malicious URLs.

The city’s battle against phishing and account takeover attacks is common governmentwide, Phillips said. “That’s why multifactor is so important -- because someone cannot take over your account, someone cannot take over your email,” he said. “If they did take over your email, who cares if they have your username and password because you have a second authenticator that you have to use in order to gain access.”

He recognized that adding another device that users must manually activate is counter to today’s push for automation, but Phillips said the human element is crucial to authentication and effective security. For instance, if a YubiKey is lost or stolen, that’s not a threat because a bad actor would need to also know the device holder’s username, password and what services they use the key to access. 

Many agencies encourage workers to use the key not only for work but also for personal transactions such as online shopping or banking because it increases that user’s overall cyber protection, Phillips said.

Chiuu said his organization tries to market that to workers because “it covers that person entirely in a 360[-degree] environment. We’re even better off than what we were before.”

What’s more, the approach aligns with the shift to zero-trust security, he added. “Over the years, the threats and how we’re being attacked has changed,” Chiuu said. “It used to be you had a firewall and you secured that firewall and your border and you stopped threats from occurring there…. Now it’s not about the border but people inside or connecting anywhere and no boundary.”

The New York Air National Guard is another YubiKey customer. Because the key meets Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-2 and is approved by the Defense Department as an alternative to personal identity verification (PIV) and common access card (CAC) credentials, guard members may use it as needed to access state and first responder systems at the highest security assurance level specified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology: Authenticator Assurance Level 3, which is based on proof of possession of a key through a cryptographic protocol. 

“It’s now going to propagate to probably the other 49 states over the next few years,” Phillips said.

This month, Yubico announced the launch of YubiHSM 2 FIPS, or the YubiKey 5 FIPS Series. It is the first set of multiprotocol keys with support for FIDO2 and WebAuthn authentication, along with PIV and CAC, to receive FIPS-2 validation. It’s available in six form factors: YubiKey 5 NFC, YubiKey 5C NFC, and YubiKey 5Ci, which support USB-A, USB-C, NFC and Lightning mobile connections.

This article was changed June 15 to remove a sentence that said Yubico could deactivate a Yubikey. That was inaccurate. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.