What Is Hardware Authentication?

By Kevin Caron

A USB token is one example of a hardware authentication device.
i USB Flash image by Andruxa from Fotolia.com

The term "hardware authentication" refers to a security system that uses a hardware device to grant access to users. Hardware authentication is used most commonly for computer systems and networks to protect sensitive data.

USB Security Keys

Universal Serial Bus (USB) security keys, also called security tokens, are small devices that plug into a computer's USB port for authentication. This adds an extra layer of security, as the user not only must know the system password, but also must be in possession of the security key.

Finger Swipes

Another common type of hardware authentication involves a device that reads a user's fingerprint. These devices generally consist of a pad connected to a computer's USB port via a cable. The user swipes his or her finger over the pad, which matches the user's fingerprint to an image stored within the system to grant access.

Optical Recognition

Optical recognition devices are similar to finger swipe devices in that they add a layer of security based on stored biometric data. These devices basically are cameras that connect to a computer and scan a user's retina; the image then is matched to a stored retinal image for authentication.