It’s important to note that you don’t want to lose your security key. Apple will prompt you to set up two to begin with, so you can keep a backup in a safe place. But if you do somehow misplace both of them, there’s a chance you might be permanently locked out of your account (there may be recovery options, but Apple isn’t specifying what they are, perhaps for security reasons).

You also need to follow this process when logging in to your Apple ID in a new web browser, and there are a few places where it won’t work (at least not yet). Perhaps the most important one is iCloud for Windows, so you might want to hold off if you use your Apple account on Windows devices. And you can’t use security keys with Apple devices running older software or with Apple IDs assigned to children.

Setting Up Security Keys

The first step is buying a couple of security keys, which go for around $50 each online. Apple says you need keys certified to work with the FIDO (Fast ID Online) standard, and with the right connections for your devices: NFC (iPhones) only, lightning, USB-C, or USB-A. It’s fine to use adapter dongles and cables with these security keys, which should make it easier to find keys that work across everything you’re going to use.

With your physical keys in hand and the latest software updates installed, you can set everything up from an iPhone or an iPad by going to Settings, tapping on your name at the top, and choosing Password & Security. Choose Add Security Keys to be directed through the process of associating them with your Apple ID. At the same time, you can review all the devices that are currently linked to your Apple ID.

Closeup of a person's finger touching the YubiKey plugged into a laptop

The YubiKey 5C NFC is one security key recommended by Apple.

Photograph: Yubico

On macOS, make sure you’re running the latest software, then open the Apple menu and choose System Settings. Click on your name at the top of the navigation pane on the left, then pick Password & Security and click Add next to the Security Keys heading. You’ll then be taken through the steps needed to associate your keys with your account, and you’ll be shown the devices you’re already using with your Apple ID.

You need to add at least two security keys to your account, as we mentioned earlier, and you can add up to six. Head to the same screens on iOS, iPadOS, or macOS if you want to delete one or more of your security keys—you’ll see a Remove All Security Keys option. If you select this, the two-factor authentication process will revert to using the passcode method, as it did before.