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A hardware authenticator is a type of device that is used to verify the identity of an individual on a particular system. It is implemented in multifactor or two-factor authentication processes, whereby a user must have a valid hardware authenticator to be granted access to a system or network. A hardware authenticator is also known as an authentication token.
A hardware authenticator consists of any hardware device that acts a security token or identity verifier, including a USB stick, smart card or embedded circuit within an external device. In a typical scenario, an individual plugs a hardware authenticator into a system which first validates the hardware authenticator and then requests another identity or password.
For example, bank ATM machines use hardware authenticators. A user must possess a valid ATM card to withdraw cash or other ATM machine services and is not provided access to the machine without this card, even if the user knows the correct user ID or password.