Is Passwordless Authentication the Future?

passwordless authentication biometric


Passwordless authentication is widely regarded as the future of authentication. Passwords actually do more harm than good. Yes, you heard it right. Research says that an average internet user has more than 90 online accounts. Think about all the online accounts you have created for various social media, shopping, banking, educational, professional, and entertainment sites. Are you absolutely sure they are all secure?

Do you have a website for selling your products or services? Does it require users to create accounts with passwords? If you do, you’re practically driving away your customers. Studies say that 75% of users quit after a password reset, and 30% of online customers abandon their shopping carts if compelled to register with a password. 

We are conditioned to believe that passwords serve an essential security function but nothing could be farther than the truth. Let’s face it, we are lazy and end up reusing an extremely simple password or creating a weak password. Most of us are aware of the risk of weak passwords but prefer convenience over security.

Both businesses and consumers need login safety. Consumers should be able to trust the login of their apps and websites as it contains sensitive, personal data. For businesses, keeping that information safe is of paramount importance to maintain customer trust.

Thanks to technology, there exists a solution to replace passwords with highly secure, lightning-fast encryption techniques with the ability to properly authenticate their usersIt’s called passwordless Authentication.

What is Passwordless Authentication?

Passwordless authentication uses alternative data to confirm the identity of users instead of relying on elaborate passwords. Passwordless login systems involve tools that websites can implement so that their users can log in without creating and entering a password.

Passwordless login systems are transforming the internet for the better. It is safer than a traditional username + password login method. Passwordless authentication fundamentally eliminates the problem of using an unsafe password. This eliminates one of the biggest user errors at the time of login. Passwordless login is the future.

How does it work?

  • It relies on the principle of a digital certificate that involves a cryptographic key pair with a public key (lock) and a private key (key).
  • User creates a secure account using tools (app, website) to generate a public-private key pair.
  • The public key is provided to the server – website, application, a browser where the user wants to create an account.
  • The private key on the other hand is stored on the user’s local device such as a fingerprint, PIN, or voice recognition which will be tied to an authentication factor.

Below are the 3 factors to verify a user’s identity (private key)

  • Knowledge factors: A knowledge factor is something that only the user knows such that unintended users are denied access when they don’t have the right credentials. It’s the least secure of the three.
  • Possession factors: A possession factor allows users to verify their identities based on something they possess— it could be a physical item like a key card or digital asset like an email account, thus, verifying the user’s identity in the process.
  • Inheritance factors: An inheritance factor is a physical characteristic of a user that is unique to every individual. Ex: Fingerprint or Iris

Passwordless login works by implementing one or more factors above to verify a user’s identity without the interference of passwords.

Methods for Passwordless Authentication

Passwordless login combines identifiers such as username, email address, phone number, and secure proof of identity. These are categorized as:

Ownership – having an object that can verify your identity
Inherence – biometrical data that can verify your identity

  • Magic link through email
    Magic link through email is an email authenticated method where a URL with a limited usage time frame is sent to your inbox. It is a simple method of authentication. One of the prime examples of the magic link method is the restoration of passwords.
  • Code through email
    Code through email is a different spin of magic link. Many times magic links could be used as phishing traps from the websites you have registered. Here, a random sequence of numbers and letters are sent to your mail that can be used to confirm your identity without clicking on URL links in your email.
passwordless authentication solves forgotten password issues
  • Code through SMS
    In this method the user will get an SMS message with a code that has to be entered for verification purposes. The efficiency of this method depends on the mobile carrier.
  • Authenticator apps
    Authenticator apps generate a sequence of digits in your smartphone app, these digits will be used for verification to log in to a different system/server. This method is generally used alongside traditional passwords as an additional barrier but is evolving and Microsoft Authenticator already has started offering passwordless login with use of a fingerprint, face recognition, or a PIN.
  • Multi-factor authentication
    Multi-factor authentication reinforces password-based security with additional questions, such as PIN, security questions, or any other piece of information. This method relies on information that is pre-defined by the user.
  • Hardware token authentication
    A hardware token is an individual device built for authentication purposes. It consists of ever-changing sequences of digits that expire after a specific timeframe. It has a unique identifier that helps to track unusual user behavior and provides more security than a Smartphone as it is less susceptible to malware.
  • Biometrics
    Biometrics is a method of verifying users’ identities using their biological properties. Some of the most widely used biometric authentication methods are fingerprint detection, face detection, iris detection, and voice recognition.

Benefits of using going passwordless

Many organizations are adopting passwordless authentication. According to Gartner by 2022, 60% of large enterprises and 90% of midsize enterprises will implement passwordless methods.

  • Seamless user experience
    The need to memorize long complicated passwords will be eliminated by Passwordless authentication creating a seamless user experience.
  • Improved security
    Reusing the same credentials everywhere creates a massive trap hole for your cybersecurity. Passwordless authentication eliminates the risk of such issues.
  • Passwordless authentication brings freedom and security
    As a multi-factor authentication method, passwordless authentication will continue to evolve. Businesses are slowly moving towards MFA passwordless authentication as they’re more secure.
  • Effective protection against phishing and password lists
    Phishing involves tricking the victim into giving away sensitive information including username and password. Alternatively, the attacker may use password lists that are for sale at a low cost from previously compromised services and misuse it. With passwordless authentication, all of these can be avoided.
  • More user-friendly MFA solution
    The best practice that is implemented in passwordless authentication is multifactor authentication (MFA). MFA has 3 factors – what the user knows, has, and is. This is introduced to create a secure authentication protocol that no longer relies solely on what the user knows (the password) but something the user has, such as a mobile phone. Many times a biometric factor such as a fingerprint, face, or eye is added to achieve stronger security.
  • Increase conversion rates on forms
    Secure authentication without the intervention of complex passwords creates a user-friendly experience. A smoother passwordless login system results in increased conversions.
  • Frictionless signup process
    Thanks to Passwordless authentication, one-click is all it takes to be authenticated with all the security standards. Thus, creating an optimal user experience for the users which is easy, fast, simple, and secure.
  • Reinforced Security
    Passwords are stored in password databases. By eliminating passwords altogether, we are also eliminating the chances of theft or security breaches.
  • Reduced costs and maintenance
    An important aspect of having password-dependent systems is managing and restoring the forgotten passwords. According to research, Organizations spend up to 1 million dollars on password management. If organizations want to encourage their users to make repeat transactions they should eliminate the interference of passwords. Users are less likely to purchase again if they can’t remember their password or if they are forced to create an account. Passwordless login gives users the best of both worlds: users’ payment information is saved securely for future purpose, and they don’t have to enter a long complicated password which encourages repeat transactions.

Is Passwordless Authentication safe?

Just like any other system Passwordless login systems have their own set of risks and challenges.

  • A Smartphone authenticator or hardware token has the login details recorded in it. If the device gets stolen or gets broken you could be locked out of your services for a while.
  • When it comes to biometric data, it should be of the highest quality so that the system wouldn’t accept photocopies instead of real faces in identity theft cases. Some users might be privacy-cautious and will be hesitant to share such sensitive data.

When it comes to cybersecurity, it is as strong as its weakest link. Passwordless authentication is becoming an increasingly relevant option for login. It is more convenient for users using multiple accounts connected to multiple devices. Although passwordless logins seem secure it comes with its own set of challenges which can be resolved by adding multiple layers of authentication. Additionally maintaining good cyber hygiene keeps you safe from online threats. Before making a decision, it’s important to consider both the pros and cons to find the right solution for your website.

Till we still have to live with password, we strongly recommend to follow our recommendations of Best Practices for Password Management.

About Chaithra M.J

A Software engineer, a Cybersecurity blogger and enthusiast, currently pursuing writing as an independent writer. Along with writing, Tech, Philosophy, Self-help, Chess and movies are her interests.

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