Passwordless authentication is a method of confirming a user’s identity without requiring them to provide a password. Instead of using passwords, passwordless uses more secure alternatives such as ownership factors (one-time passwords [OTP], registered devices), or biometrics (fingerprint, retina scans).
It’s no secret that passwords can be a genuine pain in the neck, both for those who use them and those who manage them. We’ve generated hundreds of passwords over time; it’s simple to lose track of them, and they’re readily exploited. Fortunately, for many enterprises, passwordless authentication is becoming a reality.
Let’s explore in more details at passwordless authentication in the next section.
What is Passwordless Authentication?
Passwordless authentication (also termed as “contemporary authentication” by some) refers to a set of identity verification methods that do not rely on passwords. “Passwordless” or “modern” authentication methods include biometrics, security keys, and specialized mobile applications.
Passwordless provides a seamless login experience for users while decreasing the administrative burden and overall security risks.
Types of Passwordless Authentication
1. Biometrics – Physical characteristics such as fingerprints and retina scans, as well as behavioural characteristics such as typing and touch screen dynamics, are utilised to identify a person.
Even while modern AI has made it possible for hackers to imitate certain physical qualities, behavioural attributes are still incredibly difficult to imitate.
2. Possession factors – Authentication through something a user possesses or carries. A hardware token, for example, or a code created by a smartphone authenticator app, or OTPs received through SMS.
3. Magic links – When the user inputs their email address, the system automatically sends them an email. The email includes a link that, when clicked, provides the user access.
How does Passwordless Authentication work?
Passwordless authentication, in theory, requires less user interaction throughout the login process than standard methods of authentication. It employs public-key cryptography to verify the user’s identity using a pair of cryptographic keys: a secret private key and a public key that isn’t.
Passwordless authentication works by replacing passwords with more secure authentication mechanisms. In password-based authentication, a user-supplied password is compared to what is stored in the database.
Instead of passwords, a user’s unique traits are compared. For example, a system might take a picture of a user’s face, extract numerical data from it, and then compare it to verified data in a database.
Comparisons may take place differently in other passwordless systems. For example, in this case, a system may send a one-time passcode to a user’s mobile phone through SMS. It is received by the user and entered into the login box. The system then matches the passcode entered by the user to the one it previously sent.
Passwordless login is a big challenge, especially when dealing with a huge number of populations, a large number of apps, hybrid infrastructures, and complex login procedures.
As technology advances and user adoption rises, achieving a completely password-free environment is a journey that must be taken in stages.
Although complete password elimination is still a long way off, installing (Multi-Factor Authentication) MFA, establishing device trust, using (single-sign-on) SSO, and designing adaptive access controls can all help to reduce dependency on passwords.
Is Passwordless Authentication really safe?
Whether or not passwordless authentication is secure is a matter of personal preference. Passwordless authentication is secure if safe means were harder to crack and less vulnerable to the most major cyberattacks.
If by safe you mean resistant to hacking, then no, it isn’t. There isn’t a single authentication scheme that can’t be hacked. Even if there isn’t an obvious way to hack it, it doesn’t guarantee the most sophisticated hackers won’t be able to get past its safeguards.
Passwordless techniques, on the other hand, are fundamentally safer than passwords. For example, a malicious attacker might employ a dictionary attack, which is commonly regarded as the most basic hacking approach, to break into a password-based system (keep trying different passwords until you get a match).
A dictionary attack can be carried out by even the most inexperienced hackers. Invading a passwordless system, on the other hand, required a substantially greater level of hacking skill and sophistication. For example, only the most advanced AI systems can allow a hacker to fabricate a fingerprint.
MFA vs Passwordless Authentication
Passwordless authentication simply substitutes passwords with a more acceptable authentication mechanism. MFA (multi-factor authentication), on the other hand, verifies a user’s identity using multiple authentication factors.
For example, an MFA system may use fingerprint scanning as the primary authentication factor and SMS OTPs as the secondary.
People frequently mix up passwordless and MFA or use the terms interchangeably. Because many password-based login systems have begun to use a passwordless method as a secondary authentication factor.
Is the world ready for passwordless authentication?
Passwords are still used around the world, the main reason is that a password-based login system is the simplest and most cost-effective to set up. Passwordless, on the other hand, is expected to take over in the near future.
More cyberattacks have occurred in the last few years than ever before. Many businesses are becoming concerned about this, as biometrics and adaptive authentication become more widely used.
Furthermore, many businesses have learned that passwords are the leading cause of data leaks. When compared to the fines and losses suffered as a result of a data breach, the expense of deploying passwordless is low.
Last but not least, passwords are a source of frustration for users. It’s difficult to remember and difficult to reset. Passwordless approaches, such as biometrics, on the other hand, are more convenient and user-friendly.