Glossary

Embracing Passwordless Authentication

July 9, 2024

12 minutes

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Traditional authentication methods relying solely on usernames and passwords have grown more vulnerable. Managing numerous passwords not only leads to a poor user experience but also increases the risk of security breaches. This is where passwordless authentication steps in, providing a solution to confront both UX and security challenges.

What is Passwordless Authentication?

“Passwordless authentication” doesn’t define a new market or a new innovation. It simply refers to security processes that verify a person’s identity giving him access without requiring them to input a password. These methods solves the problems with passwords leveraging various alternatives such as biometrics, security tokens, SMS messages, or email links.

By removing passwords, these systems not only aim to enhance security but also simplify the user experience. As we’ll explore further in the article, it’s ideal to pair passwordless authentication with a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) solution to maximize security.

Passwordless Authentication Methods

There are several types and examples of passwordless authentication. They each offer its unique blend of secure access and user satisfaction.

  1. Biometric Authentication: Leveraging unique biological characteristics to deliver a highly secure and user-friendly method of identity verification. This can include fingerprints, voice or facial recognition, or even retina scanning. FIDO2 authenticators, which utilize biometric data or other physical characteristics, fall under this category and offer an advanced level of security and convenience.
  2. Hardware Token Authentication: This method involves the use of physical tokens, such as smart cards or USB keys. These tokens add an extra layer of security but require possession of a physical device. FIDO2 security keys, a type of hardware token, are an example of this approach, providing strong authentication without the need for passwords.
  3. SMS or Email-Based Authentication: This method involves sending one-time codes to registered email addresses or mobile devices. It verifies user identity through a temporary code sent via email or text message. However, this means the users must have internet or telephone network access.
  4. PIN Code Authentication: Users are authenticated by entering a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) instead of a password. This method provides a simple yet effective way to verify identity with only a 4 to 6 digit requirement.
  5. Magic Links: Users receive a unique URL via email or text message, granting access to the desired resource without the need for a password when clicked. However, this method requires internet or telephone network access.

The Myths Surrounding Passwordless Security

Myth 1: Passwordless Security is Less Secure

One common misconception is that passwordless security is less secure than traditional password-based authentication. However, this is not the case. By eliminating the need to rely on static passwords, it reduces the likelihood of typical vulnerabilities such as phishing, credential stuffing, and password reuse.

According to a Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 81% of hacking-related breaches involved stolen or weak passwords.

Myth 2: Passwordless Security is Difficult to Implement

Another myth is that passwordless security is complex and difficult to implement. While it may require some initial setup and integration, many passwordless solutions are designed to be user-friendly and easy to deploy. Modern passwordless authentication platforms often provide seamless integration with existing systems and offer a range of authentication factors to choose from.

Myth 3: Passwordless Security is Expensive

Some believe that passwordless security is an expensive solution, only accessible to large enterprises. However, there are various passwordless authentication solutions available at different price points, making it accessible to organizations of all sizes. Additionally, the long-term cost savings from reduced password management overhead and improved security can offset the initial investment.

Some believe that passwordless security is an expensive solution, only accessible to large enterprises. However, there are various passwordless authentication solutions available at different price points, making it accessible to organizations of all sizes. Additionally, the long-term cost savings from reduced password management overhead and improved security can offset the initial investment.

According to a report by Forrester, the average cost of a single password reset is $70. As for the total cost of password management, it can account for up to 30% of an organization’s IT service desk budget.

MFA vs Passwordless Authentication

MFA and Passwordless Authentication aren’t competing concepts; they complement each other. Combining multi-factor authentication (MFA) and passwordless authentication amplifies security benefits. It integrates additional verification layers without relying on vulnerable passwords. By merging MFA’s multi-layered approach with passwordless authentication’s straightforward and secure process, organizations can establish a robust authentication framework.

This framework provides heightened security while improving the user experience. MFA introduces multiple authentication factors beyond just passwords. Passwordless authentication eliminates the need for passwords altogether. Together, they create a formidable defense against unauthorized access.

The term “passwordless MFA” refers to this fusion of the two methods. It not only reduces risks associated with traditional password-based authentication but also aligns with contemporary security standards. This approach shields digital identities from evolving cyber threats more effectively.

The 3 Main Benefits of Passwordless Authentication

Switching to passwordless authentication brings several advantages for organizations and their users.

#1 Improves User Experience

With passwordless authentication, users don’t have to remember long and complex passwords. They can log in quickly and easily to access all their applications and services.

For your workforce, this translates into higher productivity, as they spend less time grappling with password management tasks like creating, resetting, or rotating credentials. Employees can focus on their core responsibilities without the frustrations and disruptions caused by password-related issues.

For your customers, a passwordless experience means higher satisfaction levels. The frictionless login process improves the overall user journey, leading to less churn and abandoned transactions. By eliminating password hurdles, you can drive higher conversion rates and foster stronger customer loyalty.

#2 Strengthens Security Measures

By getting rid of passwords, it reduces the risk of password theft and other cyberattacks like phishing and brute force attacks. When people use passwords, they often choose weak ones or reuse the same password across multiple accounts. This makes it easy for hackers to break in and steal information.

Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that 81% of confirmed breaches were due to weak, reused, or stolen passwords.

#3 Simplifies IT Operations

For IT teams, passwords are a constant headache. Passwordless authentication saves time and effort because IT no longer has to manage password policies, resets, and other password-related tasks. This means fewer helpdesk calls for password issues, freeing up IT staff to focus on more important tasks and keeping systems running smoothly.

A study by Forrester estimated that large organizations spend over $1 million annually on password-related support costs. You can imagine the savings removing passwords

Challenges of Passwordless Authentication – In Full Adoption

There is no disadvantages of passwordless authentication, but in spite of its promising benefits, the widespread adoption of passwordless technology can face challenges.

Migrating Legacy Systems and Infrastructure

Shifting from password-based systems to passwordless authentication can be technically complex and expensive for organizations, especially those with older, intricate systems and applications. Many enterprises have decades-old legacy applications built around passwords, making it difficult to retrofit them with passwordless capabilities.

Driving User Adoption and Behavior Change

Many users are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with passwordless methods like biometrics or security keys. Encouraging widespread user adoption and adjustment to new authentication methods is a major hurdle. Users have become accustomed to the familiarity of passwords, and introducing new methods can lead to resistance and frustration. Besides, addressing concerns around privacy, security, and usability is crucial for gaining user trust and acceptance.

Ensuring Scalability and Interoperability

Ensuring passwordless solutions can scale across an organization’s diverse systems, devices, and use cases, while maintaining interoperability, presents technical obstacles. Different hardware and software may require a “polyglot approach” with multiple authentication methods.

For example, some devices may have built-in fingerprint scanners or facial recognition capabilities, while others may lack such biometric sensors. Similarly, certain operating systems or applications may natively support specific authentication standards like FIDO2 or WebAuthn, while others may require additional integration or customization.

How to Choose a Good Passwordless Authentication Solution?

Selecting an effective passwordless solution should include considerations of:

  • User experience: Ensure the method is easy for users to understand and interact with.
  • Security: Evaluate the strength of the authentication method against potential threats relevant to your organization.
  • Scalability: Ensure the solution can grow with your user base and technological developments.
  • Compatibility: Check that the solution integrates smoothly with your existing security systems.

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What’s the Future of Passwordless Authentication Look Like?

The trajectory for passwordless authentication points towards widespread adoption, fueled by its compelling security and user experience benefits. Major industry analysts and research firms predict significant growth in passwordless deployments in the coming years:

  • Gartner forecasts that by 2025, more than 50% of the workforce and over 20% of customer authentication transactions will be passwordless.
  • Gartner also forecasted that more than 25% of multifactor authentication transactions using a token will be based on FIDO authentication protocols by 2025.

While passwordless methods, especially those based on FIDO2 standards, are increasingly available, universal adoption across enterprises and consumer services is still a goal rather than a present reality. Successful implementation requires collaboration between IT leaders, security teams, and business stakeholders to:

  1. Define clear objectives for passwordless adoption aligned with security and user experience priorities.
  2. Evaluate and prioritize available passwordless methods and authentication flows based on use cases and user needs.
  3. Develop strategies to minimize deployment timelines and prepare for organization-wide rollouts.

FIDO2: The Framework Powering Passwordless

One of the most notable advancements in passwordless authentication is the emergence of the FIDO2 (Fast Identity Online 2) standard. FIDO2 is an authentication standard developed by the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance, aimed at providing simpler and more secure authentication methods.

FIDO2 utilizes public key cryptography to authenticate users, eliminating the need for passwords. This approach offers higher security by thwarting common attacks like phishing. It also enhances user convenience with seamless authentication experiences.

FIDO2 authenticators come in various forms, including hardware security keys and biometric sensors. They provide secure and user-friendly authentication options, promoting interoperability across different platforms and devices. As organizations prioritize security and user experience, the adoption of FIDO2 authentication is expected to rise, driving further innovation in passwordless authentication.