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Passwordless Authentication: How It Works and Its Benefits
Updated · Jul 04, 2023
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Logging in to an app usually requires a password. With the increasing number of applications and websites you subscribe to, it can be difficult to memorize all your passwords.
Using the same password across multiple services also puts you at a higher risk of cyberattacks.
These attacks often result in data breaches which can be costly. Companies spent up to $3.80 million in 2022 dealing with these breaches.
Due to password expiration mechanisms, you'll need many password ideas to change it frequently. Failing to remember your password will result in you getting denied services, and resetting it can be time-consuming.
A better way around passwords is to remove them. This is where passwordless authentication comes in.
In this article, discover what passwordless authentication is and how it works.
What Is Passwordless Authentication?
Passwordless authentication is an approach where you can sign into a service without a password.
Passwords can be leaked or reverse-engineered. However, if there's no password stored, there's no password for hackers to steal.
Usually, there are three classified factors of authentication:
- Knowledge factor: You store this in your memory and retrieve it when needed, like passwords, passphrases, and security questions.
- Possession factor: You can carry this information with you, like a mobile phone, access card, key fob, or digital, like an email address.
- Inherence factors are characteristics inherent to you confirming your identity. These often take the form of biometrics: fingerprints, face scans, voice recognition, and more.
Authentication methods like Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) use any of the three factors.
Unlike 2FA and MFA, passwordless authentication does not use any password or the knowledge factor to verify and authorize a user’s access attempt to log in.
How Does Passwordless Authentication Work?
Passwordless authentication is a widely-used method of cybersecurity measure. It verifies your identity with a possessive or biometric factor.
Cybersecurity has become an essential part of people’s everyday lives. Statistics show that global cyberattacks increased by 38% in 2022, prompting the cybersecurity industry to develop better plans.
Passwordless authentication is one of the recent innovations in cybersecurity.
There are many types of password authentication, and the one below is a good example; it’s called a magic link.
A magic link allows you to log in to an account by clicking a link emailed to you, creating a smooth login experience.
With some sites, you can sign up with email, meaning you only need to enter your email address and nothing else to create an account.
Then a prompt will appear: "Click the link we sent to your email address to sign in.”
There are many other types of passwordless authentication aside from magic links.
Types of Passwordless Authentication
Many methods can be used to verify yourself without a knowledge-based password.
The passwordless authentications listed below use inherence (something you have) and possession factors (something you are):
Magic links are single-use links that a website or app sends you to click to log in without needing a password.
You should enter your email address or mobile phone number to receive the magic link. Then, the app generates a link with an embedded token and sends it to your email or phone number.
There is only a fixed period to use the magic link before it expires. So you open the email, click the link, and are finally logged in or granted access to the app or service.
The process is alike when you click "Forgot password" with most apps.
OTP or One-Time Passwords work the same way as magic links. But instead of simply clicking a link, this requires you to input a dynamically generated set of numbers sent to you via email or your mobile device via text.
You must enter the OTP on the app or page once you have received it, as it is time sensitive most of the time. The OTP is not static, and it changes every time you attempt to log in.
OTPs and Magic links are an example of semi-passwordless authentication, as the codes sent to you are technically passwords that last a short time.
Biometrics are part of the inherence factors, which are metrics intrinsically owned by you. It includes the following:
- Hand geometry
- Facial recognition
- Earlobe geometry
- Retina scans
- Iris scans
- Voice recognition
This method makes it impossible for someone besides you to guess or replicate, making it much harder for hackers to access your sensitive user data.
Passwordless authentication via biometrics is increasingly popular due to its convenience. Among 1000 American consumers surveyed, 70 percent believe biometrics are easier than PINs or passwords.
Consumers have switched from passwords to biometrics. The same survey showed 86 percent of consumers said they are interested in using biometrics to make payments or to verify their identities.
This method of passwordless authentication works by sending a push notification directly to a dedicated authenticator app on your device, alerting you that an authentication attempt is taking place.
You’ll receive an access request notification on your smartphone to verify your identity, which you can approve or decline.
Some free authentication apps are Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, Apple Passkeys, Duo Mobile, and Twilio Authy.
Hardware-based authentication works similarly to a regular key. It is a physical key that looks like a USB thumb drive.
Imagine the key as a hotel room key. Upon check-in, the front desk personnel codes the key to your room. When you insert the key into your room, the data on the key opens the locking mechanism and lets you in.
You insert it into your laptop’s USB port to work. Inside it is a small chip with security protocols and codes that enables you to connect with servers, websites, and apps and will verify your identity.
Hardware authenticators are proven to be secure and easily integrated into the users’ ecosystem.
Benefits of Passwordless Authentication
Cyberattacks such as brute force algorithms, keyloggers, phishing, and credential stuffing work on the premise that the hacker has on their hands your login credentials.
With the increased security threats around authentication, it's time to get that next-level data protection and security with passwordless authentication.
Your cybersecurity may need more robust systems. Here's why you need a passwordless authentication:
- Prevention of password-based attacks. Brute force attacks, credential stuffing, and account takeovers are cyberattacks that can happen with a vulnerable password. Eliminating passwords reduces the risk of password-related security incidents.
- Seamless login experience. Passwordless authentication eliminates frustration over forgotten passwords as well. Better user experience may lead to greater productivity in businesses.
- Cost-effective. Implementing a passwordless authentication might require some upfront investment, but it pays off in the long run. It provides better scalability and offers low to zero-cost cyberattacks.
- Supported by regulatory bodies. Passwordless authentication is NIST 800-63 compliant. NIST 800-63 is an effort by the Federal Government to reduce cyberattacks by setting standards for the use of passwords.
- Reduced administrative burden. Passwordless authentication simplifies IT operations as they will not have to issue, secure, rotate, reset, and manage passwords.
Passwordless authentication has a lot of benefits that can help you have a more seamless experience.
It is almost effortless for a hacker to crack your password nowadays. It can be hard to remember and easy to misplace.
Passwordless authentications are a great alternative. It is generally more secure and user-friendly than password-based options.
Websites and apps use passwordless authentications as they are trying to eliminate passwords so nothing can be leaked. Without passwords, threat actors have no credentials to target, and you can have a smoother user experience.
What are the risks of passwordless authentication?
Passwordless authentication may be more advantageous than traditional password-based authentication, but it is not immune to hacking. OTPs have the chance to be intercepted, hardware tokens can be lost, stolen, or damaged, and biometric authentication can be spoofed.
What are the six common password authentication methods?
The six most common authentication methods are Password-based authentication, Two-factor/multi-factor authentication, Biometric authentication, Token-based authentication, Single sign-on, and Certificate-based authentication.
Does Google have passwordless authentication?
Yes. In 2022, Google rolled out "passkeys," a passwordless authentication option to Chrome and Android. Passkeys enable users to sign into its services without needing a password.
Does Apple have passwordless?
Apple products like iPhones and the iPad use biometric authentication for facial recognition and fingerprint scanning. Apple also launched a nifty feature called "passkeys," which allows you to authenticate with some apps and services using the two mentioned biometrics.
Which authentication is the least secure?
The Password Authentication Protocol or PAP is an easy-to-implement and simple password-based protocol to authenticate a user on the network. Its nature makes it a less secure authentication.
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