What Makes Passwordless Authentication the Future of Cybersecurity

Passwords can easily be hacked or stolen. That’s why many companies and organizations are turning to passwordless authentication as a more secure and reliable alternative.

Dusan Vasic Image
Updated:

October 24,2022

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Passwords are no longer as secure as they used to be. In fact, passwords have become the weakest link in cybersecurity. This is why passwordless authentication will likely be the future of cybersecurity. In this article, we will discuss this authentication mechanism and how it can benefit your business. So, keep reading to find out more!

Factors That Make Password Authentication Risky  

Today’s internet users are required to memorize countless passwords, and to make things easier, they often resort to using the same login credentials for a number of accounts. In fact, recent statistics suggest that a single password is used to access five accounts on average. As a result, the accounts are more susceptible to security breaches.

There are several methods that hackers frequently use to gain access to personal data: 

  • Brute force attack - Involves using specialized software programs to systematically guess different password combinations until the right one is found. This method is rather effective against weak passwords.
  • Credential stuffing - Using stolen credentials to open different accounts, relying on the fact that users frequently opt for the same login and password for multiple accounts.
  • Phishing attack - A scam that uses fake email and text messages to trick the user into giving the hackers their credentials. The hackers deceive the users so they enter their passwords on fake login pages. Going passwordless can save you a lot of headaches caused by phishing assaults that are becoming more common as hackers are increasingly targeting users of large money transfer services like PayPal.
  • Keylogging - This method involves installing malware that records the users’ keystrokes as they enter their password, allowing the hacker to capture and reuse it later on.

Hackers often deploy diverse methods in tandem, depending on the situation and the data they wish to obtain. They rely heavily on the fact that users reuse passwords frequently, which is one of the main points of risk when passwords are concerned. This is just another reason alternative ways of authentication prove quite useful.

What Is Passwordless Authentication?

Alternative ways of authentication that don’t require a password are known collectively as passwordless authentication. These methods of authentication are often more secure and easier to use than traditional passwords. 

So, how does passwordless authentication work? The principle is similar to that of relying on passwords, the only difference being that you are required to use other methods to verify your identity than a password. This can mean you need to have something like a proximity badge or a physical token to confirm your identity. In other cases, a biometrical parameter like your fingerprint or a retina scan is needed.

A major advantage is that, in contrast to passwords, which are static, the dynamic features used in this authentication protocol make it more difficult for hackers to crack.

Types of Passwordless Authentication and How They Work

Traditional username and password authentication means users are asked to enter something they already know (a password) to prove their identity. Passwordless authentication solutions, on the other hand, require the user to establish that they have something (a possession factor) or that they are something (an inherence factor), which are both more difficult to breach.

Below are some of the most commonly used methods: 

  • One-time password (OTP): With this type of passwordless authentication, the user receives a one-time code via SMS or email, where they have a limited time to input the code and obtain access to the requested account or document.
  • Biometrics: This type of authentication uses physical characteristics that are unique to the individual, such as a fingerprint or iris scan. It is more secure than passwords because it uses physical or behavioral characteristics to verify the user’s identity. 
  • Device pairing: With this passwordless authentication method, two devices are paired together using Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (NFC). With the help of one device, the user can authenticate their identity on the other device. For example, you could use your smartphone to unlock your laptop simply by holding it next to the keyboard.
  • Key-based authentication: With key-based authentication, users are given a public key and private key pair that can be used to securely authenticate with various services.
  • Push Notifications: The authenticator software sends the users a push notice on their mobile device, which they then use in the authentication process.
  • Magic Links: Secure access is made possible by clicking on a link sent to them through email.

Several passwordless authentication methods may be used in conjunction with each other, depending on the user’s needs. For example, some businesses may use a combination of biometric authentication and one-time codes sent via text message to verify someone's identity.

Also, you should keep in mind that just like passwords, some passwordless methods of authentication are harder to crack than others. For example, behavioral biometrics are unique to each individual and include typing patterns, mouse movements, and how a person walks or talks. This type of authentication is much more secure than traditional methods because it is quite difficult to replicate someone's behavior.

What Are the Benefits of Passwordless Authentication?

Apart from being more secure than traditional passwords, passwordless authentication offers additional benefits: 

  • Reduced costs: Password resets can cost a company as much as $70 per password received, which is why an increasing number of companies are opting for passwordless authentication technology in their access management.
  • Improved sales: If a potential client can't complete a transaction because they can't recall their password, they might just give up on the purchase. Using passwordless authentication can help you retain customers and even attract new business because of the improved user experience that this method provides. 
  • Greater productivity: Being locked out of your account is not just inconvenient. It means you can’t use the account you need to do business. When this problem is multiplied by the number of workers at a single organization, the costs add up all too quickly.

How to Implement Passwordless Authentication

Implementing a new method of authentication into your existing system can be a daunting task. As such, it’s advisable to hire a third-party company to help you move from password-based authentication to passwordless authentication smoothly. 

These are a couple of things that you need to decide on when looking to switch:  

  • Authentication factors: You need to choose your preferred authentication factors. When choosing an authentication method, you should think about the overall cost and user experience as well.
  • The number of factors: More factors equals a more secure network. However, you don’t want to burden your users with too much work, so a standard two-factor authentication protocol is going to be a good place to start.
  • User provisioning: Another important aspect of implementing passwordless authentication, user provisioning typically involves creating user profiles and setting up access permissions for various services. This is something that you need to think through before launching your project online.

Bottom Line

Passwordless solutions are becoming more widespread as companies look for ways to make their networks more secure and the login process more efficient. With the number of data breaches increasing, it's no wonder that people are seeking alternatives to passwords. While passwordless authentication may not be perfect, it is a step in the right direction. Are you ready to take this step?

FAQ
Is passwordless better than MFA?

Both passwordless and MFA authentication rely on a combination of methods to capture and verify user data. The reason people confuse multi-factor authentication with passwordless authentication is that multi-factor authentication often incorporates the passwordless type of authentication.

Therefore, multi-factor authentication that uses a passwordless method is likely to be the best option of all.

Can passwordless authentication be hacked?

Yes, passwordless authentication can be hacked. However, the risks are much lower than with traditional passwords. Unlike passwords, which are typically static and easy to guess, passwordless credentials are dynamic and can't be reused. This makes it much more difficult for attackers to obtain and use them. Additionally, passwordless login systems typically employ two-factor or multi-factor authentication.

Is passwordless authentication good?

In the past few years, a growing number of companies have embraced passwordless authentication. This eliminates the need to remember multiple passwords, and it's much harder for hackers to guess or steal a user's credentials if they're not using a password. Finally, it reduces the risk of phishing scams, which are becoming alarmingly common.

Why is passwordless authentication more secure?

Passwordless authentication refers to using something you have (like a smartphone) or something you are (like your fingerprint) instead of something you know (like a password). Consequently, it’s much more difficult for hackers to gain access to your account since they would need to have your physical device in order to log in.

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