The digital counterpart of your physical reality is growing phenomenally. While positive outcomes are certainly there, with the growth of the internet, the risks associated with it are also growing rapidly. When discussing cybersecurity risk management, the first thing that comes to mind is passwords. But that’s not enough when threats like scams, phishing, and more are in the picture.
So, what’s the solution, then?
In a digital era where cyber threats are increasing daily, we must go beyond passwords to protect our data and keep our privacy intact.
Passwordless authentication: what is it?
The 20th century was all about passwords, but now it goes beyond that. In simpler words, passwordless authentication implies methods of authenticating one’s identity online without using passwords. Passwordless authentication involves more secure alternatives to verifying the identity of a user.
With increasingly increasing passwords getting breached, it is no secret that they are not an ideal solution to safeguarding data. Not only are they hard to remember at times, but passwords are also what cybercriminals go after most.
Different types of passwordless authentication
Now that we have a fair idea of what it means to authenticate without passwords, let’s look at the many types of passwordless authentication.
Biometrics: Biometric factors like retina scans and fingerprints can identify a person uniquely. Known as the inherence factors, this type of method grants a user access based on biological characteristics. Even with the rise of AI, imitating these methods is highly difficult and thus extremely safe when it comes to securing an account.
Some of the common biometric factors are:
- Facial recognition
- Fingerprint scan
- Retinal scan
How biometrics work:
Upon registering an account on a new app, the user will need to present a form of biometric ID that will act as a private key to get access in the future.
In order to re-access the particular application, the user needs to present the ID that they signed up with earlier.
Since biometric IDs are authorised biometric features, they are comparatively safer than other methods.
Possession factors: Another method involves possession or ownership factors that, as their name suggests, are used to grant access through certain devices that are in possession. For example, devices like mobile phones are mostly used in such authentication processes. Upon registering for a new app, the user will get one-time passcodes through SMS or push notification from the authenticator app.
Only upon responding to those notifications can a user get access to the particular platform. Since hackers need the specific possession factor to react to the notification, cyberattacks get extremely difficult.
Some of the possession factors include:
- Authenticator app
- Smart card
- Mobile device
- Hardware token
How Possession Factors Work:
The user will need to verify their possession factor when registering a new application. This can be a mobile device number or a QR code.
After that, the app generates a private key that is only associated with the possession facto.
In the event of an attempt, the app will send an OTP as a PIN, passcode, or push notification.
The user will only get access to the application after they respond to the notification on that specific device.
Magic links mainly involve email addresses to log into a particular account. Upon clicking the magic link, the app directly grants the user access. Popular websites/apps that use magic links are Slack and Medium, to name a few.
How magic links work:
When registering for the first time on an application, the app prompts the user to share their email address to create a customised magic link.
Upon clicking on the link that the user receives in their email address, the user gets authenticated by matching the token.
Advantages of passwordless authentication methods
We have gone through the many methods that can be used instead of passwords to access and re-access a new account. But why do companies prefer this over the former method? Let’s look at the reasons one by one.
- Stronger cybersecurity
With the advancement of technology, hackers have also advanced. In this scenario, passwords have stopped being a strong barrier for any online account. For instance, employees often use similar or the same passwords for different applications. With passwords, the chances of phishing, malware attacks, and lists on the dark web get higher. This means, with one password, hackers can even get access to multiple accounts.
On the other hand, passwordless authentication eliminates the use of passwords altogether. This instantly removes the risks associated with major cyberattacks like credential stuffing, account takeovers, password theft/brute force attacks, and phishing.
Your organisation’s safety profile is significantly improved by implementing passwordless authentication techniques on its website, workplace devices, and applications.
- Increased Output
It becomes impossible to continue creating and remembering hundreds of passwords. Additionally, the procedure for changing a password when an employee forgets it is frequently difficult. Therefore, it should come as no surprise if staff members use the simplest password they can remember, keep the same password across all platforms, or add a distinctive character or a number when required to do so once a month.
Users no longer need to generate passwords or memorise them thanks to passwordless authentication. To authenticate instead, they can use their phone, email, or face.
Employees can spend the time they would have otherwise spent pondering or changing passwords on other, more important tasks if they have a quick, straightforward login experience. Passwordless authentication can enhance the client experience as well.
Customers are frequently asked to log into your website if they already have an account. Passwordless authentication can help reduce the likelihood of abandoned shopping carts and platform hacks.
- Long-Term Costs Are Lower
Think for a moment about the amount of money your business spends on password storage and administration. Include the time IT devotes to password resets and addressing the frequently altering legal requirements for password storage.
Scalability-wise, passwordless authentication may be superior to conventional password-based authentication. This is so that corporations won’t have to maintain and manage login information for users. This authentication offers a more simplified authentication process, which can help organisations control expenses as they expand and their user base grows.
This authentication can drastically cut down on the volume of support tickets, including those for resetting passwords and troubleshooting, thereby lessening the workload on support staff and associated operational costs.
Passwords are a common reason for user retention and drop-offs. Implementing passwordless authentication increases the likelihood that users will return to an application because they are not burdened with remembering their passwords.
By using passwordless authentication, one may avoid all of these costs. No more remembering passwords, resetting lost ones, or worrying about new compliance regulations.
- Increased User Satisfaction
User experience matters when creating any program that would satisfy users’ needs. Passwordless authentication improves the user experience of the entire application, from opening to navigating to securely closing it.
Compared to conventional password-based authentication, passwordless authentication is easier to set up. This approach streamlines user onboarding in contrast to the time-consuming password setup process that frequently irritates customers.
A user experience that is convenient and welcoming results in a substantially higher conversion rate for the application. Users who employ passwordless authentication are far less inclined to become irritated by the difficulties they frequently encounter while signing up for password-based applications.
Organizations decrease the risk of users leaving their intended action due to irritation with the authentication procedure by eliminating the multi-step process of establishing difficult passwords and then re-entering them upon each login.
Best Practices of Passwordless Authentication
While there is no denying that passwordless authentication methods are superior to the good-old passwords, in the end, it all comes down to best practises.
Organisations need to be prepared for the significant attempt to carry out passwordless authentication technology. Without adequate planning, there are increased chances of making poor adoption decisions, which invite vulnerabilities rather than secure them.
Let’s start with possession factors. The best practises include:
- Using an accredited authenticator app
- Accepting the latest OTP code
- Minimising failed attempts and limiting the time of a code being valid
- Users must not share their facial data or fingerprints, which is quite an obvious point.
- ALways having a backup to deal with any malfunctions while authenticating
- Stick to biometrics that are difficult for hackers to circumvent. These might include palm vein scanning and gait recognition, to name a few.
Last but not least, let’s take a look at the safety measures we need to take when dealing with magic links.
- Making sure that the email delivery service is able to send magic links quickly. This is important because you don’t want the links to end up in the spam folder and delay the email.
- Offering links that are for one-time use and expire after a certain period.
- Enforcing MFA or multi-factor authentication that ensures the user’s identity
- Preventing message threading by working with the email provider.
It is no secret that the upside of passwordless authentication weighs more than the challenges that come with it. With society moving forward in technological advancements, it has now become essential to implement multi-factor authentication and go for a passwordless approach.
Businesses that are employing cutting-edge authentication processes tend to step ahead of their competitors not just by providing robust security but also a seamless user experience.