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Why Use Passwordless Authentication?

Oct 25, 2020
3 min.
Is it time to lay the password to rest? How can we guarantee top notch security in a passwordless digital world?
Eva Strübin

Nowadays, most people using computers and mobile devices to log on to the Internet and access countless apps and services understand the importance of a secure password. However, understanding doesn’t necessarily translate to implementing. Every time we use a new online service or software, purchase items in online shops, or perform online transactions, we have to create a personal account. With a password. One that is ideally a mix of lowercase and capital letters, symbols, numbers. One that is unique to the account we’re creating.

When done right, this kind of password authentication offers adequate security. However, customers don’t just want security. They also want comfort. And having to recall myriad passwords for an infinite number of personal accounts, type them in on all their various mobile and desktop devices, and change them frequently as a precautionary measure is the opposite of comfort.

 

The Solution: Get Rid of Passwords

But is it possible to have no password and provide customers with comfort AND security? Perhaps the better question is in fact: are passwords really all that secure?

As mentioned, for a password to be truly effective, it has to be a complex array of numbers, characters, and symbols and it has to be unique to each service or account.  It’s not only hard to remember lengthy and intricate passwords, it’s also time consuming to constantly type them in for various services across multiple devices. At best, this method of security is cumbersome. At worst, it is a dangerous security gap. Why? Because many users forego secure password configurations, opting instead for the speed and ease of simple or reused passwords. As a result, users unwittingly leave their accounts far more susceptible to hacking and phishing attacks.

However, eliminating passwords altogether creates an even more gaping security hole. Without a password, anyone can gain access to a user’s sensitive bank, administrative, or personal account information: Getting rid of passwords is only the first step. The second step is implementing a secure passwordless login function to authenticate a user’s identity before providing access to services and potentially critical data.

 

How does passwordless authentication work?

There are thankfully more advanced security methods available. By relying on a combination of unique identifying factors or biometric indicators, login without a password is not only safe, it is also simple. First of all, users no longer have to remember and provide multiple passwords. Second of all, the means of authentication is irreproducible, making it safer than any possible password configuration.   

How does it work? The gold standard solution has become FIDO protocols. In the simplest terms, FIDO protocols rely on key cryptography. When registering for a service, two keys are created: one is a private key, which remains only on the user’s end device; the other is a public key, which is provided to the service. From hereon in, the service can authenticate the user’s identity by asking for the private key, instead of a password, during the login process. But how is that more secure than a password? The private key can only be provided if it is unlocked by a biometric feature, like a face ID or a fingerprint that is stored on the user’s end device. Ultimately, the password process of authentication is replaced with a simple and quick scan of the user’s unique biometric features, a biometric password so to speak.

 

What are the advantages of passwordless authentication?

Why is this method better than password management tools? In theory, there is nothing wrong with password management. Indeed, these are incredibly effective tools if your only option is to rely on complex passwords. However, they involve an additional and unnecessary step in the authentication process. Biometric alternatives save time and hassle. And there are financial advantages as well.

Companies that rely on biometrics to authenticate users experience significant cost savings. By eliminating the need for passwords, they simultaneously do away with high customer service expenses incurred for password administration and resets. Furthermore, the time and resources spent on resolving password issues can be invested into creating a better overall customer experience.

The majority of security breaches can be traced back to passwords. By continuing to rely on this vulnerable method of security to protect sensitive data is no longer an option. Nor is sacrificing comfort and user-friendliness for security. Or vice-versa. Passwordless authentication is the best solution for ensuring a seamless customer experience with the kind of security that your customers have come to expect.