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Passwordless Authentication: Definition, Types, and Benefits

  • Soumalya Bhattacharyya
  • Nov 23, 2022
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Passwordless authentication is a type of authentication that allows a user to access a computer system without having to input (or remember) a password or any other kind of knowledge-based secret. In the majority of typical implementations, users are required to submit their public identifier (username, phone number, email address, etc.) and then complete the authentication process by supplying a secure form of identification, such as a registered device or token.

 

Passwordless authentication methods frequently use public-key cryptography infrastructure, where the private key is stored on the user's device (such as a PC, smartphone, or external security token) and can only be accessed by providing a biometric signature or another authentication factor. The public key is provided during registration to the authenticating service (remote server, application, or website).

 

Since both password-based authentication and passwordless authentication use a variety of authentication factors, they are sometimes confused with Multi-factor Authentication (MFA). However, while MFA is frequently used as an additional layer of security on top of password-based authentication, passwordless authentication typically uses just one highly secure factor to authenticate identity, making it quicker and easier for users.

 

Also Read: An Introduction to Multi-Factor Authentication


 

What Is Passwordless Authentication?

 

The technique of confirming a software user's identification without using a password is known as passwordless authentication. The most typical forms of passwordless authentication involve confirming a user's ownership of a second device or account, as well as a biometric characteristic that is exclusive to them, such as their face or fingerprint.

 

Any firm may lower expenses and security concerns using passwordless authentication. In the near future, the use of passwordless authentication will probably increase significantly. For both you and your users, passwordless authentication delivers a more seamless experience than conventional username and password (U/P) login (that can be more secure if it relies on WebAuthn). This not only helps you save money, but in some circumstances, it may even improve sales.

 

Over 84% of all data breaches are caused by credential vulnerabilities, according to Verizon's 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR). Eliminating passwords completely lowers your chance of experiencing a data breach since it makes it more difficult for hackers to exploit you and your users against you.

 

For instance, because more than two-thirds of users reuse passwords, hackers frequently employ credential stuffing (using compromised user credentials from one breach to gain access to another business) to breach an organization. By doing away with passwords, you make it impossible for fraudsters to access accounts on your system using credentials they have gotten elsewhere.

 

Your company's vulnerability to phishing assaults is decreased with passwordless authentication that makes use of contemporary authentication techniques like FIDO-compliant devices (tricking users into downloading malware or providing sensitive information with a malicious email).

 

Eliminating passwords ensures that your users or employees won't unintentionally give bad actors anything they can use to access their accounts and personal data if they receive a phishing email, as phishing accounts for 36% of all data breaches and many are carried out with the intention of obtaining a username and password.

 

However, by implementing passwordless authentication, you may help lower or even eliminate those expenses because your users won't need a password to log in. Also no longer necessary are the storage and upkeep of those password databases.

 

User experience may also provide software companies with a competitive edge (even at the enterprise level). Therefore, making login easier could persuade users to select you over rivals.

 

Also Read: 5 Cyber Crime Trends For 2022


 

How to Implement Passwordless Authentication?

 

It's much more difficult to code passwordless authentication than it is to simply instruct your development team to modify the login box. In reality, deploying passwordless authentication for many firms would be more like rewiring the entire house if your login box were a light switch. However, compared to anything that can be constructed internally, third-party suppliers offer an implementation that is quicker, safer, and more modern.

 

The design of your current identity and access management (IAM) systems will determine how well that example applies to you. But the point is that it's typically expensive and hard to deploy safely, necessitating devoted development resources over a lengthy period of time (and then scaling and maintaining those systems after implementation).

 

As a result, a lot of businesses decide to engage with an identity provider (like Auth0) who can, in some situations, cut the time it takes to roll out passwordless authentication for millions of users in half while also taking on a lot of the maintenance costs they would otherwise have to bear.

 

Passwordless authentication is exactly what it sounds like: a method of authentication that never uses a password. Passwords are not utilized as a backup or an additional authentication mechanism. Passwords aren't used for authentication, even if outdated systems like Microsoft Active Directory need them. Passwords aren't kept in a password manager or vault either.

 

Understanding this is crucial since some technology vendors misrepresent their passwordless authentication solutions. Since they still employ passwords as a fallback, anybody may access your account using that password, leaving you open to password-based attacks.

 

Using a more secure authentication technique is the goal of passwordless. A password is a piece of information. If you use a knowledge factor instead of a password, it won't make much of a difference in terms of security.

 

Also Read: Top 7 Identity Management Tools


 

Types of Passwordless Authentication:

 

In the case of traditional username and password authentication, a user must enter something they are aware of (a password) in order to prove their identity. However, passwordless authentication procedures demand that a user prove they own something—a possession factor—or that they are something—an inherence factor—both of which are more difficult to defeat.

 

The most popular techniques for confirming both inheritance and possession aspects are listed below:


 

Types of Passwordless Authentication:  1. Biometrics 2. Magic Links 3. One-Time Passwords/Codes 4. Push Notifications

Types of Passwordless Authentication


  1. Biometrics:

 

Another popular method of authentication without a password is biometrics. Technology like fingerprint readers and facial scanners are the focus of biometrics. Smartphones frequently use this type of authentication. Android smartphones frequently include fingerprint scanners, which are typically found on the power button, the device's back, or even beneath the front display, whereas Apple products, which formerly supported this identification method, now support face authentication.

 

Many physical characteristics are almost entirely unique to each person. Without demanding a password, biometric authentication employs these distinctive bodily characteristics to confirm that a person is who they claim to be. For instance, there is a low probability that two faces would be identical—less than one in a trillion—so facial recognition is a useful tool for identifying people.

 

Also Read: What Are Biometrics and How Do They Work?


 

  1. Magic Links:

 

This type of passwordless authentication requests the user's email address in the login box rather than a password. They are then provided with a URL in an email that they may use to log in. Each time a user signs in, the same procedure is carried out.

 

When using a magic link, the user must first input their email before a special token can be produced for them and given to them. After clicking the link, the user's token is recognized by the service being used, which then exchanges it for a live token and logs them in.


 

  1. One-Time Passwords/Codes:

 

When compared to magic links, one-time passwords (OTP) and one-time codes (OTC) require users to enter a code that is sent to them (by email or SMS to their mobile device), rather than just clicking a link. This procedure is done every time a user signs in.

 

A user may input their email address to receive a one-time code, which will then be given to them in an email. The service will then validate the user and log them in when the user inputs the code.

 

A one-time code is then sent to the phone number when the user enters their phone number to start the SMS authentication process. The user will enter the code into the service, which will then validate it and the user's phone number before logging in. SMS passwordless authentication, however, may be less secure than other passwordless authentication systems since SMS authentications have historically been the target of several assaults. 

 

Push confirmations may also be used by SMS and email-based passwordless authentication to authenticate into a service using a second device, utilizing the first connected device as a communication channel.


 

  1. Push Notifications:

 

Users launch the authenticator app using a push notification they receive on their mobile devices from a specific authenticator app (like Google Authenticator) in order to confirm their identity.


 

Benefits of Passwordless Authentication:

 

Passwords are supposedly the biggest security flaw, and passwordless authentication promises to fix that. Because of this, there is a lot of discussion about passwordless authentication, including varying viewpoints that, regrettably, can be deceptive and confusing.

 

Passwordless authentication substitutes much stronger elements for the regular MFA's weak ones. Therefore, by reducing friction from the login process, a passwordless authentication system enhances security and the user experience.

 

The advantages of passwordless authentication are as follows:

 

  • Prevents credential assaults from taking over accounts: 

 

All password-based attacks are stopped by doing away with password authentication. Because there are no passwords, attackers are unable to log in. In attacks such as credential stuffing, credential cracking, rainbow table assaults, ransomware through RDP, social engineering, and phishing, passwordless authentication can guard against login credentials being taken or exposed.


 

  • Enhances user experience: 

 

Passwordless authentication removes the hassle of authenticating using zero-click logins. Users don't have to check their email, use a second device, remember their passwords, or go through the trouble of having to change them.


 

  • Saves time and money on password resets and help desk calls: 

 

With a strong password policy, users are relieved of the responsibility of remembering complicated passwords and the need to reset them on a frequent basis, which reduces IT's workload.


 

  • Enhances your security posture with continuous risk-based authentication: 

 

Users are re-authorized with each access request to make sure their risk profile hasn't altered.


 

  • Recovered income through lower customer attrition: 

 

Mastercard estimates that up to a third of consumers will just leave their carts empty if they forget their passwords. Companies will receive income back into their pockets that they would have otherwise lost if they can minimize that margin by any amount. Similar to this, a more user-friendly identification experience will entice clients to come back since it is mobile-friendly and simple to use.


 

  • Long-term savings via reduced infrastructure costs and lower total cost of ownership (TCO): 

 

It costs money to support and maintain a password-based authentication system in terms of IT. A user's account must be reset, and it can be expensive and time-consuming to automate account recovery, staff contact centers, and keep up a support ticketing system. The annual support costs for passwords for large businesses might run into the millions, and the long-term savings from doing rid of passwords could run into the tens of millions.


 

  • IT gains control and visibility: 

 

When using passwords, frequent problems like phishing, reuse, and sharing arise. Passwordless authentication solves these problems. IT takes back its original goal of having total visibility into identity and access management. Nothing to share, phish, or reuse; the user is no longer the organization's wildcard identity scheme.


 

Conclusion:

 

The most practical and safe methods are fast emerging as passwordless authentication and passwordless logins. marks a significant advancement in the field that enhances the consumer experience while also adding a rock-solid layer of privacy and security.

 

Passwordless authentication is a crucial component of user trust verification that is done in a more user-friendly, streamlined, and safe manner. The degree of work required to deploy passwordless will be determined by a number of different criteria. It will be more challenging to switch to passwordless if your hybrid environment is sophisticated.

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