Passwordless authentication: What is it and how does it work?

Passwordless authentication: What is it and how does it work?

While passwords are one of the most common ways to verify user identity, they are far from being the most secure. This is because simple authentication methods, such as those that require only username and password combinations, can easily be guessed through the use of brute force attacks. Cybercriminals can also use phishing techniques to trick users into divulging their login credentials or install keyloggers on devices to record the latter’s every keystroke, including their passwords.

On top of these threats, poor cybersecurity habits like recycling passwords or setting easy-to-guess passwords make this authentication process highly ineffective. This is why businesses are now looking to replace legacy passwords and implement more secure ways of protecting their data. By 2022, Gartner predicts that 60% of global enterprises and 90% of mid-sized businesses will embrace passwordless methods in more than half of use cases.

What is passwordless authentication?

Passwordless authentication is an identity verification process that identifies users based on unique factors. These factors can be something that a user possesses (e.g., a one-time password sent to a registered device) or something that’s inherent to them (e.g., a biometric signature, like a fingerprint).

Unlike memory-based authentication methods such as passwords, passphrases, or PINs, passwordless authentication is more reliable at keeping unauthorized users out, as it uses identifiers that are one of a kind and not easily susceptible to theft.

What are the benefits of passwordless authentication?

Going passwordless minimizes data breach risks. For one, it significantly lowers human error-related issues, such as poor password habits and password mismanagement. It also makes your systems immune to attacks that rely on passwords to succeed, such as password spraying, credential stuffing, and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Passwordless authentication can also improve productivity, as it eliminates the need to remember complex passwords and enables your workforce to immediately access apps or data without the inconvenience of entering complicated character combinations. In particular, it can benefit your IT staff, as it reduces password-related support tickets and leaves them free to deal with more important tech problems.

Your organization’s operating costs can also become more manageable when you go passwordless. This is because passwords, with their related maintenance and support costs, can be very expensive. The downtime associated with password resets can accrue and cost companies hundreds of dollars. For context, when password expert HYPR conducted a study on password resets, they found that 57% of employees had forgotten a password and had to do a password reset within a period of 90 days.

Succinctly, passwordless authentication streamlines the user verification process, makes workflows more secure and efficient, lowers operational costs, and minimizes downtime.

Implement passwordless authentication now

There are several ways businesses can implement a passwordless approach:

1. Replace passwords with unique authentication factors

Turn to biometrics such as fingerprints, face patterns, and voice patterns to authenticate users, as these are more difficult to replicate and get a hold of than passwords. These kinds of verification methods have been proven to be highly effective at keeping unregistered users out. In fact, they are already being used on smartphones, in banking applications, and in some payment portals.

Other widely deployed passwordless authentication methods include sending one-time codes to a registered mobile device or email address, using hardware security tokens, and attaching authentication credentials like PKI certificates to a particular device.

2. Enable 2FA passwordless options

Two-factor authentication (2FA) strengthens access security by requiring another login credential on top of a username/password combination. And while it’s currently impossible to do away with passwords in a 2FA or multifactor authentication setup, mainstream 2FA solutions are, fortunately, passwordless by default.

For instance, most email providers allow users to enable a 2FA system that requires both a password and a one-time PIN, making it more difficult for unverified entities to get past the additional authentication requirement.

The future may be full of passwordless authentication possibilities, but it’s still unwise to rely solely on such technologies to keep your data secure. XBASE Technologies combines the best technology solutions with a solid cybersecurity strategy that addresses your particular business needs. Be better prepared for a data breach by downloading our eBook, “Cyber Security Planning – Three Elements to Consider When Designing Your Unique Strategy”. Get your FREE copy now.