Understanding Passwordless Authentication: Importance and Benefits

A photograph of the author: Phillip Whitaker

By: Phillip Whitaker

Passwords are the primary method hackers use to gain access to accounts, with around 921 password attacks happening every second. In fact, over 80% of hacks involve the use of lost or stolen passwords. This is why it is crucial to find an alternative to using passwords for authentication. One solution is passwordless authentication, which uses methods like fingerprint scans or retina scans to verify your identity instead of relying on passwords. By switching to a passwordless login, you can protect yourself from the most common type of attack used by cybercriminals. It’s important to understand what passwordless authentication is and consider making the switch for added security.

The concept of passwordless authentication

Passwordless authentication is a method of verifying a user’s identity that does not require the use of a password. Instead, it utilizes alternative forms of authentication such as:

Biometrics: fingerprint scans, retina scan, facial recognition, etc. Possession factors: USB security keys or one-time passwords sent to a phone.
Magic links: Unique login links sent to email address.

This type of authentication is becoming more common and can be found in applications such as banking apps. It offers the benefit of increased security and privacy by eliminating the need to store and manage passwords, which can be vulnerable to hacking and phishing attacks. Additionally, users do not need to remember passwords when using passwordless authentication.

Problems with traditional password authentication

The average person has to remember a large number of passwords, which can be difficult to keep track of and remember. This can lead to people using the same password across multiple platforms, using weak passwords, writing passwords down, or constantly needing password resets. These practices make it easier for hackers to steal confidential data through phishing attacks. While multi-factor authentication (MFA) can provide an extra layer of security by alerting users when someone tries to log in as them, passwordless authentication offers even greater security and a better user experience by eliminating the need for passwords altogether. This removes the friction from the login process and makes it easier for users to access their accounts.

Benefits of implementing passwordless authentication?

Why consider transitioning to passwordless authentication instead of simply focusing on improving password management? One reason is that it eliminates many of the security risks associated with passwords, including:

  • Phishing is a major contributor to data breaches, responsible for 80% to 90% of all such incidents. One of the benefits of passwordless authentication is that it removes the risk of phishing attacks, as there are no passwords to be revealed if a user falls for a phishing attempt. This helps to protect sensitive data and improve overall security.
  • By removing the need for passwords in the authentication process, passwordless authentication reduces the risk of password misuse by cybercriminals. This includes protection against brute force attacks and data breaches that can compromise password information. As a result, passwordless authentication helps to improve security and protect against these types of threats.
  • The use of weak passwords: People may choose passwords that are easy to guess or crack, which increases the risk of a breach.

Implementing passwordless authentication has numerous benefits for both users and businesses. For users, it offers convenience and a smoother login process, reducing the risk of data breaches and identity theft. For businesses, passwordless authentication can help to reduce IT costs and improve security by eliminating the need for password resets (which account for 50% of all IT support tickets) and reducing the risk of account takeovers through stolen or compromised credentials (which are the leading cause of data breaches). In addition, passwordless authentication can help to prevent employees from reusing corporate credentials as personal logins.

Is passwordless authentication a secure method of authentication?

Yes, While passwordless authentication is generally considered a secure method of verifying a user’s identity, it is not completely risk-free. One potential risk is the use of magic links, which can be accessed by a hacker if they gain access to a user’s email account. However, this risk also exists with traditional password authentication, as a hacker can reset a password using a reset link sent to the email address. Biometric authentication, while more secure, can also be vulnerable to theft or spoofing, and the storage of biometric data can potentially be compromised in a data breach. For example, in the BioStar 2 hack of 2019, the fingerprint data of over 1 million people was accessed by hackers. Researchers have also been able to create synthetic fingerprints using wood glue and Photoshop that can fool fingerprint recognition systems.

The concept of multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security measure that adds an extra layer of protection by requiring multiple methods of verification to log in. For example, to log into Gmail with MFA enabled, you would need to enter your username and password, as well as a one-time password sent to your phone. This additional security helps to decrease the risk of a successful cyberattack. MFA is similar to passwordless authentication in that it can use biometric or possession-based factors, but it still requires a username and password. Passwordless MFA combines the convenience and ease of passwordless authentication with the added security of multiple authentication factors for the highest level of protection.

Looking to have passwordless or multi-factor authentication implemented in your system?

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