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What is Passwordless Authentication? (Does It Really Work?)

Maureen Mannschreck

Curious about passwordless authentication? Wondering how it can create a more secure login? We’ll walk you through what it is and how it works in an enterprise.

Is passwordless authentication safe? Yes, passwordless authentication is safe, secure and easy to use. This type of login can even be safer than a traditional username and password login and you won’t have to memorize multiple passwords for those logins. 

What is Passwordless Authentication?

As the name suggests, passwordless authentication is a security method that allows your users to access your system without entering a password. Rather than sacrifice security for this kind of functionality, passwordless authentication uses other forms of authentication to allow users to prove who they are. For example, a user might provide a one-time password token or biometric information instead of a password to access an account.

 Why would you want to skip password anyway? There are a number of reasons:

Passwords are easy to forget

Typically, a human mind cannot remember much beyond 5-6 digits. Even with simple passwords, however, a user is likely to have dozens of accounts using passwords, meaning that they are easily forgotten. This means frustration and poor user experience for users and wasted time for your IT department.


Easy to compromise

Along with losing passwords, users will take shortcuts to avoid remembering complex ones. Since passwords are supposed to be a “private secret”, as soon as they are known to others the account is compromised. So, when users implement easy to guess passwords (like “password”, “123456”, or their birthday) it’s that much easier for hackers to get into your system.

 

Not always a great way to guarantee security in the first place

Passwords have to be stored in a vault or database to authenticate users. If that database is breached, then the passwords are compromised. Nearly all security systems encrypt their passwords, but not database packages do so with the same high level of security. 

If a database is breached, it is best to assume that they are going to break that encryption and get the passwords. That’s bad enough, but it is worse when you remember that many users use the same passwords and emails across multiple accounts. 

Passwordless authentication is a way to avoid many of these pitfalls without sacrificing security or user experience. Common attacks like phishing, keylogging and database breaches are essentially mitigated with a passwordless authentication system.

What Are the Benefits of Passwordless Authentication?

While it may seem counterintuitive, passwordless authentication brings a few benefits to the table:

  1. Saves money in tech and support: The most readily apparent savings for your organization is the time and money you will save in IT support. On average, a lost password can cost an organization up to $70 per incident. Fewer forgotten passwords mean fewer  attacks and lesser need to reset due to password compromise.
  2. Prevent easily avoidable attacks due to hacks and phishing: Currently, there isn’t a way to easily fake biometric data in the same way as an alphanumeric password. While it isn’t 100%, it is incredibly difficult to fake fingerprints and facial features, much more so than hacking passwords.

    Likewise, attacks that rely on phishing (especially any form of email phishing), or socially engaging employees through email or over the phone, can be much more difficult to pull off if the individual must produce fingerprints or ID badges instead of just logging in with a password. 
  3. Simplified user experience: Swipe a badge or fingerprint, scan a face or plug in a USB. It couldn’t be simpler. More importantly, you can tie many of these methods into existing mobile technology, which many users are readily familiar with.
  4. Expands devices on which users can securely authenticate: As above, many methods can use mobile devices, and can be incorporated on phones, tablets and laptops. Even consumer devices include fingerprint scanners these days, so having secure authentication on a company device is a relatively simple proposition.

What Are Different Types of Passwordless Authentication?

With that in mind, passwordless authentication solutions use different ways to authenticate. Essentially, passwordless authentication works by relying on other forms of verification–specifically, those that do not rely on the user remembering information. Instead, verification tied to methods that fall under ownership (such as a device, token or physical badge) or inherence (forms of biometrics) stand in for passwords. 

Some of these forms of verification include the following:

  1. Badges, USB devices or other physical media: Using physical media like a scan card or software token in a memory device, the user can authenticate themselves without entering a password. Note that while this eliminates the password, it does not eliminate the need for that user to remember some sort of verification method (or, in this case, to not forget or lose that item).
  2. Tokens: Tokens are pieces of software that serve as an verification method within a system. So, for example, the user can authenticate in one location, and the token they receive to prove they are who they say they are will authenticate them throughout the system without having to use passwords in different systems.
  3. Biometrics: Biometrics are quickly becoming the most common form of authentication. Using fingerprint scans or facial recognition, a device can use uniquely identifying information to authenticate a user that doesn’t require any other kind of sign-in, like a password.
  4. Third-party Authenticator Apps: Many systems will offer apps or use third-party apps. These apps will auto-generate unique codes for that user that, when entered in a user login portal, will allow them access to system resources.
  5. SMS or Push Notifications: Like third-party apps, a system can send a special code through SMS, push notifications or email, with the assumption that the user has secure authentication or email or a mobile device that only they access. 

How Does Passwordless Authentication Compare to MFA?

More often than not, identity authentication systems will use combinations of these methods for  Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). They might, for example, require a password plus biometric information, or biometrics alongside a private code sent through SMS. Passwordless authentication can essentially remove the need for users to remember passwords, instead relying on biometrics, email or SMS authentication as their only means of logging in. 

Most importantly, with these new ways of authentication, you can set up a schema that does not include passwords at all. To implement passwordless authentication, you would work with a provider that can implement it, either on-premises or through cloud services. 

1Kosmos Passwordless Enterprise

The best way to implement passwordless authentication is to work with a provider that can integrate this functionality into your existing technology stack and infrastructure. Authentication can impact your business in several major ways:

  1. Compliance and security: Many frameworks require or recommend 2FA or MFA, which means that having a passwordless solution can move you closer to compliance. More importantly, with multiple passwordless features, you can secure your system much more completely than relying on lengthy passwords and remembering them.
  2. More IT and Admin visibility for real problems: Less time on password resets and following up on password phishing breaches means that your IT team can focus on real security problems. More importantly, they can track access more accurately knowing that the use of a non-password authorization will allow security to trace potential areas of entry based on the type of credential provided.
  3. Simplify user access to reduce barriers for use in remote or scaling workforces: Passwordless methods of authentication are much easier for your workforce. It’s easier to use a mobile phone app to handle straightforward scanning or code access. 

1Kosmos BlockID makes passwordless authentication easily integrated without sacrificing security or user experience. Our product includes:

  1. Advanced Biometrics: BlockID includes non-falsifiable biometrics and stored, encrypted data so that hackers cannot duplicate or steal biometric data. BlockID is also contact-free.
  2. Immutable logs and data records with Blockchain Ecosystem: Our system uses peer-to-peer transactions while ensuring the immutability of the underlying data for data and audit log integrity.
  3. Compliance: BlockID brings employees the level of authentication that ensures compliance with NIST 800-63-3 guidelines for IAL2 and AAL2. 

With 1Kosmos BlockID, you can deploy secure, reliable and integrated passwordless authentication for your entire organization. To learn about the next generation of contact-free authentication solutions powered by biometrics and blockchain technology, read more on Passwordless Enterprise solutions. Also, sign up for the email newsletter to stay up to date on 1Kosmos products and services. 

 

 

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