More and more companies and customers are choosing passwordless authentication because it’s user-friendlier and safer than traditional passwords. While passwords are vulnerable to data breaches and require extra mechanisms like one-time codes to reinforce security, passwordless authentication methods do not. Plus, passwordless authentication eliminates the need to remember dozens of passwords, which can reduce customer attrition.
This post showcases today’s most popular passwordless authentication methods, such as biometrics, hardware, and certificate-based authentication. All true passwordless methods are safe, but to find out which one is right for your business, read the following password authentication examples.
Authentication systems use various factors to prove a user’s identity to the system. The three main factors are:
Password-based authentication systems and other knowledge-based authentication systems (something you know) have significant security issues. These include the potential for hackers to steal weak and reused passwords and compromise insecure authentication factors via phishing or malware attacks.
Passwordless authentication uses other factors to prove a user’s identity: possession and inherency, or something you have and something you are. Making access decisions based on something you have or are creates a more secure and user-friendlier authentication system.
Passwordless authentication provides numerous benefits to an organization and its customers. Some of the most significant benefits of passwordless authentication include:
Cross-Channel Authentication: Password-based authentication often requires a user to sign in multiple times if they switch between browsers, devices or channels. With passwordless authentication, it’s much easier to segue between these different channels and keep customers engaged throughout their journey. Similarly, passwordless makes it possible to authenticate users through non-digital channels, like call centers, kiosks, or brick-and-mortar stores.
The passwordless authentication process can use a variety of different methods. Some passwordless authentication examples include:
All methods of passwordless authentication provide stronger security than a password. Eliminating the potential for reused and weak passwords decreases the probability that a user will undermine authentication security. Additionally, authentication systems that require possessing a particular object or the presence of a legitimate user are more challenging to defeat remotely.
However, not all passwordless authentication systems are created equally and offer the security that companies and customers need. For example, SMS-based OTPs have not been recommended as an authentication factor by NIST since 2017. Passwordless authentication systems that depend on the user typing in an OTP are also vulnerable to real-time phishing attacks.
Often, these systems are not considered true passwordless authentication because they rely indirectly on a password. For example, passwords for user authentication are common in email systems, so a “passwordless” system that uses OTPs or magic links transmitted by email still uses passwords for its security, just not one stored and managed by the application.
Other passwordless authentication mechanisms offer more robust security. For example, passwordless authentication based on digital certificates or biometrics provides robust authentication and protection for user accounts.
Many of the passwordless authentication mechanisms described here may be familiar due to their use in multi-factor authentication (MFA) systems. For example, a common MFA system combines a password with an OTP. However, passwordless authentication and MFA, while related, are distinct. 2FA, or two-factor authentication, is similar to MFA, but it typically isn’t used when referring to passwordless systems. While there isn’t a technical distinction, MFA tends to imply a higher level of sophistication than two-factor authentication.
Multi-factor authentication’s name comes from the fact that it uses two or more different factors for authentication. The main goal of MFA is to bolster the poor security provided by passwords; passwordless authentication solves this problem by avoiding the password entirely. Possession-based and inherence-based factors can provide strong security, and the password’s contribution is negligible.
For additional security, organizations may choose to implement passwordless MFA. Passwordless MFA combines a “something you have” with a “something you are” factor to provide stronger authentication. A user may use fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock a digital certificate stored on a trusted device. Only the right person with the right device can authenticate.
Attempts to kill the password have been ongoing for years due to its notoriously poor security. However, the belief that passwords are easier for consumers and companies has hindered these efforts.
The reality is that many passwordless authentication systems are far more user-friendly, requiring only a tap of a finger or a quick glance at a camera to authenticate rather than recalling and entering a long, complex password. Additionally, the integration of open standards and fingerprint readers and cameras into many devices means that implementing secure, usable passwordless authentication is possible for companies of any size.
While passwordless authentication is a powerful component of any identity framework, it’s just one step in comprehensive CIAM (Customer Identity Access Management) modernization. For many companies, achieving CIAM modernization often proves challenging due to multiple vendors, legacy code, and expensive change management.
Transmit Security’s cloud-native CIAM platform combines leading-edge passwordless authentication with end-to-end fraud detection — all without the complexity of traditional decentralized architecture. Consolidating the identity environment with Transmit Security is ideal for businesses looking to rapidly implement passwordless authentication while gaining increased visibility across their entire identity landscape. Request a demo today to learn more about how you can deploy passwordless CIAM in your organization’s applications.