Understand the usability & security of Passwordless Auth

Find out how Passwordless auth serves multiple use cases, along with the security implications of using it. Whether you're looking to familiarise yourself with Passwordless auth or are considering using it, this blog post is for you.

Understand the usability & security of Passwordless Auth

Darkweb v2.0 public release is here

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What has changed in our latest release?

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All new features available for all public channel users

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No one—a billionaire or anybody with even $10 in their bank account—posts the password of their credit cards on social media. Yet, passwords have become integral to daily living —mobile phones, social media accounts, credit cards, name it.
Everyone sometimes uses a password to verify their identity or retrieve a piece of information, and the more sensitive the information, the more care the password receives.
According to a 2018 study, 81% of breaches result from weak or stolen passwords. Unfortunately, this means no matter how secretive people are about their passwords; hackers can gain unauthorized access using phishing, password stealing, and more.
Additionally, forgetting passwords is common, and the IT admin staff must fix this constantly.
Is there an alternative? How do we ensure our data is safe if we don't use passwords? Let's take a look at how using passwordless authentication can be of help.

The Basics

Passwordless authentication is a way to verify users' identities without using a password or a memorized secret. There are different types of passwordless authentication methods, some of which include::

  • Biometrics – Biometrics identifies individuals with unique physical traits, such as fingerprints, or behavioural characteristics, including typing and touch dynamics. For example, no two persons have the same fingerprints – even if they are twins. Although modern AI has made it possible to spoof some physical traits, it is tough to fake behavioural characteristics.
  • Magic links – To log in using magic links (otherwise known as passwordless email login), the website, app, or service sends the user an encrypted key via email. This makes the website, app, or service accessible only to the person who receives the email.
  • Token-based authentication – Token-based authentication is similar to magic links, but the user receives a token this time. The token, usually via SMS text or app, is sent to a personal mobile device, and only the person with the device can access the account. A hard-token authentication allows users to verify their information using a physical device rather than a code or password, such as a Bluetooth device, USB, or smart card.

Who Should Use It?

Passwordless authentication is for people who need a form of authentication at some point. In other words, it's for everyone. By everyone, we don't just mean individuals – even companies can also benefit from using passwordless security. From apps, dashboards and everything in between, enterprises can use passwordless authentication methods for their customers and employees to safeguard confidential company information.

Not only does a passwordless login saves time, but it is easy to implement and user-friendly. Because users might not be used to a passwordless security system, they may have questions, but with the right and simple explanation, they would see the benefits.

Here are some use cases of passwordless authentication:

  • Personal login - with passwordless, you can log in to accounts and apps without hassle.
  • Workstation login - employees can use passwordless MFA (multi-factor authentication) to log in to workstations.
  • E-commerce and consumer payments - passwordless payments are highly efficient. E-commerce websites like Rakuten and eBay use passwordless authentication.

How Does Going Passwordless Help?


More robust security: It is difficult for hackers to crack and steal passwordless biometric information or trick a service into accepting it. In addition, passwordless authentication reduces security risks, preventing attacks such as password stuffing. Additionally, long, weak, or stolen passwords create significant security risks; thus, eliminating these passwords considerably cuts down security threats.

Improved user experience: When people create passwords for their online accounts, they often avoid using basic passwords like "12345" or "password." Instead, they prefer to use long, sophisticated passwords so others can't guess them. Even though it's safer, the downside to this is that it becomes easy to forget. Say you run an online store, and customers with these long passwords try to log in but can't remember their password. Their following action is to either hit the "forgot password" button or leave. Now, you want to avoid the latter at all costs. Using passwordless authentication methods such as magic links, customers are always welcome, and security remains intact.

Support requirements reduced: Passwordless authentication means users don't need to memorize long phrases or codes, so users experience fewer issues while logging in. In addition, this reduces the need for password resets and other related matters.

Is It Secure?

Passwordless authentication is not impervious to hacking because no matter how sophisticated and effective security systems are, determined people are looking for a way to hack into these systems.
It's safe to say that passwordless techniques are a lot safer than regular passwords.

For instance, a bad actor (hacker) can use a dictionary attack to hack a password-based system. A dictionary attack is when the hacker tries different passwords till they get the correct password. This type of attack is impossible with passwordless authentication.
Even to "hack" a fingerprint, hackers can only try to use the most advanced and sophisticated AI algorithms.
These prove that passwordless authentication systems are much more secure than traditional passwords.

Additionally, service providers adhere to guidelines, like the FIDO2 standard, to ensure security needs are met.

Passwordless Authentication: Working Principle

In a password-based authentication system, the user provides their password, which matches what is stored in the database.

Some passwordless authentication systems, such as biometrics, also work this way. Instead of a password, a user's distinctive characteristic, like the user's face, is compared with what is stored in the database.

Other passwordless systems work differently. For instance, in the token-based authentication system, the user receives a one-time passcode via SMS and attempts to log in. The system compares the passcode the user input with the one it sent.

Passwordless authentication adopts the same principles as digital certificates. Digital certificates use a cryptographic key paired with a private and public key. The public key is like a padlock, while the private key unlocks that padlock.

The padlock has only one key, which can open only one. Users who want to create a secure account use a tool, like a mobile app or browser extension, which generates a public-private key pair.

The private key stays on the user's device and can only be accessed using an authentication factor, like a pin or fingerprint. The public key is on the system where the user wishes to have a secure account.

Implementing Passwordless Authentication

Implementing passwordless authentication is a wise security investment that saves costs over time.

Depending on the organization's existing user directory size, deployment costs can vary.

To implement passwordless authentication, follow the following steps:

  1. First, pick your mode (factor): The first thing is to choose the type of authentication factor you want that would suit your intended purposes. The options include retina scans, fingerprints, magic links, and hardware tokens.
  2. Choose the number of factors: Using multiple authentication factors is always a good choice, whether with a password or passwordless. Of course, you can choose just one aspect, but it is advisable to select multiple factors, like combining magic links and fingerprints.
  3. Buy required software/hardware: Some passwordless authentication techniques can not work without specific software or hardware. It is necessary to procure specific software for modes like magic links or OTPs. For biometric-based authentication, using special equipment is unavoidable.
  4. Make it available for users: After setting up the system, you can register people on the authentication system. For instance, you need to scan the face of your students, employees, etc., if your system is a face recognition system.

Takeaway

Although passwordless authentication is still undergoing refinement, some organizations have started enjoying the benefits.

Because the cost of implementing passwordless can not be compared to the losses incurred due to a data breach, passwordless is a fine and safe option/investment.

It also gives users a seamless experience, as they don't need to memorize long passwords or reset them repeatedly.

Therefore, passwordless techniques are safe, convenient, and user-friendly; thus, the future is passwordless.

FAQs

Are passwordless authentication systems more secure than using password-based methods?

Passwordless authentication is more secure since you don't have to worry about stolen credentials. Additionally, service providers adhere to guidelines, like the FIDO2 standard, to ensure security needs are met.

Is passwordless authentication challenging to integrate?

You can seamlessly integrate passwordless authentication into any business.

Is passwordless authentication restricted to only mobile phones?

No. You can access your data using other passwordless login methods, like MacOS Touch ID, smart cards, and FIDO Security tokens.

Will biometrics violate my privacy?

An ideal biometric authentication system is secure and privacy-minded, meaning privacy would be at the heart of its design. Therefore, users can have complete control over their identity.

About Arcana Network

Arcana is Web3 infra for devs to launch and scale apps through its Auth, Store, and Access SDKs. Web3 apps use Arcana’s SDK to authenticate users with Social and Passwordless Auth and create non-custodial wallets, Store Encrypted/Unencrypted Data, and Manage Access. Built for Ethereum and EVM-based chains, with Arcana’s privacy stack, developers can build secure and privacy-preserving apps with a seamless user experience.

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