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DevSecOps

Passwordless Authentication

To many, living without passwords set for their digital assets seems a fuzzy idea. However, cutting-edge passwordless authentication furnishes cybersecurity way more advanced than standard password-based safeguarding. Explore more about this resourceful digital resource security approach in this post.

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Passwordless Authentication

What Are The Difficulties With Passwords?

For centuries, passwords stayed the standard online/offline (and even physical) resource protection means. While they managed to supply substantial protection for a long time, it began to seem irrelevant as hackers became qualified and understood the art and science of decoding almost all sorts of passcodes, including the strong ones.

Slowly, password usage has become more of a hassle than a help for internet users because:

  • Not many people were using an actual powerful password featuring a combination of unique characters, numbers, and the alphabet. Using private data and reusing passwords are widely embraced approaches, simplifying things for the threat actors.
  • With the augmented use of internet-based resources and tools, everyone often has numerous passwords and fails to manage them effectively.
  • Password-based protection has zero resistance against phishing attacks, which are on the rise.
  • Threat actors have mastered the brute force attack excessively and can now forcefully access a password-protected account using inventive automated tools.
  • Organizations often save user passwords on server-based databases. These databases are the prime target of a data breach and can be easily compromised if an attack is successful.

An Overview of Passwordless Authentication

It is an innovative way to verify users before they intend to access a specific IT resource. 

Traditionally, passwords were used for account safety. But, they are outdated and have multiple security concerns.

This new method employs biometric data for checking user’s identity. As this data is distinctive and is not stored on servers, privacy and security at the high-end level are experienced.

How it works?

It begins by eradicating the password and utilizing distinguishing factors pre-stored in the database for the purpose. The basic workflow is mentioned below.

  • The end-user starts an access process by clicking on the “Login” button of the website/web app/IT resources. 
  • The concerned application receives the access request and contacts the authn server. 
  • As per the set method for identity validation, the server will prompt the user to provide details like fingerprinting, retina scan, or face matching. The user will be asked to provide the respective information if businesses use a magic link or FIDO tokens. 
  • The user provides asked verification details on the targeted website 
  • The website then forwards the data to the linked authn server, which compares the provided information with the pre-saved information. 
  • If both details are matched, the user is granted access, and the session initiates. The login sessions continue as long as the application is in continuous use — some applications auto logouts after a certain period of inactivity. 

Types of Passwordless Authentication

FIDO2 passwordless authentication offers multi-facet implementation methods giving users the freedom to select an authentication to mean that fits perfectly. Below is a rundown of the most commonly used implementation processes. 

  • OTC or One-Time Codes are unique and short-lived codes shared with the users in the authentication procedure. Often, they are delivered by email and phone numbers. Users enter them into the concerned resource to gain access. 
  • It can also be implemented using a biometric device like a fingerprint scanner, retina scanner, voice recognition device,  and face recognition software. As these physical traits are unique, their theft and copying are difficult. 
  • FIDO tokens are widely used for passwordless authentication implementation as these tokens feature cryptography keys and can be easily plugged into the USB port of a system. Advanced  FIDO tokens can communicate wirelessly using Bluetooth or NFC technology. These are the physical devices that generate unique codes every time they are prompted to do so. 
  • Magic links are another variety to use. It involves providing a verified email to initiate the login process. The user then receives a verification email with a  link attached. One has to click on the click to complete the authentication. 

Enterprises can use one or multiple methods depending on the requirements and level of security one wants to achieve.  Regardless of the method selected, passwordless authentication succeeds in offering a top-notch defense. 

Benefits of Passwordless Authentication

Passwordless authentication works in favor of both businesses and end-users as it delivers improved security, ease, and trimmed operational costs. Let’s understand its advantages in detail:

  • Upgraded security

Keeping security risks like brute force attacks, phishing, and data theft controlled, reduces the possibilities of cyber-attacks and delivers improved security. Hackers haven’t explored the bypassing techniques for this authentication.

Breaking down the security that it supplied is also a tedious task, as authentication data is not saved on the server. Rather, it’s saved on a cryptography key.

  • Unbeatable ease

While managing traditional passwords is a tedious task, passwordless authentication offers a very organized way of user identification.  Hardware tokens and biometric authentication tools deliver better convenience. There is no need for password management and incidences of password reuse. In fact, users don’t have to remember anything at all.

  • No additional expenses

As data theft possibilities are less, organizations don’t have to bear the unwanted expenses that are the aftermath of a successful attack. There is no need to invest in password resetting or maintenance.

  • Better compliance

Organizations eyeing compliances like CCPA or GDPR (Wallarm and GDPR) can achieve the goal with this as data is protected in an advanced manner and PII is well protected.

Passwordless authentication methods

Is Passwordless Authentication Secure?

Before finalizing whether or not this authentication is a safe option, one must have clarity on the scope of security here. You need to have a clear sight of what you mean by safety.

Is it safe authentication?

Is it safe usage?

Is it its 100% hacking-proof abilities?

Depending upon what you consider as safe, the answer differs.

For instance, if you’re asking whether it’s a secured authentication, we would say – yes, it is. 

It’s hard to crack and provide improved security.

Another factor that makes it safe is – No data is saved on the server. Everything is saved on a cryptography key that protects data well.

But, don’t consider it safe enough to bypass hacking. Threat actors can hack the authenticator and decrypt the cryptography key. So, it can still be hacked.  

Despite that, it’s considered one of the safest authn methods we have to date. It’s way too safer than password-based authentication and offers substantial protection.

Multifactor Authentication (MFA) Vs. Passwordless

MFA is a way to improve what conventional password-based method offers. It combines two or more criteria for users’ identity-validation with the password. OTP, fingerprinting scanning, and even retina scanning are used as MFA solutions. But password usage is still there.

Passwordless authn eliminates the use of passwords completely. Only hardware authenticators are used. While they both are intelligent ways of protecting IT resources, password-less authn has the upper hand. 

Passwordless Authentication + Other Techniques

  1. With Zero Trust

Zero trust is a security approach that may or may not include a passwordless method. The zero-trust cybersecurity model allows enterprises not to trust anyone and perform authentication for every user each time access is promoted.  To achieve this goal, organizations use password-less processes along with other security practices. 

  1. With Single Sign-On 

SSO complements the latter to a great extent. They both can be paired together and deliver high-end security. This is how they work, like hands in gloves.

  • SSO is designed to provide detailed access with a one-time login. When paired with passwordless techniques like face-recognizer or fingerprint scanner, SSO  can ensure secured access to multiple resources without prompting the end-user again and again.  
  • The combination is great for saving time and effort, as users don’t have to re-enter or re-verify.
  • Using single sign‑on to Wallarm portal

Implementation of Passwordless Authentication

It’s pointless to question the viability of this advanced authentication method as there are proven records establishing its efficacy. However, what level of ease and security one is going to experience with passwordless authn largely depends on how perfectly its implementation is conducted.

Below mentioned are a few expert implementation recommendations.

  • Decide the type of authentication you’re going to use based on your security goals,  spending capacity, and available technical expertise.  While all the varieties are viable, they all have different implementation requirements. For instance, retina scanners are pocket heavier than fingerprint sensors. 

Data received by retina scanners will also be complex, and its management demands a solid technical team. Enterprises with limited budgets and resources may not be able to utilize this method in full swing. Hence, understand what you have, what you can procure, and how you can manage before making any further moves.

  • Set a budget and stick to it.  Compared to the traditional password-based mechanisms,  this is way too costly as it involves purchasing a hardware authenticator that further demands maintenance and upgrade.  It's important to have clarity on investable capital. 
  • Always buy authenticators from trusted vendors offering enough training, technical support, and maintenance. This way, you will be able to make the most of the software/hardware used.
  • Make sure your employees are ready to provide such crucial biometric data. Experts recommend surveying to check willingness. If employees are reluctant to hand over such sensitive information, implementation will go wasted.
  • In-house implementation is often tedious and labor-intensive. Handing the job to a trusted third party is suggested for better outcomes.

FAQ

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Updated:
February 26, 2024
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