Passwordless Authentication: An Easier Way To Stay Secure

by | May 15, 2024

With over 5.4 billion people using the internet, people and businesses worldwide are more interconnected than ever. People do everything from shopping online to running entire companies digitally. With far more people using the internet than not, criminals have shifted there, too, targeting user accounts to steal personal data. Passwordless authentication aims to counter that by being both a secure and easy-to-use method of logging in.

What Is Passwordless Authentication?

Passwordless authentication is a secure method for accessing systems and applications without needing to remember a password. Instead, it relies on alternatives like fingerprints, hardware tokens, or security keys. This approach reduces the risk of password theft and simplifies the login process, making it both user-friendly and effective in preventing unauthorized access. It’s most often seen as a part of multi-factor authentication (MFA).

How Does Passwordless Authentication Work?

Passwordless authentication works by substituting traditional passwords with more user-friendly methods like biometrics, QR codes, or one-time passcodes. In this approach, the authentication process involves something the user possesses (like a mobile device), something the user is (such as a fingerprint), or a method like magic links sent via email. 

All these methods require a unique key to access the account. That enhances security by eliminating easily compromised passwords and streamlines the login process. While passwordless authentication can be part of multi-factor authentication systems, MFA still commonly involves at least one traditional password. The passwordless approach avoids using them entirely.

The Downsides of Traditional Passwords

Traditional passwords are increasingly problematic due to their impact on security and usability. People who struggle to remember too many passwords often use simple, easily guessed ones. Additionally, many users reuse passwords across various platforms, heightening security risks when one site is breached. Many also don’t use MFA, an ongoing concern for Microsoft, since it adds yet another step to the rest of the login process.

Memorizing complex passwords can also worsen the user experience, causing frustrations like frequent resets and account lockouts, particularly in business settings. Unlike passwordless authentication, traditional ones are the most vulnerable to cyberattacks like phishing and brute force. Since they’re easier for hackers to breach, more organizations are using MFA to combine traditional passwords with at least one passwordless factor.

10 Examples of Passwordless Authentication

Passwordless authentication offers a user-friendly and secure alternative to traditional password-based logins. Here are ten examples of passwordless authentication methods:

1. Biometrics: Uses unique biological traits like fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scans, or voice recognition to verify users.

2. Magic LinksSends a one-time-use link to the user’s registered email address. Clicking the link grants access to the service.

3. One-Time Passwords (OTPs)Generates a temporary code sent via SMS or email, used for a single login session or transaction.

4. Push NotificationsSends a login prompt directly to a user’s device (usually via a mobile app), where the user can approve or deny access.

5. Hardware Security Keys: Utilizes physical devices, such as YubiKeys, that the user plugs into their computer or connects via NFC or Bluetooth for access.

6. QR Code Authentication: Users scan a QR code with a specific app on their mobile device to gain access.

7. Smart Cards: Physical cards that contain a chip; when inserted into a reader, they authenticate the user’s identity.

8. Mobile Device AuthenticationRecognizes the specific device a person uses to access a service, often combined with another form factor like a PIN or a biometric input.

9. Software Tokens: Uses an app like Google Authenticator or Duo to generate time-based, one-time passwords for user verification.

10. Behavioral Patterns: Monitors user-specific patterns, such as typing speed, mouse movements, and even walking patterns, to continuously validate identity.

Each method enhances security by eliminating traditional passwords, which can be vulnerable to theft and hard to remember.

How Secure Is Passwordless Authentication?

Passwordless authentication is considered more secure than traditional passwords. Of the different types, biometrics is considered the best, receiving the highest rating from 28% of respondents in a global survey. While no method is perfect, going passwordless can significantly increase security by requiring a physical possession or unique user trait. Since those can’t be easily stolen like a password, it makes it much more secure.

How To Implement Passwordless Authentication

Implementing passwordless authentication involves collaboration between a business and its IT team, tailored to the chosen types of authentications, existing account systems, and IT infrastructure.

Step 1: Evaluate Authentication Needs

Assess Users and Security Needs: Collaborate with your IT team to identify specific security needs considering the data types handled, user habits, and preferences.

Choose Solutions That Align With Needs: Select one or more types of passwordless authentication that aligns with the assessment and is likely to be embraced by users.

Validate Choice Compatibility: Confirm the authentication type will work seamlessly with your existing systems and devices.

Step 2: Choose a Solution Provider

Ensure Provider Meets Needs: If you are not developing it in-house, assess what providers offer authentication solutions that align with what you chose in step 1.

Confirm Compliance and Security: Confirm that the provider meets the compliance and security standards required by your business and industry.

Use a Flexible Provider: Consider picking a flexible provider, like Cisco Duo, that offers multiple types of authentications within one solution.

Step 3: Plan the Integration Strategy

Review Access Points: Identify key areas where the authentication will connect, such as user management systems, application portals, and mobile platforms.

Define User Access Flows: Outline the user authentication flow for different scenarios and user types to ensure a seamless user experience.

Establish a Rollout Timeline: Set a realistic timeline for integration, including milestones for critical phases like initial testing, full deployment, and post-integration review.

Step 4: Configure and Test the Solution

Customize Settings: Configure the passwordless system based on security and user needs. Ensure it’s set up for what-if scenarios, such as applying rate limits and deciding what to do if someone is having trouble logging in.

Do Initial Testing: Do controlled testing to ensure the system functions correctly across all devices and interfaces, which helps identify any issues. That includes validating that false logins are being prevented.

Gather Feedback and Iterate: Collect initial feedback on usability and any challenges encountered; use this insight to refine the authentication process before broader deployment.

Step 5: Rollout Gradually

Pilot Phase: Start with a pilot program involving a select group of users to evaluate the system’s performance in real-world conditions and gather detailed feedback.

Expand to Larger Groups: Gradually increase user number, monitor system stability and user satisfaction, and adjust as necessary.

Final Deployment: Complete the rollout to all intended users only after confirming that the system meets all user, performance, and security expectations.

Step 6: Maintain and Update Regularly

Monitor System Performance: Regularly check the performance and security of the authentication system, watching for any signs of issues or vulnerabilities.

Apply Updates and Patches: Stay current with updates and patches from the solution provider to ensure the system maintains compatibility with new technologies and adheres to the latest security standards.

Review and Adapt: Periodically review the authentication solution to ensure it continues to meet the organization’s evolving needs. Adjust strategies and tools as necessary.

By closely working with your IT company and leveraging a third-party authentication solution, you can streamline the transition to a passwordless system.

Challenges in Adopting New Authentication Methods 

Adopting new passwordless authentication methods can lead to several challenges. Firstly, there’s user resistance. People often hesitate to give up familiar passwords for new technologies, especially if they’ve never done it otherwise. This transition requires patience, practical training, and ongoing support to ease user concerns.

Secondly, integrating these new methods into existing IT systems can be difficult and costly, especially if they are outdated. This can involve significant updates to ensure compatibility and functionality. Modernized IT systems make this much easier and more affordable, though testing and integrating still takes time.

Lastly, cybersecurity is always a concern. New authentication methods are designed to enhance security but can also introduce new vulnerabilities. It’s critical not to cut corners and to do thorough testing to address these risks effectively. Each factor must be carefully managed to ensure a smooth and secure transition to new authentication methods.

Why Ease of Use Is Important for Password Security

Ease of use is vital for account security as it greatly affects user compliance and security. When authentication measures are user-friendly, individuals are more likely to use them consistently and correctly. Complex or demanding security protocols can lead to security fatigue, where users feel overwhelmed and take shortcuts at the cost of digital safety. 

Additionally, frequent authentication prompts can cause MFA fatigue, where users become annoyed by the interruptions and accept any login request that pops up. Speeding up the process, especially to make it more hands-off, can help reduce the chance of that happening. By relying less on memory, like with traditional passwords, mistakes are less likely to happen. The easier people use and follow, the more effective it is as a security method.

The Role of Authentication With IT Compliance

Authentication is critical in IT compliance and a cornerstone of data and system security. Different frameworks, such as CMMCHIPAA, or PCI-DSS, often require strict authentication measures to protect data from unauthorized access. Effective management ensures that only legitimate users have access limited to what they need for their work role.

Moreover, authentication allows for audit trails that track each login attempt, an essential part of compliance. Compliance not only involves using the right policies but also being able to prove to auditors that they’re being appropriately enforced. Organizations can more easily stay compliant with regulations by using passwordless authentication to layer multiple security methods.

How ITonDemand Helps Businesses With Authentication

Authentication is important to us at ITonDemand, and we recommend using it for every personal or business account. MFA is included with our Protect and Compliance plans and is available as an add-on for any service package. We partner with Duo for authentication, and they offer a range of user-friendly options, including a mobile app, biometrics, hardware tokens, SMS passcodes, and more. Let us help you better secure your organization with passwordless authentication.

To learn more about how we can help protect your business with MFA, get in touch through our contact form or call us at: +1 (800) 297-8293

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