Studies show many people can be tricked into revealing their password, but a new technology called passwordless authentication may make accounts safer and passwords obsolete.

If you’ve ever unlocked your phone with your face, logged into your laptop with your fingerprint or hopped on a work terminal with a key fob, you’ve used passwordless authentication.

Here’s a look at what passwordless authentication is, how it works and why it may soon replace your password.

What Is Passwordless Authentication?

As the name suggests, passwordless authentication is a method for signing into a digital account that does not use passwords. It can work with anything that would normally require a password, such as computers, mobile devices, software apps, online services and websites, letting you in but keeping hackers out.

This new technology is built on the usage of public and private cryptographic keys, the same kind of technology that helps make secure messaging safer. The keys replace the need for the typical login credentials of a username and password. The keys themselves don’t require passwords, either. They’re authenticated by something you have or even something you are.

It sounds complex, but passwordless authentication is designed to simplify your digital safety. Unlike password-protected systems, the private data that validates the sign-in attempt never leaves your device. Your keys to gain access are always with you, so you don’t need to remember dozens of traditional passwords. The technology also makes it much harder for a bad actor to gain access to your accounts.

How Does Passwordless Authentication Work?

Passwordless authentication works by authenticating your identity with a unique set of cryptographic keys. Using the technology requires a setup process to generate the keys:

  • First, the user registers for the passwordless device, service or app and receives an approval request on their device.
  • Next, the user confirms the request. Depending on the system, this could be done with a USB key fob, a mobile device or a biometric like your fingerprint.
  • The system then generates two corresponding keys. One is a private key that never leaves the user’s device. The other is a public key that is sent to the passwordless system.
  • The passwordless system registers and saves the newly generated public key. The passwordless device, service or app is now ready to use.

Accessing the passwordless account will always require both the public and private keys:

  • The user attempts to access the account, triggering the public key to generate a challenge that is sent to the user’s device.
  • The user approves the challenge by unlocking their private key. This is done with the same identifier used in registration, such as scanning a fingerprint.
  • The user’s unlocked private key can now sign the public key’s challenge.
  • The public key verifies the right private key signed the challenge and logs in the user.

Each time you request access to a passwordless account, a new authentication message is generated. The system has no fixed login credentials that might be stolen by a hacker.

How Can You Benefit from Passwordless Authentication?

This morning, you probably logged into your computer with a password, like you always have. Passwordless authentication is still a new technology, so it hasn’t been widely adopted yet. However, it’s already clear that there are many benefits for businesses that make the switch:

  • Easier use – Passwordless authentication is definitely a much easier choice for the end user. The need to type a password every time you access a device, service or app can be tedious. Updating passwords for dozens of accounts every three months can add even more friction to the user experience. Passwordless logins are generally faster and smoother, with little chance of getting locked out of your account. There’s also no need to update your credentials, since biometrics like fingerprints don’t change.
  • Better security – Passwordless authentication uses technology that greatly improves your digital security. Cyber criminals regularly attempt hacks and data breaches in order to steal login credentials or use social engineering to try to trick users into providing their passwords under false pretenses. Neither method works with passwordless authentication. The private data used to unlock a private key is encrypted and never leaves a user’s device. There’s nothing usable for a hacker to steal, either by brute force or social engineering. Systems also can’t be tricked into accepting an invalid login attempt or credentials for other services used by the same user.
  • Simpler maintenance – Passwordless authentication also offers benefits for IT professionals. Time, money and resources go into setting up, monitoring and troubleshooting traditional password-based accounts. A lot of time gets spent helping employees and customers who forget their passwords or get locked out of their accounts. Passwordless authentication simplifies access for users and eliminates much of the need for password-related IT support.

How Can You Protect Yourself Today?

The field of cybersecurity is always evolving to try to stay ahead of the latest tactics used by cybercriminals. But it may be some time before all your various accounts transition to passwordless authentication or other more secure options. In the meantime, it’s important to make sure your business is protected today.

Security upgrades almost always involve an upfront cost, and custom and enterprise solutions can often be cost prohibitive. But a hybrid approach can offer good protection without breaking the bank.

Some Microsoft products and newer devices automatically offer the option to use passwordless authentication without the need for expert IT setup. Multi-factor authentication offers an extra layer of protection beyond passwords and can now be activated on nearly all devices, services and apps. Finally, following best practices for your password credentials can also do a lot to minimize your risk.

Even with the proper precautions, some risk will always remain. A cyber incident can be extremely costly in today’s business world, making the right insurance protection a must. CyberLock Defense is a one-of-a kind cyber liability policy that offers comprehensive coverage at rates more affordable and more accessible than other cyber liability policies that are available.

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