Passkeys and the Future of Strong Authentication in a World without Passwords
Passkeys are a new way of accessing your online accounts that could replace traditional passwords. Companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been working on passkeys as a way to enhance security and make logging in more convenient. Here’s why you should consider using a passkey for your online accounts.
Traditional passwords have been the primary method of securing online accounts for decades. However, passwords can be easily compromised, and users often struggle to remember complex passwords for each of their accounts. This has led to the widespread use of weak passwords, which are easily guessed by attackers and exploited to initiate an attack.
Passkeys, on the other hand, are designed to be more secure and easier to use. A passkey is a cryptographic key that is unique to each user and is stored securely on their device. Instead of entering a password, users simply need to authenticate themselves to their passkey which generally involves responding to a challenge on a previously authenticated device. Challenges can include entering a PIN or using biometrics like fingerprint or a face scan. Using a passkey allows an individual to securely gain access to an account with no password required.
One advantage of passkeys is that they are much harder to attack than passwords. Each passkey is unique and linked to the user’s device through a public/private cryptographic pair, this makes it much harder for an attacker to gain unauthorized access without physical possession of the device.
Another advantage of passkeys is that they are more convenient to use than passwords. Since users don’t need to remember long complicated passwords, they can log in to their accounts more quickly and easily. This can save time and reduce frustration, especially for users who manage dozens of online accounts.
Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all been working on passkeys as a way to enhance security and improve user experience. The most significant recent advance between these tech behemoths is that they have all agreed to adopt the same passkey standard shepherded by the FIDO Alliance. This unity or interoperability across the tech giants allows for passkeys to be managed at the OS level and shared between platforms. This means that users can use their passkeys to log in to different services and applications, regardless of the platform. For example, an iCloud Keychain user could use their passkey to log in to a Google service, or a Windows Hello user could use their passkey to log in to an Apple service. This makes passkeys a more flexible and convenient way of accessing online accounts.
Passkeys are also designed to be more resistant to phishing attacks and help conform to phishing resistant MFA as witnessed in the recent Cloudflare attack. Phishing attacks are a common way for attackers to steal passwords by tricking users into entering their credentials on a fake website. With passkeys, users don’t need to enter their credentials on a website, which makes it much harder for attackers to steal credentials. Instead, users authenticate themselves using their passkey on their device and no username or password is required, which is far more secure.
There are some potential downsides to passkeys, however. One concern is that if a user’s device is stolen or hacked, their passkey could be compromised. This is why it is important to store passkeys securely and use strong device-level security measures such as biometric authentication. Deauthenticating a device if it is lost or stolen becomes an important security measure.
Another concern is that passkeys could be more difficult for users with disabilities or older devices to use. For example, users with limited mobility may have difficulty using biometric authentication, while older devices may not support the latest passkey technologies.
Despite these potential drawbacks, passkeys represent an exciting new way of accessing online accounts that could offer significant benefits over traditional passwords. Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are already working on passkey systems. It seems we may finally be on the verge of realizing the passwordless future.