For as long as technology has been used in business, passwords have been a near-constant source of headache for IT professionals. The tendency for users to use simplistic passwords, or (even worse) re-use passwords for multiple accounts, has consistently been one of the leading causes of cybersecurity breaches for businesses.
All over the world, and for many decades, IT professionals have made efforts to make password security better – in London IT support companies help clients improve password security with solutions like multi-factor authentication. But for some time now, many have been pointing to passwordless authentication as the inevitable successor of passwords.
What are the Alternatives to Passwords?
As the name suggests, passwordless is an alternative to traditional authentication that relies on different, more robust forms of authentication. Some examples of these alternatives include:
- Biometrics – Physical traits are unique to every individual, therefore it is an effective means of confirming someone’s identity. Common biometrics used for authentication include fingerprint and retina scans, or even full-facial scans. With the proliferation of touch-screen phones, and high-definition cameras in mobile device and computers, biometrics is an increasingly viable form of authentication.
- Possession Factors – This form of authentication relies on something you own being used to verify your identity. For example, one can register their smartphone as their primary possession factor by installing an authenticator app, or using their phone number to receive one-time passcodes.
- Magic Links – With this form of authentication, users can only access their account through a special link that is send to their email address. This adds a layer of authentication, because access to the account in question cannot be gained without first having access to one’s email account.
How Does it Work?
All forms of authentication rely on comparison. In other words, when entering your password into an account or system, the system compares the password you entered to the password they have stored in their records for your account. If they match, access it granted.
This is a very simplistic form of authentication, and the benefit of passwordless alternatives is that different forms of comparison can be used. For example, with a one-time password (as with possession-based authentication), the each comparison is only valid once, because each passcode is unique, and will expire after access is granted. Providers of IT support London companies rely on will often recommend the use of OTP-based authentication alongside passwords – an approach known as multi-factor authentication (MFA), which adds additional layers of security to password-based authentication.
Some methods of passwordless authentication use comparison in the same way as passwords – such as with biometric authentication; but the difference is that biometrics are much harder to imitate, or steal.
Is Passwordless Authentication Hack-Proof?
Short answer: No.
No form of authentication – especially single-factor authentication – is impervious to hacking. Although biometric factors are unique to every user, there will inevitably come a time when they can be replicated.
However, it is true that the passwordless authentication methods discussed are inherently more secure than passwords.
As the sophistication of cyber-attacks improve, it is highly recommended that all users implement multi-factor authentication.
Will Passwordless Replace Passwords?
Many leaders in the field of IT and cybersecurity believe that the future of authentication is passwordless. But the fact remains that passwords are still the cheapest and easiest form of authentication out there – for this reason, it will likely be a while before they are truly extinct.
For the general public, it will be very difficult to completely replace passwords. For businesses, however, it is certainly more possible, because of the finite pool of users, and how organizations can enforce policies and practices. Many providers of IT support North London companies use have already began to recommend and enforce passwordless authentication for their own organizations and for their clients.
Furthermore, many organisations consider the cost of implementing passwordless authentication nothing compared with the cost of a large-scale cybersecurity breach – which can lead not only to financial loss, but to loss of trust, and regulatory penalties.