Data breaches are constantly in the news, and the rising number of cyberattacks means businesses need to build stronger defenses to protect their valuable data, networks, and accounts. Hackers often exploit one of the weakest links in network security: passwords. Many businesses rely on passwords to provide secure access to their networks while also making that access easier for employees, customers, and other users. But, to make their digital lives easier, many people use simple, easy-to-remember passwords and reuse the same password for multiple accounts. Password authentication provides hackers golden opportunities to gain access to business networks.
Let’s take a look at an alternative method for businesses to verify the identity of their network users: passwordless authentication.
What Is Passwordless Authentication?
Passwordless authentication is a verification system that enables users to access accounts securely without using a remembered password. It provides better security than using traditional passwords because it uses more secure factors to confirm a user’s identity.
Security experts divide authentication methods into three categories:
- Knowledge factors (meaning something you know), such as passwords or answers to security questions
- Possession factors (meaning something you have), such as hardware tokens or other authentication devices
- Inherence factors (meaning something you are), such as fingerprints or other biometric scans
Passwordless authentication uses possession or inherence factors to verify a user, rather than relying solely on knowledge factors. It also requires a different underlying security architecture than traditional password authentication, replacing passwords entirely with a hardware token, fingerprint reader, or other security technologies.
Is Passwordless Authentication More Secure?
Most data breaches occur as a result of a compromised password. Hackers can guess or reverse-engineer weak passwords, and they can find databases of breached passwords online and use these passwords to access a user’s other accounts. Phishing attacks, which use fake login pages to trick employees into providing passwords, are a common method hackers use to steal login information and gain access to company networks.
Passwordless authentication offers more resistance to these types of attacks. It does not rely on human-readable data like passwords. It does not allow the same security code to be used twice, so hackers who are logging a user’s keystrokes cannot steal credentials to access a network. It also prevents man-in-the-middle attacks, sophisticated cyberattacks in which hackers stealthily place themselves in the middle of a data transfer or communication between two parties. Even better, passwordless authentication rarely needs to be reset, which reduces the burden for users and eases the workload for help desks.
Does That Mean Passwords Will Disappear?
Password use has already started to decline as businesses adopt more secure authentication methods. Passwordless authentication involves more complexities than password authentication — and it can be more expensive — so the transition to passwordless authentication won’t happen overnight. System administrators and developers also use passwords, and there are application-to-application passwords that end users never see. These types of passwords are likely to remain in use for the foreseeable future.
The bottom line is that passwords are not likely to disappear anytime soon, but they will eventually become obsolete.
What Are the Benefits of Passwordless Authentication?
Passwordless authentication provides many benefits for businesses, including:
- Improving cybersecurity: By preventing unauthorized access via password-based attacks, businesses can reduce data, identity theft, and other costly outcomes. A passwordless authentication system also lower risks by discouraging hackers, motivating them to move along to easier targets.
- Saving time and resources: IT administrators don’t have to deal with password reset tickets, manage password storage, or worry about complying with the legal requirements for password storage and handling password reset.
- Providing easier access: Users don’t have to remember passwords and have greater peace of mind when logging into accounts.
As an example of cost savings, when Microsoft switched to a passwordless authentication system for its internal network, the company reduced its authentication costs by 87%.
What’s Involved in Adopting Passwordless Authentication?
Businesses have several options when incorporating passwordless authentication into their operations. The configuration and implementation of these methods can be complex and costly. Large corporations can build their own passwordless authentication architecture, choosing the authentication factors that best fit their businesses, employees, and users. For small and medium-sized businesses, affordable solutions include:
- Multifactor authentication: Many businesses have already adopted multifactor authentication, which combines traditional login credentials (username and password) plus an additional layer of authentication (such as requiring you to enter a one-time code sent to your smartphone). Although this method relies on traditional usernames and passwords, it provides an additional layer of security by also requiring a possession or inherence factor.
- Single sign-on solutions (SSO): With this authentication method, employees, customers, and other users sign in to an SSO provider, which verifies their identities using possession or inherence factors before granting them access to websites, applications, or accounts. Users don’t need to juggle multiple accounts and remember passwords, and IT staff can manage all users and privileges on a single dashboard.
No type of authentication is 100% secure, but passwordless authentication will harden your network’s defense and help reduce long-term IT security costs. For more information about incorporating passwordless authentication into your operations, contact us today for a free security assessment.
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