Is Passwordless Authentication Safe to Use?

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Passwords are increasingly unsafe to use, with password security a more critical concern than ever. No matter how strong an employee's password is, hackers using advanced password cracking tools like Medusa, Brutus or Hashcat can easily steal or compromise companies' networks and systems. Research has shown that 81% of data hacking incidents are due to weak, stolen or poor password management. 

Finding secure password-based authentication methods has become crucial to enabling robust password security. However, each of these methods have security issues that make them unreliable. The alternate way to get around the increasing password security issues is to become passwordless, a process by which a user's identity is verified without a password.

But is passwordless authentication worth investing in and safe to use? 

What is Passwordless Authentication?

Passwordless authentication is a method whereby users access an app, device or IT system without entering passwords or any security answers. It is the most effective way to reduce risky password management practices and prevent credential theft attacks. Instead of entering passwords, users provide some other proof of their identities like fingerprints, face scanning or hardware token code.

Becoming passwordless benefits both enterprises and customers. It strengthens organizational security by eliminating the risk of password breaches and credential stuffing attacks and improving the user experience. This approach lets people access the apps effortlessly and quickly as they don't have to spend hours resetting forgotten usernames and passwords. 

In addition, it simplifies IT operations as users don't have to secure, reset or manage passwords regularly. Some popular passwordless authentication solutions are one-time passcodes token (OTPT), device authentication, geo IP location, digital certificates, SMS soft tokens, biometrics, knowledge-based authentication and single sign-on solutions. 

Is Passwordless Authentication Secure to Use?

The safety of passwordless authentication depends on how people use it. There are some risks associated with passwordless authentication that makes people question its credibility. 

Eliminating the use of passwords increases the risk of attacks on biometric scanners and mobile devices. Threat actors are looking for new ways to get around these passwordless methods and gain access to users' data. If they successfully compromise a device or a single fingerprint reader, all the information stored, such as financial details and business documents, will be with the hacker and later used for malicious purposes. 

Insider threats are another growing passwordless risk for enterprises across the globe. According to Verizon's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, privileged misuse is the top reason for data breaches. In addition, 34% of business environment respondents suffered from privileged insider abuse. The insider threats and attacks involved former employees, third-party vendors and contractors. 

Moreover, non-secure identity management is yet another passwordless authentication risk. The non-secure identity can result in identity theft and weak authentication protocols that hackers can exploit. The organization loses control over its sensitive data even if it uses an identity access management (IAM) system and relies on an external identity provider. 

Employees also have privacy concerns and are not comfortable using their own devices for passwordless authentication. Many believe biometrics data violates their privacy and hence is unsafe to use. 

Tips to Improve Passwordless Authentication 

Statistics reveal that the passwordless market will boom to $53bn by 2030. Despite passwordless authentication risks, organizations won't stop using it. By improving their adoption strategy, they can reduce these risks. Besides asking for developer experience, enterprises need to consider the following strategies for successfully improving passwordless authentication.

  • According to Forbes, the modern passwordless authentication approaches can use AI and ML to create dynamic access rules. Advanced technologies like intelligent risk simulation, when integrated with passwordless authentication solutions, can result in predictive access decisions, demonstrate whether existing regulations are effective and can suggest new rules.
  • Businesses can prevent privilege misuse by introducing IAM policies.
  • Implement strong security controls such as app attestation and device lock to verify and validate identities and device integrity.
  • Integrate passwordless authentication with a zero trust security access approach to boost the overall security posture. It ensures that all who access the organization's network internally or externally are verified. 
  • Ensure that the organization complies with industry standards and doesn't collect user data when passwordless authentication solutions are used. 
  • Start using application programming interface (API) integrations to fully understand users, potential risks and the digital identity level trust organizations can afford.
  • Ensure that the passwordless authentication approach analyzes behavioral biometrics and doesn't create friction for the users. Organizations can use IAM and mobile threat defense to create a safe and frictionless environment for trusted users. 

Final Thoughts

Passwordless authentication will continue to be the top priority and choice for businesses looking for ways to protect their data. While the benefits of passwordless authentication are significant, it's essential to deploy it using a zero-trust model, IAM practices, robust security controls and mobile threat defense. This will make passwordless authentication smoother and a much more secure and safer option to use.

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