What Is Passwordless Authentication and How Does It Work?

July 15, 2022
What Is Passwordless Authentication

The Basics of Passwordless Authentication

At first, passwordless authentication seems like a radical idea. But you’re probably already using it. Whenever you receive a “magic link” to your email address or a “one-time passcode” to your phone, you’re actually engaging in a basic form of passwordless authentication.

Passwordless authentication is being adopted as an ultra-secure method of protecting accounts. Let’s take a look at the basics of passwordless authentication, its benefits, and why your organization should consider making the switch.

So, how does passwordless authentication work? Passwordless authentication is a method of authenticating users without the use of passwords. Instead of a password, the user is authenticated using another factor, such as a one-time code sent to their mobile phone or email address, a USB security key, or biometrics.

While it may sound complicated, the reality is that passwordless authentication is simple—in fact, one of its most important advantages is how simple it truly is. Thus, passwordless authentication can simplify an organization’s security while also improving productivity for employees.

Passwordless vs. Multi-Factor Authentication

Passwordless authentication is often confused with multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA also relies on additional factors for authentication, but it always includes a password as one of those factors.

With MFA, even if an attacker were to gain access to one of the other authentication factors, they would still need the password to log in.

Passwordless authentication, on the other hand, removes the password entirely. Even if an attacker were to gain access to one of the other authentication factors, they would not be able to log in without also having possession of the user’s phone or email account.

Both passwordless authentication and multi-factor authentication can be great security systems.

The Benefits of Passwordless Authentication

There are several important benefits of passwordless authentication”

  • Increased security. It’s is more secure than traditional password-based authentication. Without a password, attackers have one less factor they can try to brute force.

  • Improved usability. Passwordless authentication is also more user-friendly than traditional password-based authentication. Users no longer need to remember a password, and they can authenticate using a device they already have with them, such as their phone.

  • Reduced support costs. Going passwordless can also reduce support costs. With traditional password-based authentication, users often forget their passwords and need to reset them. With passwordless authentication, there are no passwords to forget, so users are less likely to need help from support.

In short, passwordless authentication increases security without increasing work for employees and administration. But it also does require that organizations make a switch to an entirely different password infrastructure.

The Role Passwordless Plays in Zero Trust

Passwordless authentication is a key component of zero-trust security. Zero trust is a security model that does not rely on predefined trust levels.

In other words, with zero trust security, every user and every device is treated as untrusted. This might sound like it would make security more difficult, but in reality, it makes it much more effective.

By treating all users and devices as untrusted, you remove the need for predefined trust levels. This makes it much more difficult for attackers to exploit trust relationships.

In a zero-trust environment, passwordless authentication can be used to verify the identity of users before granting them access to resources. Zero trust is primarily a philosophy, but passwordless authentication runs parallel to it because users are not trusted merely because they know authentication credentials.

Single Sign-On and Passwordless Authentication

Single sign-on (SSO) is an authentication method that allows users to access multiple applications with a single set of credentials.

SSO is often used in conjunction with passwordless authentication. With SSO, users can authenticate using a one-time code or biometrics, and then they are given access to all of the applications they are authorized to use.

SSO can be used with any type of authentication, but it is particularly well-suited for passwordless authentication. When combined, these two technologies provide a high level of security and convenience for users.

Single sign-on (SSO)

How to Implement Passwordless Authentication

There are many different ways to implement passwordless authentication. The most common methods are via one-time codes, biometrics, and FIDO tokens.

One-time codes can be delivered to the user’s email address or phone number. The user then enters the code to authenticate.

Biometrics can be used for authentication on devices that have a biometric sensor, such as a fingerprint sensor.

FIDO tokens are physical devices that generate one-time codes. The user plugs the token into their computer and enters the code to authenticate.

Organizations can also use a combination of these methods. For example, they might require a one-time code for initial authentication and then use biometrics for subsequent authentications.

Choosing the methods that will work for an organization is essential. The easier a security system is to use for employees, the more likely it will be to be used the right way.

That being said, a transition to passwordless authentication systems isn’t always simple. It requires a change in mindset for many organizations, as well as a commitment to educating employees about the new system. Employees may at first find the idea of passwordless authentication foreign.

Switch to Passwordless with Axiad

Now you know how passwordless authentication works and its advantages. If you’re still using traditional password-based authentication, you should consider making the switch to passwordless authentication or, at the very least, multi-factor authentication.

Passwordless authentication is more secure and user-friendly than traditional authentication… and it can also reduce support costs.

Axiad can help. Axiad’s Unified Credential Service makes it easier for organizations to control their login services — within a single, easy-to-use platform. Contact Axiad today to find out more about the benefits of passwordless authentication and how it can help protect your organization.

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