How Does Passwordless Authentication Work

Industry News

Passwordless authentication is an identity verification method that eliminates the need for a password by utilizing alternative types of authentication such as biometric factors, possession factors, or magic links.


Passwords have long been the weakest link in data security. Hackers may steal complex passwords and then impersonate authentic individuals to connect. Simply strengthening passwords cannot fully guarantee data security. Furthermore, users often find it difficult to remember all those complicated passwords for each account. Users may end up copying and pasting the passwords somewhere, or using the same set of passwords for all accounts, increasing the risk of credential stuffing attacks.


How Does Passwordless Authentication Work?


Passwordless authentication works by replacing passwords with more secure authentication mechanisms. It is not required to remember passwords or security questions answers, so it provides a better user experience. It also improves security by eliminating risky password management practices and minimizing security vulnerabilities. Users can conveniently and securely access applications and services using other authentication methods such as:


Biometrics: Physical traits such as fingerprints or retina scans, as well as behavioral characteristics such as typing and touch screen dynamics, are extremely difficult to imitate, and thus capable of uniquely identifying a person.


Possession factors: Authentication using something owned or carried by the user. For instance, the code created by a smartphone authenticator app, SMS OTPs, or a hardware token.


Magic links: The system sends an email to the user once they submit their email address. An access URL is included in the email. When the link is clicked, the user is given access.


Passwordless Authentication is frequently used as part of a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and Single Sign-On solution. For example, in order to access business applications and systems, the user must first unlock their mobile device using their fingerprint, followed by entering a one-time, temporary SMS code that was delivered to their device. These solutions improve user experience, boost security, as well as minimize IT operations expense and complexity.


Adaptive authentication is the latest MFA solution that uses machine learning to develop patterns of typical user behavior. Contextual information such as a user’s location, time of day, IP address, device type, and business rules are used to determine which authentication factors to apply for them in a specific situation. When the pattern is broken, the system considers the login attempt to be risky and responds accordingly.  For example, an employee using a trusted home computer to access an enterprise application might be required to provide only one form of authentication. However, the user may further be required to enter an SMS OTP code, which is a secondary authentication factor, in order to access the application from a different country and from a different device.


Without a doubt, passwordless authentication will become the main identity authentication method in the future.