What Does Passwordless Actually Mean?
Passwords have been around for a long time, and while they are easy to understand, they do come with some drawbacks. They are essential for keeping our online accounts secure, but they can also be a hassle to remember and manage. Luckily, there's a way to log in that eliminates the need for passwords altogether: passwordless authentication. But what does that actually mean?
What is Passwordless Authentication?
As you might have guessed, passwordless authentication is a way to log into a website or app without using a traditional password. Instead, you use a different method to prove your identity, such as using your fingerprint, face recognition, a security token, or a one-time code or link sent to your phone or email.
How Does Passwordless Authentication Work?
The process of passwordless authentication varies depending on the method used, but the general idea is the same. Instead of entering a password, you provide some form alternative verifying information to prove your identity. Most commonly, you’ll see passwordless authentication in the form of a “magic link.” There’s two general ways magic links are implemented: the “Click the link in the email we just sent you” method, or the “we just sent you a code, enter it here” method.
There are other forms of passwordless authentication other than magic links. For example, with fingerprint authentication, you place your finger on a sensor to be recognized. With a security token, you would use a physical device that generates a one-time code.
Why Use Passwordless Authentication?
In terms of drawbacks to traditional authentication just using passwords, you probably already know them. People forget passwords leading to password reset flows where users could potentially churn. People re-use passwords meaning if one site is compromised, all their accounts can be compromised. Some sites make bad password requirements that don't do much to protect their users and can both drive users away or force them to pick less secure passwords.
With passwordless authentication, a lot of these concerns go away. Passwords that are compromised don’t affect services that don’t use them. Many passwordless methods use devices like mobile phones to create incredibly easy flows, meaning less churn through the product or service. Not to mention passwordless is typically faster and easier, making it even more convenient.
What Are the Drawbacks of Passwordless Authentication?
While passwordless authentication is more secure than traditional passwords, it's not without its downsides. For example, biometric information can be stolen or spoofed, and one-time codes can be intercepted if they are sent via insecure channels. Another concern could be with magic links or one time passcodes landing in spam or promotions sections of an end user’s email, making for a bad user experience with logging into your product.
Passwordless authentication is an innovative and secure way to log into websites and apps without passwords. By eliminating the need for passwords, it makes logging in faster, easier, and more secure. While it's not without its risks, passwordless authentication is a promising technology that has the potential to improve the security and accessibility of our online accounts.