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Curious about exploring the benefits of passwordless authentication? Discover how passwordless works and how it stacks up to multi-factor authentication.

What is passwordless authentication and how does it work?

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Ever forgotten your password? You’re not alone. Having to remember multiple long, complex passwords can be frustrating and inconvenient, especially if you’re creating unique credentials each time.

It’s why more than two-thirds of people everywhere will reuse the same password over and over again. Passwordless authentication makes remembering and resetting your passwords a thing of the past.

Learn what passwordless authentication is and find out if it could suit your business or application.

About passwordless authentication

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Passwordless authentication lets users access your system without entering a remembered password or answering other security questions. Instead, users are authenticated using alternative identification methods like fingerprints, face ID scans, or one-time passcodes (OTPs).

Passwords are not very secure

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Passwords are inherently less secure because users have to remember them, but also because systems need to have a way of recognizing them during authentication too. The theft of account credentials like emails and passwords, is one of the most common kinds of data breach.

Because of this, passwordless is becoming a more widely used form of authentication. From boosting security to streamlining user experiences, passwordless could be the way forward for your business, platform or app in 2023 (and beyond).

How passwordless authentication works

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Passwordless authentication verifies a user’s identity with something other than a password, instead using alternatives like possession factors or biometrics. Personal factors such as these vary from user to user, and so are more secure than the traditional username and password combination used to access accounts and other personal data.

While it might seem complicated, passwordless authentication is actually one of the easiest and most secure methods of identity verification that exist.

Passwordless authentication is the future of security

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Passwordless sets a new standard for IT security, creating a smoother experience for both you and your users. It might even be considered superior to traditional username and password systems. Here are some of the other advantages of going passwordless.

Reduce security risks

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Traditional username and password authentication makes users (and businesses) more vulnerable to hackers and cyberattacks. According to American company Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, credential vulnerabilities account for about 84% of all data breaches.

People’s selection of insecure passwords (password1234, we’re looking at you) leaves the door open for brute force attacks and other unwelcome intruders. And if a user is re-using the same login details across multiple sites, one breach can leave them open to attacks across multiple systems.

Human error is inevitable, too. Making a password visible on a sticky note or sharing sign in details insecurely makes it all too easy for internal and external attacks to happen.

None of the above are possible with passwordless.

Better and easier for users

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On average, users have around 70-80 passwords to remember. More often than not, these credentials will be the same across many sites. Even if we know better, convenience often outweighs security.

Using secure password management tools or creating complex passwords for all our apps is something we might put in the ‘too hard’ basket. But what if logging into a site didn’t require a password at all? What if you could scan your fingerprint, use facial recognition, or click a time-sensitive link instead?

Making passwordless an option for your users makes the experience for them better. It might even drive more signups and sales.

Simplified IT operations

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Resetting passwords is a highly manual task that can take your best people away from strategic, value-adding work. If your IT team is stuck on help desk calls for hours each day, costing you time and money, then passwordless will help reduce these costs.

With your IT team working more effectively on more important things, your business will reap the benefits.

Types of passwordless authentication

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There’s no one size fits all for passwordless authentication. That’s why it’s important to figure out what method of passwordless authentication makes the most sense for your business.

As the name suggests, this method of passwordless authentication harnesses a user’s biometric data. This can include physical traits like retina scanners or fingerprints and behavioural traits, like a certain way of typing or touch screen dynamics. Biometrics are incredibly hard to fake, making them one of the strongest ways of verifying a user’s identity.

Possession factors

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This method of authentication involves seeking verification from something that the user owns or carries with them. For example, it could be a code generated by a smartphone authenticator app, one-time passwords received via SMS, or even a hardware token from a bank.

The closest authentication will get to magic. This approach asks a user to enter their email address and the system sends out an automated email containing a time-sensitive link or code. When used, this magic link grants access to the user.

Single sign-on (SSO)

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The user sign in and is authenticated via a third-party identity provider like Google, Facebook, or Twitter. SSO is easy to use, because the user is already verified by the identity provider.

Persistent cookies

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A persistent cookie is a file stored on the user’s computer that remembers information, settings, preferences and sign-on credentials that the user has previously saved. This is a reliable method of saving passwords and assuring the user has an almost passwordless authentication experience.

The server manager can also regulate persistent cookies by setting an expiration date on them.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) vs passwordless authentication: What’s the difference?

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Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a core component of strong identity and access management policies, using a combination of authentication factors to verify a user’s identity.

These identification factors can be:

  • Something you know (such as a password or PIN)
  • Something you are (such as a retina or fingerprint scan)
  • Something you have (such as a smart phone that receives a one-time code)

An example of MFA is using a fingerprint scanning technology as the primary means of authentication then entering a one-time password to verify.

Passwordless verifies a user’s identity without any use of personal or knowledge-based factors. Here are three factors that can make MFA and passwordless seem similar.

1. Authentication complexity

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Not all MFA is passwordless and not all passwordless authentication involves MFA. But if your MFA includes biological metrics, combined with private cryptographic keys (something you have), and the authentication process uses public key cryptography, then there is no need for secret credentials. There is no database of stored credentials kept, so there is nothing for cyber attackers to leak or hack.

2. Security comparison

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MFA requirements can range from easy to hard, to extremely difficult. While MFA offers more security than just a password, the level of security itself depends on both the verification factors used and the authentication process itself.

If MFA offers a one-time disposable password, sent to a personal phone for example, it is still a password that attackers could otherwise intercept.

3. User experience difference

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MFA requires the input of a variety of different factors, some of which can be tedious during the sign-in process, creating a slower user experience. If passwords are just one factor, throwing in an additional authentication method only increases the frustration and will have an impact on ease and usability.

Reasons you should consider passwordless

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Top reasons to go passwordless:

  • Information remains better protected with time-sensitive codes or biometric data that can’t be replicated or predicted easily.
  • Users like it better, and can sign in faster.
  • There’s less change your system or your users system will be the target of an attack.
  • No more ‘reset my password’ requests for your IT team.

Passwordless authentication at Kinde

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Kinde approaches passwordless authentication as the smarter, safer approach to signing up and signing in. Kinde gives customers a secure way to access their apps and websites using only an email address. This approach makes for a secure experience, combining the benefits of multi-factor authentication with the security of email.

See how Kinde compares to other authentication providers.

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