Passwordless experience vs truly passwordless

The Weaknesses of “Passwordless Experience” vs the Strengths of “Completely Passwordless”

Written by
Calvin Hoenes

November 10, 2020

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Table of contents

The modern-day security threat landscape engenders a need for robust authentication methods for reliable enterprise security. Simultaneously, there’s also the need to minimize user friction. As the complexity of doing business increases with technological challenges, maintaining a balance between security and user experience remains more critical than ever.“Passwordless authentication” is discussed by many experts as a powerful way to help achieve this goal and push the envelope of enterprise security and authentication.

There are several ways to implement passwordless authentication. The choice depends on the organization’s current security profile and risk posture, and future enterprise security risk management objectives.

The limits of passwordless authentication

By eliminating the need for passwords to verify users’ identities, passwordless authentication enables passwordless login, and minimizes security risks and usability issues. However, it still does not adequately address a critical problem: How can you be sure that no one else knows your password, before it’s too late?

This particular challenge arises because most so-called “passwordless” authentication solutions are not truly so. They simply hide passwords in the user’s experience, while replaying it in the background to authenticate. In other words, they offer a “passwordless experience”, but don’t guarantee 100% security. For this, a completely passwordless solution is the only way forward.

Not all passwordless authentication solutions are created equal

With a passwordless experience, users don’t have to worry about setting strong passwords, changing them regularly, or keeping track of them. In this sense, a passwordless experience is superior to password-based systems. However, it is no way comparable to – much less superior to – a completely passwordless solution that completely eliminates passwords from both, the user experience and the background. This is why the what and the how of passwordless authentication are both critical.

A completely passwordless solution doesn’t rely on knowledge factor like passwords or memorized secrets for authentication. Instead, it relies on other stronger factors like possession and inherence which are harder to replicate, disable or eavesdrop on. This unique capability enables a completely passwordless solution to effectively eliminate all password-based threats, including phishing, dictionary and key logger attacks, brute force, and credential stuffing.

Gartner predicts that by 2022, 60% of large and global enterprises, and 90% of midsize enterprises, will implement passwordless methods in more than 50% of use cases.Yet, many of these organizations don’t completely understand the risks of passwordless experience, and how these risks can be mitigated by a completely passwordless solution. Our expert’s guide to passwordless authentication aims to fill these gaps. To better understand the role of passwordless authentication in enterprise cyber security, and why your organization needs to embrace completely passwordless, download this free white paper here.

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