Authentication remains at the core of any application with user data and accounts. It ensures that only the authorized person is accessing the data and account. So far, Password-based authentication has been prevalent that developers mostly use.
Unfortunately, passwords are no longer a wise choice for developers to ensure secure and seamless authentication. Let’s see why:
- Vulnerable to cyberattacks: Passwords are still used as an authentication mechanism because of the long-standing efforts developers and technology industry leaders are delivering to secure the passwords. But hackers are in constant pursuit to breach passwords through different cyber-attacks and as a result, nearly 1 million passwords get stolen each week.
- Security is subjected to chosen passwords: Users tend to use repetitive or insecure passwords for their accounts, which weakens the authentication security. If a user's password is leaked in one breach, it can impact the security of other applications where the user is using the same password.
- Easily forgotten by users: Considering the risks password-based authentication poses to an application, developers need to include password policies and enforce restrictive logic in their authentication algorithms to accept strong passwords. This makes it even more difficult for the user to remember their account password. Such setup results in higher forgotten password requests requiring more development and support resources.
- Efforts in securing and managing password-based authentication: Password policies, security algorithms, encryption techniques have become minimal viable requirements to manage password-based authentication. This increases the development efforts involved in developing and managing password-based authentication.
Before talking about the solution in detail, let’s get deeper into the problem and see what are the common cyber-attacks faced by password-based authentication.
The following is the list of common password attacks. It also explains what additional efforts developers need to put in to fight these cyber-attacks and protect user data:
- Brute force: This password cracking attack use automation to guess a password millions of times. It tries all the possible combinations and permutations of passwords to exploit weak passwords like abcd@9876.
To protect against this attack, developers have to develop security features like suspending or locking user accounts on multiple subsequent attempts to log in with an incorrect password.
- Credential Stuffing: It is a type of identity theft where the attacker injects breached or leaked credentials of one account to access numerous other user accounts.
To protect against this attack, developers have to ensure that users are not using insecure or previously breached passwords.
- Keylogging: It records the user's keyboard interactions and key presses. Keylogger programs are used to record what users are typing on their keyboard and send the logged data to the creator.
To protect against this attack, developers need to introduce 2FA (two-factor authentication). Stakes are high in this case as a lot depends on how users take security measures.
- Man-in-the-Middle (MiTM): In this type of attack, the attacker sits in between the target user and the web application and deciphers all traffic passed among each other such as username, passwords, etc.
That is where developers have to be cautious, keeping all the data-in-transit encrypted.
Luckily getting rid of passwords from the authentication mechanism can address all the above-stated problems. Eliminating passwords from internet space is certainly not a 1-day thing, but the responsibility lies with developers.
Developers should introduce more secure and user-friendly authentication methods to their application users such as magic links, single sign-on (SSO), biometric, hardware-based authentication.
It does the user authentication based on the "possession factor." That is where developers find passwordless authentication trustworthy, as the authentication uses a phone number, email ID, or authenticator app to cater to an OTP, one-time link, or code respectively to verify the user.
Through this, developers can improve the user experience of the application and reduce risk while minimizing the total cost of storing the login credentials. Users will employ the one-time link or OTP only if they are logged into their email or possess the phone for SMS. This assures the developer a better security.
Almost all websites demand some form of authentication to access their content and features. Single sign-on authentication has become a standard authentication method for website logins.
Developers can integrate the single sign-on feature in their web applications to facilitate users to securely authenticate multiple apps and websites by leveraging one set of login credentials.
Through SSO, developers can implement multi-factor authentication implicitly. It uses a federated identity management architecture that relies on open standard protocols to exchange identity and authentication information among these protocols. That makes implementing the security easier for developers.
Biometrics refers to the user's physical characteristics allowing them to identify uniquely on a digital platform. Instead of typing letters, numbers, and symbols (for passwords), biometric authentication uses biometric systems to calculate and estimate the user's physical attributes. Facial recognition, tiny impressions made by fingerprints, and vocal cadence are well-known biometric authentication techniques.
It is gaining traction because developers do not have to maintain a separate database of usernames and passwords since the authentication takes place from the user device rather than the application's database.
Most in-house developers and smart device vendors leverage this authentication technique to avoid password authentication. This authentication mostly uses QR codes or link-based login approaches. Here the one-time link or the QR code uniquely generates the verification process that helps initiate the user login process without any password.
In this approach, the authentication uses a dedicated plug-and-run physical device belonging to the authorized user. These versatile security devices help users log in to desktops, Wi-Fi, websites, and other applications.
FIDO2 devices are touch-sensed USB sticks that enable hardware authentication and follow the FIDO Alliance standards and specifications. Leveraging this authentication mechanism is a plus point as the developers do not have to maintain a secure database for the login credentials.
For decades, password-based authentication has been the mainstay for security and user verification. On average, almost all online users have 20 to 30 login credentials for different applications and sites. Password logins have become so common that changing the authentication trend and adopting a new authentication approach will take time.
All the alternatives mentioned in this article can help minimize using passwords to a significant level. It's time developers should seriously ponder the problems that passwords can create for themselves and opt for reasonable alternatives as per the situation, requirements, or policy standards.
Passwords are becoming more like a liability rather than a security asset. Hence, to get rid of them, developers are leveraging other means of authentication that are more reliable and less susceptible to security breaches and threats.
Worried about efforts involved in implementing these alternative authentication methods from scratch? LoginRadius identity platform comes with these authentication techniques so that developers do not have to implement them from scratch in their applications to provide alternate authentication.