FIDO – The Password Killer

Did you know that the first Thursday of May is apparently “World Password Day”? I didn’t! And this year to celebrate this day AppleGoogle, and Microsoft are launching a “joint effort” to kill the password. The major OS vendors want to “expand support for a common passwordless sign-in standard created by the FIDO Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium.”

 The new capability will allow websites and apps to offer consistent, secure, and easy passwordless sign-ins to consumers across devices and platforms.  

Password-only authentication is one of the biggest security problems on the web, and managing so many passwords is cumbersome for consumers, which often leads consumers to reuse the same ones across services. This practice can lead to costly account takeovers, data breaches, and even stolen identities. While password managers and legacy forms of two-factor authentication offer incremental improvements, there has been industry-wide collaboration to create sign-in technology that is more convenient and more secure.  

The expanded standards-based capabilities will give websites and apps the ability to offer an end-to-end passwordless option. Users will sign in through the same action that they take multiple times each day to unlock their devices, such as a simple verification of their fingerprint or face, or a device PIN. This new approach protects against phishing and sign-in will be radically more secure when compared to passwords and legacy multi-factor technologies such as one-time passcodes sent over SMS. 

The announcement last week extends these platform implementations to give users two new capabilities for more seamless and secure passwordless sign-ins: 

  1. Allow users to automatically access their FIDO sign-in credentials (referred to by some as a “passkey”) on many of their devices, even new ones, without having to re-enroll every account. 
  2. Enable users to use FIDO authentication on their mobile device to sign in to an app or website on a nearby device, regardless of the OS platform or browser they are running.

In addition to facilitating a better user experience, the broad support of this standards-based approach will enable service providers to offer FIDO credentials without needing passwords as an alternative sign-in or account recovery method. 

These new capabilities are expected to become available across Apple, Google, and Microsoft platforms over the course of the coming year. 

Here is an illustration of the envisaged experience

This looks like a familiar system for anyone with phone-based two-factor authentication set up, but this is a replacement for the password rather than an additional factor.

Companies have been trying to go “passwordless” for years, but getting there has been tough. Will FIDO get it done? Only time will tell 🙂

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