Quick Wins · · 4 min read

Passwordless Authentication in 2024

Passwordless Authentication in 2024

One of the most notable trends so far in 2024 is the shift towards passwordless authentication, largely driven by the need for improved security and user experience. Just last month, Microsoft started supporting FIDO2 keys for Azure Virtual Desktop.

Look, we get it. You’ve come up with a clever way to remember your password while keeping it secure. You may even have started to use a password manager (kudos if you have!) to help eliminate the need for wondering if you remember it after the last update prompt. You may really love your password process and we don’t blame you.

But have you thought about breaking up with your password?

Passwords are so 2023

You may have come across the term “passwordless” in the last several months as cyber companies attempt to roll out new features. This may seem like a flavor of the month, but the concept of going passwordless is extremely useful in the fight against cyber threats. Traditional password systems are fraught with vulnerabilities – they’re susceptible to phishing, brute force attempts, and the biggest amongst them all, human error.

The benefits of going passwordless extend beyond enhanced security. From a professional standpoint, adopting passwordless authentication offers a competitive advantage in user experience. Before you pull the password ripcord, however, you should carve out time for careful planning and consideration.

Passwordless authentication is simple at its core: providing a mechanism to identify and validate a user all without a password. Boom – blog done, right? Unfortunately (for you, dear reader), it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

How passwordless authentication protects

Passwordless authentication ties user credentials to a specific device or key (and sometimes, location too) and allows an authentication even to occur if given the right parameters. This also means that passwordless authentication isn’t the same as 2FA; they require passwords to configure, but don’t use them in an authentication context. You may also have come across it in tools like Microsoft’s Windows Hello for Business, the term “Phishing-Resistant MFA", or security keys like Yubico’s FIDO2 key.

Still not convinced passwordless enhances security? Here’s a couple of examples that may give you food for thought:

  1. Reduced Risk of Phishing Attacks. With passwordless authentication, even if employees are tricked into entering their credentials, attackers can’t gain access because there are no passwords to steal. Additionally, if a user attempts to use a FIDO2 key for authentication against a domain that doesn’t match, the authentication will fail. This is extremely helpful to protect against phishing campaigns attempting to steal credentials with a similarly used domain, like microsoftonline.com vs. microsoftonline.co.
  2. Elimination of Password Reuse and Weak Passwords. Weak or reused passwords are the bane of all IT members. Going passwordless eliminates this risk by removing passwords from the equation entirely. Instead of relying on employees creating and remembering strong and unique passwords, access is granted through more secure means.
  3. Streamlined Access for Remote Workers. Passwordless methods provide a secure and convenient way for remote employees to access systems they need without the risks associated with traditional VPNs and passwords. This method is particularly effective against man-in-the-middle attacks and ensures that access is granted only to authenticated users, regardless of their location.
  4. Improved Compliance with Regulatory Requirements. Many regulatory frameworks require implementing strong access controls. Guess what? Passwordless authentication can meet these requirements by providing a higher level of security than traditional password-based systems.
  5. Enhanced User Experience and Productivity. While not a direct security benefit, improved user experiences indirectly enhance security by offering convenience. Employees are less likely to write down or share access credentials when they don't have to remember complex passwords, leading to better compliance with security policies and protocols.

Before jumping ship, check for system compatibility, user workflows, and any special regulatory requirements. You’ll also want to spend time focusing on comprehensive training and awareness programs for users to become comfortable with the new authentication methods. There are a dozen ways to skin a cat and infinitely more vendors that can help transition to passwordless.

The most common ways to deploy passwordless authentication are certificate-based, hardware security keys, or biometrics. Each of these poses their unique challenges and use cases – it’s worth doing research to identify what works best for your organization before making organization-wide changes.

Moving on after password breakups

Passwordless authentication is a great tool to enhance your organization’s security, offering defenses against password attacks. With an additional layer of verification leveraging dynamic, session-specific credentials, these mechanisms enhance account and system security. As much as it pains me to not get quick access through password attacks while performing penetration testing or red teaming, providing enhanced password protections just adds so much more.

If you’re interested in finding out more about passwordless technologies for your organization or testing an implementation, we’re here to help. Ember Lake has over a decade of experience performing offensive security assessments for organizations just like yours. Reach out to us at info@emberlake.ky for more information.

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