Glossary
November 2, 2023

Passwordless Authentication: An Introduction

Passwordless authentication is an alternative to traditional password-based authentication that is gaining traction among organizations aiming to bolster their security infrastructure while enhancing user experience. This article explores the concept of passwordless authentication, its benefits for organizations, various methods, and how to implement passwordless authentication with Userfront.

Definition of Passwordless Authentication

Passwordless authentication refers to the verification of a user's identity without requiring the user to enter a password. This method leverages other forms of identification like single-use codes or security keys, providing a more secure and user-friendly login experience. By eliminating the need for passwords, this authentication method mitigates common password-related security risks.

Benefits of Passwordless Authentication for Organizations

The primary benefits of passwordless authentication boil down to three areas: security, user experience, and operational efficiency.

Security:

  • Mitigation of Weak or Reused Password Risks: Traditional password-based systems often suffer from weak or reused passwords, making them easy targets for cyber attackers. Passwordless Authentication eliminates this risk, offering a more secure alternative.
  • Reduced Phishing Attacks: Phishing attempts often target password credentials. By eliminating passwords, the chances of successful phishing attacks are significantly reduced.

User Experience:

  • Simplified Login Process: Passwordless Authentication simplifies the login process by reducing the steps required to verify a user’s identity.
  • Elimination of Password Memorization and Resets: Users no longer need to remember or reset passwords, which enhances the overall user experience and reduces frustration.

Operational Efficiency:

  • Reduced Password-related Support: Organizations often dedicate resources to handle password resets and related support issues. Passwordless authentication lowers the demand for such support.
  • Lower Operational Costs: By reducing the need for password-related support, organizations can lower operational costs and reallocate resources to other critical areas.

Types of Passwordless Authentication

  • Verification Codes: Users can opt for a verification code (sometimes called a time-based one-time password or TOTP) sent to their email or SMS address. They then enter this one-time verification code instead of a password.
  • Magic Links: Much like a verification code, except instead of a code, the user receives a link that they click on to authenticate. Magic links usually have an expiration date and can only be used once.
  • TOTP Applications: This authentication method allows users to use a TOTP application on their smartphone to verify their identity. TOTP authentication is primarily used as a second factor in MFA signup flows because users must authenticate with the TOTP application through other factors.
  • Security Keys: Security keys are physical devices that store cryptographic keys to authenticate users. These keys can be connected via USB, Bluetooth, NFC, or even embedded within devices.
  • Biometrics: Biometric authentication utilizes unique biological traits such as fingerprints or facial recognition to verify a user’s identity.
  • Single Sign On: SSO could be viewed as a form of passwordless authentication because once a user is verified with an SSO provider, they don’t need to enter an additional password to log in to additional applications.

Implementing Passwordless Authentication on Userfront.com

Userfront supports the following methods of passwordless authentication:

  • Magic links
  • Email verification
  • SMS verification
  • TOTP applications
  • SSO

Here is how you can enable passwordless authentication methods in minutes:

  1. In your Userfront account, navigate to the authentication dashboard.
  2. Under “First factors,” select the methods of authentication you would like to allow. While you can choose as many methods as you’d like, we recommend just a few to keep it simple.
  3. Email verification works with Userfront right out of the box. Just click the toggle, and users can log in using a code sent by Userfront.
  4. Similarly, email magic links also work out of the box and do not need to be configured. If you prefer to build your own magic link experience, follow these instructions.
  5. To set up SSO, you will need to follow the steps for each SSO provider.
  6. To set up TOTP, follow these instructions.

Passwordless authentication is a solid solution for organizations aiming to enhance their security and user experience. With platforms like Userfront, implementing passwordless authentication is a straightforward process.

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