Last year Apple and Microsoft announced the companies would begin working on supporting passkeys on their platforms. Today Google has announced the ability for Google Account holders to create and use passkeys to access their accounts. This means that when Google users login, they will not be asked for a password or 2-Step Verification (2SV). But will use the more convenient passkeys that are safer alternatives to passwords. Passkeys will be supported on all major platforms and browsers and allow users to sign in by unlocking their computer or mobile device with their fingerprint, face recognition or a local PIN. In this quick guide we will explain the differences between passwords and passkeys and how they work.
Today, thanks to the digital world we have created, online security is crucial for everyone. Traditional passwords can be difficult to remember and may put users at risk if they fall into the wrong hands. As a result, the large technology companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been working on a simpler alternative. This quick guide is split into two sections with the first explaining what passkeys are in a more understandable way with the second part offering a more technical overview of passkey technology for those who would like to dive a little deeper into the new technology that will soon to replace passwords.
What are passkeys?
Passkeys are a new way to sign in to online services, apps and websites that offer better security and ease of use. They replace traditional passwords by allowing users to authenticate themselves using biometric features such as fingerprints, face scans, or a screen lock PIN sometimes. Passkeys are more secure than passwords because they are resistant to common cyber attacks like phishing and are more difficult to crack than conventional passwords or SMS onetime codes.
Most of us use multiple apps and websites daily and making sure our accounts are secure is vital to protect your personal information, privacy and hard and cash. Passkeys make it easier for you to sign in while providing better security than traditional passwords. No more worrying about remembering complex passwords or accidentally sharing them with the wrong person.
Passkeys leverage modern technologies and standards, such as WebAuthn and FIDO2 (Fast IDentity Online), to provide a secure and seamless authentication experience. Below is an overview of how passkeys work.
How do passkeys work?
By understanding how passkeys work, you can better protect your digital identities and secure the sensitive information you care about most.
1. Cryptographic Private Key: At the core of the passkey system is a cryptographic private key securely stored on your device. When you create a passkey, the corresponding public key is uploaded to the service provider (e.g., Google). During the sign-in process, the service provider asks your device to sign a unique challenge with the private key. Your device only does so if you approve this, which requires unlocking the device. The service provider then verifies the signature with your public key.
2. Device-based Authentication: Your device plays a crucial role in the passkey authentication process. It ensures that the signature can only be shared with legitimate websites and apps, and not with malicious phishing intermediaries. This means you don’t have to be as watchful with where you use passkeys as you would with passwords, SMS verification codes, etc.
3. Biometric or Screen Lock PIN Authentication: Passkeys use biometric data (such as fingerprint or face scan) or a screen lock PIN for additional security. This prevents unauthorized access to your apps or websites, even if someone gains access to your device.
4. Cross-platform Compatibility: Passkeys are built on protocols and standards created by the FIDO Alliance and W3C WebAuthn working group. This means passkey support works across all platforms and browsers that adopt these standards. You can store the passkeys for your account on any compatible device or service.
5. Multi-device Support: Using passkeys does not mean that you have to use your phone every time you sign in. If you use multiple devices (e.g., a laptop, a PC, or a tablet), you can create a passkey for each one. Some platforms securely back up your passkeys and sync them to other devices you own, ensuring you won’t be locked out of your account in case you lose your devices or need to upgrade to a new one.
Passkeys will replace passwords
As passkeys continue to be rolled out and adopted by more tech companies, platforms and services, they have the potential to revolutionize the way we authenticate ourselves online, making the digital world a safer and more accessible place for everyone, regardless of age or technical expertise. Passkeys use public key cryptography and do not rely on shared secrets. This ensures that attackers cannot access your passkeys even if a service provider’s database is breached, as your private keys remain securely stored on your devices.
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