Over the next few weeks, the Microsoft Identity team will share 10 reasons to love passwordless and why you should consider changing how you (and your users) login every day. Kicking off the series is Pamela Dingle.
I love passwordless authentication because of the amazing flexibility and choice that come with strong authentication standards like Fast IDentity Online – also known as FIDO. Before sharing how FIDO has helped make my life easier, let’s talk a little about passwordless.
Passwordless authentication means living a daily digital life where you never type a password. Instead, you use more secure ways to authenticate such as a fingerprint reader built into your Windows laptop, face unlock on your Android device, or a push notification you respond to on your iPhone. The best part is you can set up just one or all of these passwordless identity mechanisms. That means there is a passwordless option no matter where you are or what you are doing. For me, this has huge benefits: 1) Less typing, 2) Less remembering of stupid passwords that make me angry, 3) Less retyping of the passwords because I got them wrong the first time, and 4) Wow is it more secure.
Back to my favorite part about passwordless authentication at Microsoft – the fact that we offer open standards-based options via the FIDO family of protocols. FIDO lets a website request a secure credential in a vendor-agnostic way. This means no lock-in! In the past, in order for a website to support secure login mechanisms like fingerprint or facial recognition, the website developer would need to write proprietary code, possibly for many types of computer hardware,operating systems, or smartphone implementations – it was just a mess. If you used a product that wasn’t on the supported list, you were out of luck. Now, the website can just use a protocol called W3C Web Authentication to ask for a FIDO credential. This eliminates a ton of proprietary code, so it is less expensive to maintain for the website, and it is more likely to work in the real world. When you couple the breadth of FIDO-compliant solutions in the ecosystem with our other passwordless options, like our authenticator app, there are a lot of flexible options.
FIDO support for passwordless authentication has made my life easier by reducing vendor lock-in. When working on my Lenovo laptop, I use the built-in fingerprint reader to login without typing. Since I’m now home all the time, I prefer to use my Apple Mac mini for work. Normally, switching to a different hardware manufacturer would be a big barrier, plus the Mac mini does not have a fingerprint reader! Luckily, I have a roaming authenticator (called a security key) registered with Azure Active Directory (along with my laptop fingerprint). With that security key plugged into my USB port, I can login passwordlessly on ANY computer that I want. I can move my security key from my Mac mini to a laptop and never type anything.
When I travel, my laptop’s built-in authenticator is the most convenient authentication option.. At home, I prefer the plugged-in security key. A bunch of awesome FIDO2 vendors offer different form factors. I can pick the vendor and form factor that works best for me. FIDO2 earrings, anyone? This set of authenticators works really well for me but what is best for you and each of your users could be different! Really, that is the crux of why we enable so many options with FIDO2, Windows Hello, and the Authenticator - we want you to go passwordless your way.
Upcoming passwordless posts
There is so much more to learn about why passwordless authentication is the future, and about how you can find a passwordless factor (or two) to make your world better. My Microsoft identity colleagues are all going to try to outdo this reason with their own takes on why passwordless is so awesome – stay tuned for the next two segments in this series:
Alex Weinert on why biometrics and passwordless are a dream combination
Sue Bohn on how passwordless makes your logins 3x faster