Passwords have been the go-to security method since the dawn of the internet. They’ve served us well over the years but are far from perfect. As hackers, scammers, and phishers became more sophisticated, so did password technology. It has been a perpetual game of cat and mouse.
Passkeys aim to be the ultimate security solution. No more adding vulnerable fixes, such as SMS two-factor authentication, on top of an already flawed system. If you haven’t already, you’re likely to encounter passkeys in the near future, so now is an excellent time to learn what they’re all about. Let’s get into it.
What is a Passkey?
A passkey is a more secure way to sign into websites and apps. The way they work might sound complicated, but in practice, they’re easy to use.
Passkeys use a technology called public-key cryptography. This technology is not new, as it has been used in many applications like securing credit card transactions. It consists of a public key and a private key. The public key is stored on the app or website, and the public key is stored on your device.
The good news is that you don’t have to remember any of that. If you’ve ever locked and unlocked a smartphone, you have the experience necessary to use a passkey.
How to Create and Use a Passkey
To create a passkey, you must first have a compatible device. The next requirement is to set up a security lock on your device. This could be biometric security, such as a face ID, fingerprint, or just a simple PIN code if you prefer.
The rest is very similar to how you would typically create or change a password on your account. When signing up for a service compatible with passkeys, there will be an option to create one. You will be asked to input your device’s security code, and upon successful completion, your device will be linked to your account on the website or app.
If you already have an account with the service for which you want to create a passkey, navigate to your account’s security settings and choose “create passkey.” The wording might differ depending on the website or app, but essentially, it’s the same steps you usually use to create or change a password.
Passkeys are not just locked to a single device; you can transfer your credentials between all your compatible devices. This is commonly done by scanning a QR code to authorize additional devices.
Passkeys Vs Passwords
Passkeys are mathematically generated, and passwords are generated by the user. Remember, your device unlock code is not your passkey; it just grants permission to your private key to communicate with the public key on the site or app.
Passwords are vulnerable to many different types of attacks. Phishing is one of the most prevalent. This is when you’re presented with a fake version of a website and asked to enter your login information. This can’t happen with a passkey, as your device’s private key is only linked with the legitimate site.
Two-factor authentication as a backup to passwords does help, but emails can be hacked, and savvy crooks can swap SIM cards for their own. Passkeys remain secure even if your device falls into the wrong hands.
Passkeys are also much quicker and more convenient to use. You will no longer need to remember a unique password for every account. Password managers were designed to solve that problem, but it can be devastating if a hacker gains access because they will have access to all your passwords.
Created and Supported by Big Tech Companies
Some of the world’s largest technology companies belong to a group named the FIDO Alliance. The members include big names such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and WhatsApp. The main focus of this group is to pool their resources in pursuit of a more secure internet.
These companies know firsthand how vulnerable passwords can be. They have millions of users each and have to deal with password issues constantly.
The switch to passkeys benefits everyone involved. The companies don’t have to allocate as many resources to help users recover and reset passwords. On the flip side, users get to enjoy a seamless login experience across all their accounts and services.
The easier it is for a person to use a service, the more likely they are to sign up. This can be nothing but a positive for the big companies, so it’s no wonder they want to make things as safe and easy as possible.
Disadvantages of Passkeys
It will be a while before passkeys become widespread. Passwords will remain the standard security feature for the foreseeable future. Even when a site does switch to passkeys, they’re likely to retain the option to use passwords.
You also need to trust the technology and the algorithm that creates the public and private keys. The encryption is powerful, but in theory, supercomputers will eventually be able to crack the code unless the algorithm is consistently updated.
Since your private key is tethered to your device, you will have to go through account recovery procedures to regain access should you lose it and have no secondary devices set up with your key. This is not entirely different from the steps you must take when forgetting your password, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Passkeys Are Here to Stay
It is widely accepted that passkeys are superior to passwords in almost every way. New technologies can be intimidating, especially when you realize you’ll eventually be forced to use them, but they quickly become second nature.
Passkeys may not be perfect, but they’re a giant leap forward in creating a safer internet for everyone.