WebAuthn: Passwordless Auth & Passkeys | Secure & Innovative

Deepak Gupta
6 min readJan 8, 2024

Discover the future of secure and innovative authentication with WebAuthn. Say goodbye to passwords and hello to passwordless auth and passkeys.

In today’s digital age, passwords have become a necessary evil. We rely on them to protect our sensitive information, yet they often fall short in terms of security and user experience. The constant need to remember and manage multiple passwords can be a daunting task, and the increasing frequency of data breaches and password leaks only adds to the problem. Fortunately, there is a better solution — WebAuthn and passkey.

In this article, we will explore the limitations of traditional passwords, introduce the concept of WebAuthn, delve into the world of passkeys, and discuss the benefits of embracing passwordless authentication.

Do We Still Need Passwords?

Traditional passwords have their fair share of limitations and vulnerabilities. They are often weak and predictable, making them susceptible to brute-force attacks. Additionally, users tend to reuse passwords across multiple accounts, which means that a single compromised password can have far-reaching consequences. Moreover, the complexity requirements imposed by many websites often result in users choosing easily guessable passwords or resorting to writing them down, further compromising security.

Password management and user experience are also major pain points. With the average person having to remember dozens of passwords, it’s no wonder that they often resort to using simple and easy-to-guess combinations. Furthermore, the need to regularly change passwords can lead to frustration and forgetfulness.

To make matters worse, data breaches and password leaks have become alarmingly common. Even the most secure websites and platforms have fallen victim to cyberattacks, resulting in the exposure of millions of user credentials. This not only puts individual accounts at risk but also highlights the inherent weaknesses of passwords as a means of authentication.

What is WebAuthn?

WebAuthn, short for Web Authentication, is a web standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the FIDO Alliance. It aims to revolutionize the way we authenticate ourselves online by providing a secure and passwordless alternative.

At its core, WebAuthn relies on public-key cryptography to authenticate users. Instead of relying on a shared secret like a password, WebAuthn uses a public-private key pair. The private key is securely stored on the user’s device, while the public key is registered with the website or application. When authentication is required, the user’s device signs a challenge from the website using the private key, and the website verifies the signature using the registered public key.

WebAuthn plays a crucial role in enabling passwordless authentication. By eliminating the need for passwords, it reduces the risks associated with weak and compromised credentials. Instead, users can authenticate themselves using biometrics, such as fingerprints or facial recognition, or through the use of external devices, such as security keys or smartphones.

Major browsers and platforms have recognized the potential of WebAuthn and have shown their support by implementing it. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge all support WebAuthn, making it widely accessible to users. Additionally, major platforms like Android and Windows have also integrated WebAuthn into their authentication frameworks, further promoting its adoption.

Moving on to Passkeys

Passkeys are a fundamental component of WebAuthn and serve as the user’s authentication method in a passwordless world. Unlike passwords, which are typically memorized, passkeys are stored on a physical device, such as a security key or a smartphone.

Passkeys offer several advantages over traditional passwords. First and foremost, they are much more secure. Since passkeys are stored on a physical device, they are not susceptible to online attacks like phishing or keylogging. This means that even if a malicious actor manages to trick a user into entering their passkey on a fake website, the passkey itself remains secure.

Furthermore, passkeys provide a convenient user experience. Instead of having to remember complex passwords or go through the hassle of typing them in, users simply need to have their passkey device with them. This can be as simple as plugging in a security key or using a smartphone with biometric authentication capabilities.

There are different types of passkeys that can be used with WebAuthn. Security keys, such as YubiKeys or Titan Security Keys, are physical devices that connect to a computer or mobile device and provide a secure means of authentication. Alternatively, smartphones can also act as passkeys, utilizing built-in biometric sensors or external security apps to authenticate users.

Benefits of WebAuthn and Passkeys

The adoption of WebAuthn and passkeys brings a multitude of benefits to both users and service providers.

From a security standpoint, WebAuthn significantly enhances protection against phishing attacks. Since passkeys are tied to specific websites or applications, they cannot be used to authenticate users on malicious sites. Even if a user unknowingly enters their passkey on a phishing site, the lack of a valid signature from the user’s device will prevent the attacker from gaining access.

In terms of user experience, WebAuthn and passkeys offer a seamless and convenient authentication process. Users no longer need to remember complex passwords or go through the hassle of typing them in. Instead, they can simply plug in a security key or use their smartphone’s biometric capabilities to authenticate themselves.

Additionally, the adoption of WebAuthn reduces the reliance on password management and memorization. With passkeys, users no longer need to remember multiple passwords or resort to insecure practices like writing them down. This not only simplifies the authentication process but also reduces the risk of password-related vulnerabilities.

Implementing WebAuthn and Passkeys

Enabling WebAuthn and setting up passkeys is a straightforward process. Here is a step-by-step guide to get started:

  1. Ensure that your device and browser support WebAuthn. Most modern browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge, have built-in support for WebAuthn.
  2. Register a passkey device. This can be a security key or a smartphone with biometric capabilities. Follow the instructions provided by the device manufacturer to set it up.
  3. Visit a website or application that supports WebAuthn. Look for the option to enable passwordless authentication or security key login.
  4. Follow the on-screen instructions to register your passkey device. This typically involves plugging in the security key or using biometric authentication on your smartphone.
  5. Once your passkey device is registered, you can use it to authenticate yourself on supported websites and applications. Simply follow the prompts and use your passkey device when prompted.

It’s important to check the compatibility and integration considerations may vary depending on the website or application you are using. Some platforms may require additional setup or configuration to enable WebAuthn. Also, review the documentation or support resources provided by the service provider for specific instructions.

When implementing WebAuthn and passkeys, it’s crucial to follow best practices to ensure a secure and seamless user experience. This includes regularly updating passkey devices and keeping them in a safe place, as well as providing clear instructions and support for users who may be unfamiliar with the concept of passwordless authentication.

Future of Passwordless Authentication

WebAuthn represents a significant step towards a passwordless future. Its adoption by major browsers and platforms is a testament to its potential impact. However, the journey towards passwordless authentication is far from over.

Emerging technologies and trends, such as biometric authentication and decentralized identity systems, are likely to shape the future of passwordless authentication. Biometrics, such as facial recognition and iris scanning, offer a seamless and secure means of authentication. Decentralized identity systems, on the other hand, aim to give users more control over their personal data and authentication methods.

WebAuthn is expected to play a crucial role in this evolving landscape. As more websites and applications adopt WebAuthn, users will become accustomed to the convenience and security it offers. This, in turn, will drive further innovation and the development of new authentication methods and technologies.

Summary

Passwords have long been a necessary evil in the digital world. However, with the advent of WebAuthn and passkeys, we now have a secure and convenient alternative. By eliminating the vulnerabilities and limitations of traditional passwords, WebAuthn and passkeys offer enhanced security, improved user experience, and simplified password management.

It’s time to embrace the magic of passwordless authentication and take the first steps towards a future where passwords are no longer a burden. So, why wait? Implement WebAuthn, explore passkey options, and experience the wonders of a passwordless world.

Originally published at https://guptadeepak.com on January 8, 2024.

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Deepak Gupta

Tech Entrepreneur, CyberSecurity innovator and author. Developer at heart. Co-founder/CTO of @LoginRadius, Upcoming stuff: https://guptadeepak.com