Passkey vs Password: What Is a Passkey?

by Jessica Elliott
Passkey vs Password: What Is a Passkey?

There’s one clear winner for organizations and staff in the passkey vs password debate. And that’s the passkey, a passwordless authentication method that replaces outdated systems. But what is a passkey, and how does it compare to passwords?

For security-focused organizations, passwordless logins streamline management, reduce cyber risks and enhance user experiences. Learn how passkeys differ from passwords and why it’s a good option for identity authentication.

What Is a Passkey?

A passkey is an open-standard authentication technology that relies on public-key cryptography. Instead of entering a password on a website or business application, the consumer confirms their identity on a device. They do this by entering their phone’s passcode or via biometric or facial recognition. According to passkey developer Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance, “the user approves the sign-in with the same biometric or PIN that the user has to unlock the device (phone, computer or security key).”

The latest standard, FIDO2, expands on FIDO authentication, allowing vendors and browsers to add passwordless login to their products or websites. Corporations can allow single-device passkeys, where employees can only log in to applications using one personal or company-owned smartphone or laptop. Or they can support multiple-device passkeys, which sync via the cloud.

The FIDO Alliance says, “authentication with passkeys embodies the core principle of multi-factor security.” Like multi-factor authentication (MFA), passwordless methods use multiple factors to confirm identity. Passkeys use a device (possessive factor) as the first form of authentication. In contrast, MFA relies on a username and password as the first factor.

Both systems use a second factor. For passkeys, the service provider requests verification, requiring the user to prove their identity on the computer, phone or security key. It uses the factors of something they are (a biometric scan) or know (pass code). With MFA, the second factor is possessive (something they have). The service provider may send a one-time password or verification code to the user’s device.

Both MFA and passkeys improve security. However, it can take longer for businesses to deploy passkeys, as not all technologies currently support FIDO standards.

Passwordless Authentication as a Critical Technology

The 2022 State of Passwordless Security Report “shows a growing consensus among IT and security practitioners that passwordless multi-factor authentication technologies hold the answer.” It ensures compliance and data privacy while giving end users, from customers to employees, user-friendly experiences.

However, the security factors are what make passkeys stand out. When users sign up for an app or website, the passkey service creates a cryptographic key pair. The consumer’s device stores the private key, and the authenticating app (business application or website) holds the public key. Both are required to log in.

The public keys (located in the software company’s database) are useless to hackers, as they would need to possess and unlock the physical devices as well. The lack of password databases reduces the attack vector and makes passwordless technology phishing-resistant.

Indeed, many organizations have adopted FIDO standards, including:

  • Mastercard
  • GoTrustID
  • Dashlane
  • Apple
  • GoDaddy
  • YubiKey
  • Google
  • PayPal
  • Microsoft

Passkey vs Password: Understanding the Differences

Passkeys replace passwords — and for good reasons. Knowledge-based passwords are “easy to phish, harvest, and replay,” according to FIDO Alliance. Service providers store passwords in central databases, so users receive many alerts for compromised credentials. In fact, the 2022 State of Passwordless Security Report finds that “89% of organizations experienced a phishing attack in the past year.”

Unlike password-based authentication methods, service providers don’t store or have access to private FIDO passkeys, as these remain on the user’s device. Instead of entering a password, consumers log into an application or website by swiping their smartphone to open it via a fingerprint, facial scan or other supported methods. The process is more straightforward than the archaic and insecure password model.

How Passkeys Benefit Your Company

Credential management is challenging for business leaders, employees and IT departments. Yet, it’s essential considering that 82% of breaches in 2022 “involved the human element,” according to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR).

Kathleen Moriarty, the chief technology officer at the Center for Internet Security, told CNBC, “Passkeys are an example of what security should be: seamless and invisible to the end user.” Additionally, employees are more likely to adopt convenient methods, making it easier to strengthen corporate cybersecurity programs.

Enhance Cybersecurity by Leveraging Passkeys

Data protection and privacy depend on strong identity verification and access controls. And companies have many options for employee and customer logins. The best solution for your organization is scalable, convenient and secure.

The Migus Group helps you compare passkeys, multifactor authentication and other options to find the right fit for your business. Contact us to explore authentication protocols that support your security policies.

Ready to improve login security?

Jessica Elliott is a business technology writer specializing in cloud-hosted and cybersecurity services. Her work appears in U.S. News, and Investopedia.