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Passkeys

What is Passkey?

Passkeys are innovative digital credentials aligning with the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) and WebAuthn standards, employing public key cryptography. This method, based on a dual-key system for securing online interactions, is recognized as the most secure and widely adopted protocol.

Unlike traditional passwords, Passkeys utilize a more secure and convenient approach, allowing users to log in using biometric methods like Face ID or fingerprints. This eliminates the need to create and remember complex passwords. Major operating systems, including Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows, support this passwordless authentication method.

Data breaches, a significant concern in digital security, are often linked to password issues. Over 80% of these breaches, with an average cost of $3.9 million, are rooted in password-related problems (as of 2023) ref. Moreover, businesses face financial impacts, such as the average cost of $70 to reset a password through a help desk ref. The inconvenience of passwords also affects consumer behavior; for instance, a third of online purchases are abandoned due to forgotten passwords.

The effectiveness of Passkey technology hinges on broad industry cooperation, which has been increasingly progressing significantly. Major technology companies, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are collaborating to overcome a significant hurdle: ensuring secure portability of Passkeys across devices and synchronization within user accounts.

Passkeys stand out because major platform providers, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are integrating them into their cloud backup services, complete with account synchronization. This implies that, for instance, a passkey generated on a user's iPhone will synchronize with their iCloud Keychain, becoming accessible on all their other authorized Apple devices. Google and Microsoft adopt a comparable strategy within their respective services.

How do Passkeys work?

Passkeys utilize a cryptographic public-private-key pair employed in two distinct ceremonies:

Registration Process of Passkeys

During registration, a key pair is generated in the background and authenticated via the user’s biometrics (such as Face ID, Touch ID, or Windows Hello). The public key is then sent to the server and linked to the user’s account for the specific website or app.

Authentication Process with Passkeys.

For authentication, the server sends a challenge to the user's device. The user’s biometrics unlock the private key stored on the device. This private key is then used to sign the challenge, which is sent back to the server. The server verifies the signature, completing the authentication without the private key or biometric data ever leaving the user's device.

Conclusion

Passkeys represent a significant advancement in digital security and user convenience. By eliminating traditional passwords and employing cryptographic authentication, they offer a more secure and user-friendly method of protecting online accounts. The widespread adoption and integration of Passkeys by major technology companies highlight their potential to transform digital security practices.