Passwords have had their day: Why we can expect an accelerated shift towards biometrics in 2019
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first ever internet transmission in 1969. As we near this milestone, says Andrew Shikiar, chief marketing officer of the FIDO Alliance, contentions regarding privacy and security online abound.
While the problem of authentication is nothing new, it has risen to the forefront in recent years as numerous high-profile data breaches have been traced back to a single compromised credential; usually a username and password combination. The issue is compounded by the highly risky, yet relatively commonplace practice of storing such credentials in easily exposed, central databases, which have become sitting ducks for increasingly skilled hackers to infiltrate.
Despite the growing awareness regarding the inadequacy of passwords – indeed, more than 2.3 billion were stolen in the past year – they remain ubiquitous with connected security. So much so that each day, humans spend 1,300 years collectively entering them.
Arguably, technological development has run ahead of authentication processes and recent security incidents further evidence the fact that our infrastructure for protection is lagging behind. Far more secure methods of authentication, including biometrics, are now readily available at our fingertips, which can greatly improve security and privacy for consumers accessing online services, while improving the user experience.
Good news, too
There is, however, good news to be found in this area, as we are starting to see major organisations around the globe come together to drive standards (such as those from FIDO Alliance) that enable the replacement of weak password-based authentication with strong hardware-based authentication, by incorporating technology such as biometrics.
In practice, a user swipes a finger, speaks a phrase, looks at a camera or on a device, or touches the button on a hardware authenticator to login, pay for an item, or use another online service. The device-based verification is used as an initial factor to then unlock a second, more secure factor: a private cryptographic key that authenticates a user to the service.
Since biometrics and cryptographic keys are stored on local devices and never sent across the network – eliminating shared secrets – user credentials are secure even if service providers get hacked, thereby preventing scalable data breaches.
During the course of 2019, biometrics will continue to contribute to a simplified customer experience when it comes to online authentication. The new version of 3D Secure from the global payment networks in EMVCo, for example, will be completely adapted to mobile devices and enable the implementation of secure biometric identification technologies such as fingerprints, iris scanning, and facial recognition.
As more consumers become comfortable with biometric authentication, the limitations and drawbacks of passwords will become increasingly salient. While this development is welcomed, it also creates an imperative for the industry to create and rally behind technical standards and established best practices, which can also inform emerging government regulation around this technology.
Indeed, on the compliance side – given that banks within the EU are mandated to comply with the new Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) requirements of the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) by September 2019 – we will inevitably see an increased investment in robust authentication security, including technology such as biometrics.
Furthermore, the ability of online platforms to leverage strong authentication protocols is set to contribute to SCA becoming the norm rather than a novelty. With leading support for standards-based strong authentication in all leading web as well as in Windows 10 and Android – we predict that the incorporation of stronger authentication will continue to proliferate to millions of new internet users this year.
While there remains a great deal to be done, here’s to hoping that the Internet’s 50th birthday will herald the arrival of widespread adoption of modern strong authentication, significantly improving privacy, security and the user experience in the process.
The author of this blog is Andrew Shikiar, chief marketing officer of the FIDO Alliance