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Multi-factor Authentication Compromised, Is Going Passwordless The Solution?

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MFA over Passwordless

In the past few years, the cyber threat environment has grown hostile. As organizations face a surge in cyberattacks, more cases of data breaches due to weak or insecure passwords have surfaced. Passwords have quickly become one of the most significant vulnerabilities for an organization. A 2020 Verizon data breach investigation reveals 81% of the total number of data breaches labeling lost or stolen passwords as the cause. It has, therefore, become ever more crucial to enable robust password security. However, the ultimate method for attaining such robust securty is still somewhat unknown. 

Previously multi-factor authentication was the ultimate method of ensuing robust password security. However, over the passing years, the term has become somewhat of a buzzword used by cybersecurity professionals, particularly as this method has started failing. The sophistication within the cyber threat landscape now demands a much more effective form of enabling data privacy and security. 

What is the problem with the multi-factor authentication method?

Admittedly, the multi-factor authentication method has served the cybersecurity industry well. Ever since its advent, the form did prove to help enable data privacy and security. However, multi-factor authentication has become devoid of its original security over the past years. The method now almost seemed a glorification of what it is. 

Although, on paper, the concept seems foolproof, however, the main problem with multi-factor authentication lies in its working. Multi-factor authentication works by adding additional layers of security to an already password-protected endpoint. However, the use of passwords makes multi-factor authentication vulnerable to its core. There are several methods available for threat actors to compriomsie these passwords and gain access to endpoints in simple ways. Moreover, the authentication methods that MFA relies on, such as OTPs or SMS verification, or PINs, are somewhat old school and vulnerable to getting compromised in various ways such as:

  • PINs are passwords and have a high chance of getting stolen 
  • SMS verification or OTP has several security issues that even NIST advises against using. 

The ultimate commercialization of cybercrime has led to multi-factor authentication to its slow death. This has made organizations, enterprises, and individuals vulnerable to data theft and other security breaches. The dark web is swarming with various phishing kits to crack even multi-factor authentication. The researcher at Proofpoint said these phishing kits could successfully circumvent multi-factor authentication by stealing cookies. 

Passwordless authentication or MFA?- key differences. 

As its name implies, passwordless authentication revolves around an authentication method that doesn’t rely on the need for any password for authentication. Simply put, passwordless authentication is more of a choice or ultimate goal in comparison to multi-factor authentication or single sign-on, which has somewhat become a product. 

The main objective of going passwordless is to reduce and potentially eliminate the use of passwords and revolutionize endpoint access management. In essence, passwordless authentication is somewhat like multi-factor authentication, except it stops using passwords altogether. This modern authentication method relies on the use of identity verification methods that don’t rely on passwords, such as:

– Adaptive authentication methods

The method relies on analyzing a pattern within the user’s behavior. No deviation within the behaviors goes unnoticed, and the risks associated with each login are evaluated through the user’s personal information such as location, registered device, etc. 

– Decentralized credential store

One crucial aspect of every passwordless authentication method that makes it ultimately secure is that they don’t store users’ data within a system. Instead, the information is stored within a user’s device, making it inherently more secure than traditional password-based security approaches. 

– Liveness detection

Passwordless authentication methods mainly rely on the liveliness detection technique, which uses various algorithms to analyze data collected by biometric scanners for verification. The method can help identify a fake login attempt by differentiating from a live person preset at the real-time capture point or a fake object, a lifeless body part of even a prosthetic device. 

– Asymmetric cryptography 

Methods of authentication in passwordless authentication necessarily rely on the same principle as digital certificates. These methods deploy the use of asymmetric cryptography with a private key to unlock. The secure nature of asymmetric cryptography ensures that only authorized people, servers, devices, or machines can access the private key. 

Is going passwordless the ultimate solution?

Although passwords have been around for a considerable time, it is no unknown fact that they have become more of a liability than security. It has therefore become exceedingly crucial for organizations and enterprises alike to go passwordless due to its numerous benefits such as:

– Protection against phishing attacks 

Phishing is one of the most prevalent types of cyberattacks and is why 36% of data breach attacks. Most phishing attacks revolve around the threat actor duping victims to reveal their login credentials. However, integrating passwordless authentication can help mitigate such phishing attack risks. Since passwordless automation relies on modern authentication methods instead of passwords, the possibility of compromised credentials comes down to zero. Therefore, it leaves no room for users to fall victim to phishing attacks. 

– Improves supply chain security  

Passwordless authentication secures the supply chain from software supply chain attacks. Since it relies on secure authentication methods for phishing proof access, it also prevents threat actors from entering the database and comprising the network by injecting malicious code. 

– A stronger cybersecurity posture 

Compromised credentials mean a threat actor has access to sensitive information about your business, clients, and customer. It also means that the threat actor has access to your accounts and finances. With such control, these threat actors can steal your money, exploit customers’ and clients’ data for identity theft, or even sell sensitive information over the dark web. Therefore it is best to have passwordless authentication that can eliminate such risks. 

Possible drawback to passwordless attention?

Like other security measures, passwordless authentication is not a foolproof solution. While it does provide robust privacy and security, it does have some of its drawbacks. For starters, passwordless authentication is designed to store information within the user’s device instead of a system. Amidst this, cases o lost or intercepted devices can potentially become the gateway to data theft. 

Apart from that, since the technology is relatively new, many professionals are hesitant to trust it. The mistrust probably arises because the idea completely negates the use of passwords, which have long since been the oldest method of ensuring security. 

While these drawbacks are somewhat concerning, it is possible to mitigate them quickly. Therefore, in contrast to other password security methods, such as MFA, password authentication seems like an ultimate solution. 

 Final Words 

Amidst the rising number of data breaches, it is crucial to protect data in the most secure way possible. With MFA getting relatively weak, passwordless authentication seems to be the perfect solution to attaining robust password security. The use of modern technology makes it secure and hassle-free, allowing every individual ease in adopting it. 

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Shigraf is an experienced cybersecurity journalist and is zealous about spreading knowledge regarding cyber and internet security. She has extensive knowledge in writing insightful topics regarding online privacy, DevOps, AI, cybersecurity, cloud security, and a lot more. Her work relies on vast and in-depth research.

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