Cyber Security News

Is This The End Of Passwords?

You may have seen the term 'passkey' popping up more and more... But what are they and why should you care about them?

Authentication methods like passkeys and passwords play a vital role in this endeavour. These two methods have their unique strengths and weaknesses, making it crucial to understand when and why one might be better than the other.

In this blog post, we'll explore the distinctions between passkeys and passwords, shedding light on their applications, security considerations, and real-world use cases. By the end, you'll have a clear picture of when to opt for passkeys or passwords, helping you enhance your online security.

Let's dive into the world of authentication to make informed decisions about protecting your digital identity.


What is a Passkey?

A passkey is a short, often numeric code used for authentication and secure device pairing. It is designed to be simple and easy to enter, making it user-friendly, especially in scenarios where convenience is a priority. Here's a more detailed definition of a passkey:

The key characteristic of a passkey is its user-friendliness.

Passkeys are easy to generate, share, and enter. Their simplicity makes them accessible even to individuals with limited technical expertise, making them a preferred choice in various scenarios.


What are some usage examples?

Here are some examples of where passkeys can be used:

  1. Bluetooth Pairing: One of the most common use cases for passkeys is Bluetooth device pairing. When connecting a smartphone to a Bluetooth headset or keyboard, for instance, a passkey is often used to establish a secure connection. The user is prompted to enter a short numeric code displayed on one device into the other. This straightforward process ensures a secure and hassle-free pairing experience.
  2. Wireless Routers: Passkeys are also used in Wi-Fi networks. When connecting a new device to a wireless router, the user is often asked to input a passkey (commonly referred to as a Wi-Fi password) to gain access to the network. Again, the simplicity of the passkey entry process makes it accessible to a wide range of users.
  3. Hardware Tokens: Some hardware tokens, like security key fobs, use passkeys for authentication. Users may need to enter a passkey displayed on the token when logging into a system or accessing secure resources.
  4. Secure Access Control: Passkeys can be employed in physical access control systems, such as keyless entry systems in buildings or vehicles. Users enter a short numeric code to gain authorized access.

In all these examples, passkeys streamline the authentication process by offering a straightforward and user-friendly way to verify identity and establish secure connections.

Their simplicity is especially advantageous when dealing with non-technical users or scenarios where quick and efficient pairing is essential.


What's the difference between passkeys and passwords?

Passkeys and passwords are both methods of authentication, but they have several key differences based on their usage, complexity, and application:

Passkeys are typically used for simple device pairing and establishing secure connections, while passwords are used for a wide range of authentication scenarios and are often more complex for enhanced security.

The choice between passkeys and passwords depends on the specific use case and security requirements.


What are the limitations of passkeys?

Passkeys, while simple and user-friendly, come with certain limitations that need to be considered when implementing them as an authentication method.

One of the most common limitations of passkeys is their susceptibility to eavesdropping during the pairing process.

Since passkeys are typically numeric and straightforward, they can be intercepted by malicious actors who are within range and listening during device pairing. This eavesdropping can compromise the security of the connection and potentially lead to unauthorised access.

To mitigate this limitation, additional security measures like encryption should be employed to protect passkeys and the data being transmitted during pairing.

Another limitation of passkeys is their vulnerability to brute-force attacks, particularly when they are short and lack complexity.

An attacker could systematically try all possible combinations of passkeys until they find the correct one, potentially gaining unauthorised access.

To address this limitation, it is important to ensure that passkeys, although simple, are not overly short or predictable. Longer and more randomly generated passkeys can significantly increase the time and effort required for a brute-force attack, enhancing security.

Additionally, implementing rate limiting and account lockout mechanisms can help thwart brute-force attempts and protect against this limitation.


When to use passkeys versus passwords..

As you now know, passkeys and passwords serve distinct roles in authentication, and their suitability depends on the specific scenario and security requirements.

Here are a few different scenarios and contexts where passkeys or passwords might be more suitable:

  1. Bluetooth Device Pairing (Passkeys): Passkeys are ideal for scenarios involving Bluetooth device pairing. When connecting your smartphone to a wireless headset, keyboard, or other peripheral devices, passkeys offer a convenient and user-friendly way to establish secure connections quickly. Their simplicity is well-suited for non-technical users who want a hassle-free pairing experience.
  2. Wi-Fi Network Access (Passwords): Passwords are commonly used for securing Wi-Fi networks. In this context, complex passwords provide a robust defence against unauthorized access. They ensure that only authorized users can join the network, making them suitable for safeguarding sensitive data in homes, businesses, and public places.
  3. Online Account Authentication (Passwords): When it comes to online accounts, such as email, banking, or social media, passwords are the preferred choice. The complexity and uniqueness of passwords make them a strong defence against cyberattacks. Users can create and manage strong, unique passwords for each account, reducing the risk of unauthorised access even if one account is compromised.
  4. Physical Access Control (Passkeys): In the realm of physical access control, passkeys, or numeric PINs, are often used for secure entry to buildings, vehicles, or secure areas. They are easy to remember and can provide effective security when combined with other physical security measures like card readers or biometric scanners.
  5. Two-Factor Authentication (Both): Passkeys and passwords can be used in two-factor authentication (2FA) systems. Here, passkeys offer simplicity and convenience for the first factor, while passwords provide an additional layer of security for the second factor. This combination enhances security, especially for online services and accounts where stronger protection is necessary.
  6. Sensitive Data Encryption (Passwords): Passwords are crucial for encrypting sensitive data, such as files, documents, or communication channels. Passkeys, due to their simplicity, may not provide the necessary complexity for robust encryption. Passwords with strong encryption algorithms ensure that only authorized parties can access sensitive information.

In each of these scenarios, the choice between passkeys and passwords is driven by the specific needs of the application.

Passkeys excel in situations where ease of use and quick pairing are essential, while passwords shine in contexts demanding robust security and protection against cyber threats.

Combining the strengths of both methods can also enhance security in various scenarios, offering a balance between convenience and protection.


Can passkeys and passwords be combined for enhanced security?

Yes, they can...

Combining passkeys and passwords is a powerful strategy for enhancing security in various authentication scenarios.

This approach leverages the strengths of both methods to create a robust and multi-layered defence against unauthorised access.

Here's a few ideas for how combining passkeys and passwords can provide enhanced security:

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): One of the most common ways to combine passkeys and passwords is through two-factor authentication (2FA). In a 2FA system, users are required to provide two different authentication factors to access an account or system.

The first factor often involves something they know, like a password, and the second factor can be something they have, like a passkey.

By doing this, even if an attacker manages to obtain or crack one of the factors (e.g., the password), they still need the other factor (e.g., the passkey) to gain access.

This layered approach significantly enhances security.

Enhanced Protection against Credential Theft: Combining passkeys and passwords helps mitigate the risks associated with password theft or phishing attacks.

Even if a user's password is compromised through a data breach or a phishing scam, an additional passkey requirement adds an extra layer of security. Attackers would need more than just the stolen password to access the account, making it significantly harder for them to gain unauthorised access.

Reduced Reliance on a Single Method: Relying on a single authentication method, whether it's passkeys or passwords, can leave vulnerabilities.

For example, passkeys may be susceptible to eavesdropping during pairing, while passwords can be vulnerable to brute-force attacks.

By using both methods, you diversify your defence mechanisms, reducing the risk associated with the weaknesses of a single method.

User-Friendly Authentication: While passwords can provide strong security, they can also be challenging for users to remember, especially when using complex and unique passwords for various accounts.

Passkeys, on the other hand, are simpler and more user-friendly.

Combining these methods allows users to benefit from the convenience of passkeys while still maintaining strong security through the password component.

Adaptability to Different Scenarios: Combining passkeys and passwords allows organisations and individuals to tailor their authentication approach to different scenarios.

For example, a passkey might be used for quick and easy access to a frequently used device, while a password could be employed for highly sensitive accounts or transactions where maximum security is required.

In summary, the combination of passkeys and passwords offers a flexible and robust approach to authentication, striking a balance between security and user convenience.

This multi-layered approach is especially effective in protecting against a wide range of security threats and providing enhanced security across various contexts and applications.


What are some best practices for using both passkeys and passwords?

Whilst not exhaustive, here's a list of best practices for businesses and organisations looking to enhance their cyber security by using a multi layered approach.

  1. Use Strong and Unique Passphrases: When creating passkeys or passwords, opt for strong and unique combinations of characters. Avoid easily guessable passkeys like "1234" or common passwords like "password" to bolster security.
  2. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Whenever possible, enable 2FA for added security. Combining something you know (passkey or password) with something you have (e.g., a mobile app or hardware token) provides an extra layer of protection.
  3. Regularly Update and Change Passwords: Periodically change passwords and passkeys to reduce the risk of unauthorised access. Set up reminders to prompt you to update your credentials regularly.
  4. Use a Password Manager: Consider using a reputable password manager to generate, store, and autofill complex passwords and passkeys securely. This helps in managing a large number of credentials effectively.
  5. Avoid Sharing Credentials: Never share your passkeys or passwords with others unless absolutely necessary, and only through secure channels. Be cautious about granting access to your accounts or devices.
  6. Implement Account Lockout and Rate Limiting: Employ security measures such as account lockout and rate limiting to deter brute-force attacks. After a certain number of failed login attempts, lock the account temporarily.
  7. Encrypt Sensitive Data: Use passwords to encrypt sensitive data, ensuring that even if an attacker gains access to the data, they cannot decipher it without the correct password.
  8. Regularly Monitor Account Activity: Keep an eye on your account and device activity for any suspicious or unauthorized access. If you notice any unusual activity, take immediate action to secure your accounts.
  9. Stay Informed About Security Threats: Stay up-to-date on security threats and best practices. Being aware of the latest threats and vulnerabilities can help you proactively protect your passkeys and passwords.
  10. Educate Yourself and Others: Educate yourself and those around you about the importance of strong authentication practices. Encourage friends, family, and colleagues to follow best practices to collectively enhance online security.

By following these best practices for both passkeys and passwords, you can significantly improve your overall security posture and reduce the risk of unauthorised access to your accounts and devices.

In the digital age, ensuring the security of our online identities is paramount. Authentication methods like passkeys and passwords play pivotal roles in safeguarding our digital presence.

In today's interconnected world, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of passkeys and passwords is crucial for making informed decisions about authentication methods.

By implementing the right approach in different contexts, individuals and organisations can fortify their defences against unauthorised access, ultimately safeguarding their digital identities and assets.