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How to Grow and Protect Your Business Through Secure Digital Experiences With the increasing security risks associated with passwords, the shift toward a passwordless future can provide significant benefits for both businesses and customers.

By Jason Oeltjen Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Passwords were once seen as a credible way to improve security, but with the advancing threat landscape and the increase of bad actors using easy-to-crack passwords as an entry point for far-reaching crimes, passwords have outlived their usefulness in providing the necessary level of security. From social engineering to phishing and brute-force attacks, passwords can be one piece of the security puzzle, but a multi-layered approach is now best for ultimate cyber resilience.

A major inhibitor to password effectiveness is the inconvenience, which promotes the reuse of the same weak password across multiple accounts. A recent survey of consumers worldwide found that 61% will choose a competitor offering an easier login experience, and 59% admitted they abandoned an online experience because the login experience was too frustrating.

In a convenience-wins world, one way to earn customer loyalty is to provide a passwordless experience where individuals aren't burdened by the headaches of changing, managing and constantly inputting passwords while still feeling confident that their data is secure.

Related: Passwords Are Scarily Insecure. Here Are a Few Safer Alternatives.

Understanding passwordless

Passwordless authentication can be delivered using multiple digital experiences, each with its own advantages, which can serve different types of users. For example:

  • Biometrics: physical characteristics captured by your device, like fingerprints or facial recognition, to verify a user's identity.
  • Security keys: physical devices that generate one-time codes used for authentication.
  • Email magic link: sends a secure login link to your email address for seamless access.
  • QR codes: highly secure authentication that doesn't require entering a username or password.

The highly personal and multi-step nature of these authentication methods makes them more secure and more difficult to compromise. They're also easier and more convenient and eliminate the need to remember multiple passwords or be tempted to reuse the same one across multiple accounts. Many of these methods can be implemented to support high-security requirements by using phishing-resistant standards (including FIDO and WebAuthN).

Related: Passwords Are Now a Weakness — Here's Why It's Time to Eliminate Them.

Tailoring authentication needs to the industry

Retail, finance and insurance industries all have different requirements for authentication, and experiences need to be tailored to fit a range of security and consumer needs. The key is always ensuring that the online identity represents the real human it claims. This diligence is necessary for protecting against fraudulent activity and ensuring the security of sensitive information.

Retail websites often require less complex methods, such as an email magic link. In contrast, insurance and financial websites may require more rigorous methods, such as document verification from a driver's license or passport and biometric authentication to comply with regulatory requirements.

Using machine learning in passwordless authentication

One benefit of passwordless is that it can be simplified by using artificial intelligence to analyze user behavior, identify patterns, and assess risk. Using machine learning algorithms to analyze user activity and log typical (or flag atypical) behavior patterns is a good example. These patterns – such as how a user types on a keyboard, the websites they prefer to visit, or what time of day they log in – could then be used to authenticate the user without the need for a password.

This intelligence also identifies potential threats and vulnerabilities by monitoring user activity and analyzing data. Organizations can identify patterns that may indicate a security threat or vulnerability and take action to mitigate the risk. Implementing the correct tools here can help prevent Bot and Account Take Over (ATO) attacks.

Related: Why Physical Security For Your Business Is Just as Critical as Online Security

Steps to creating a passwordless experience

If you see the benefits of creating a passwordless experience for employees and customers, here is how you get there:

  1. Design a strategy that maps your customer journeys for their first visit and return visits, including which types of devices, computers, and browsers they will likely be using and how often they will be on the site. Ensure that your passwordless authentication methods are compatible with your customers' devices and platforms.
  2. Assess the amount of identity assurance needed against the friction customers are willing to endure. Regardless of the type of website, choosing the right method is crucial. Organizations must select an authentication method that aligns with their customers' needs and their platform's requirements. For instance, facial recognition is a convenient option for mobile devices, while security keys are more suitable for desktop environments.
  3. Give a passwordless option, even if some customers keep passwords because they're more comfortable with them. This allows a company to cater to a broader range of user preferences and needs. Include education on passwordless such as how it works and how to use it. Many users are accustomed to using passwords and may be hesitant to try a new authentication method. Providing clear and concise information on passwordless authentication and its security advantages can help steer customers toward this option.
  4. Use intelligence to reduce friction for a seamless user experience. Authentication should be simple and intuitive for users without requiring additional steps or creating unnecessary friction. Placing risk and context awareness toolsets in your authentication flow ensures friction is low and security remains strong.
  5. Extensively test with people who represent your user population. The people at your company are likely not the targets of your service, so be sure to test the right individuals to ensure its efficacy, compatibility and ease of use. Testing should be done with different devices, browsers, and operating systems.

Achieving a passwordless future

The security of a website isn't solely dependent on the presence or absence of passwords. Other security methods, including encryption, access controls, and security protocols, also play a valuable role in website security. Still, passwordless authentication and verification are important aspects of a comprehensive security strategy.

With the increasing security risks associated with passwords, the shift toward a passwordless future can provide significant benefits for both businesses and customers. With the right approach, passwordless authentication can become the norm for all customers as they access online accounts and services, making seamless and secure digital experiences commonplace.

Jason Oeltjen

VP Product Management

Over the last 20 years, Jason has led engineering, support, and product organizations at companies from early startups to Fortune 500. Most recently he has worked on cloud identity solutions, focused on creating simple cloud solutions to solve complex enterprise identity security challenges.

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