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What is Secretless (Passwordless) Authentication?

Posted 25th Feb 2024 by Travis Swientek

Secretless authentication eliminates passwords, using biometrics, digital certificates, and hardware tokens for secure, streamlined access control, enhancing security and user experience.

Secretless or passwordless authentication represents a transformative shift in how access control and user verification are handled within digital environments. By eliminating traditional password-based methods and instead using mechanisms that rely on verifiable identity elements—such as biometrics, digital certificates, and hardware tokens—passwordless authentication enhances security and streamlines the user experience.

Benefits of Passwordless Authentication

Passwordless authentication methods eliminate the need for users to remember and enter passwords, thereby reducing the risk associated with credential theft, phishing attacks, and brute force attacks.

Elements of Passwordless Authentication

This approach can include various technologies:

  • Biometric Authentication: Uses unique biological characteristics, like facial recognition or fingerprint scanning, as a secure and convenient method for verifying a user’s identity.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Often a component of passwordless strategies, MFA requires one or more verification factors beyond just something the user has, incorporating something the user is (inherence factors) or something the user possesses (possession factors).
  • Security Keys and Hardware Tokens: Devices that the user possesses, providing secure access through FIDO2 and WebAuthn standards, supporting strong cryptographic login mechanisms.
  • Magic Links, SMS, and Push Notifications: Send a one-time clickable link via email or a one-time password (OTP) or passcode through SMS or push notifications to the user’s device, verifying possession and thereby the user's identity.

The Role of Passwordless in Modern Security

Passwordless authentication is at the forefront of countering modern cybersecurity threats, effectively mitigating risks like credential stuffing, account takeover, and cyberattacks facilitated by weak passwords or password reuse that can allow hackers to infiltrate networks and cause data breaches. A growing public key infrastructure use case, passwordless authentication ensures a higher level of security, without exposing the private key. This method aligns with the principles of zero trust by verifying every access request based on true identity, not just a shared secret known by the user.

Teleport's Take

Secretless authentication is a core element of Teleport’s modern access architecture, which also includes cryptographic identity, zero trust, ephemeral privileges, and identity and policy governance. By eliminating secrets, Teleport enhances security across cloud environments, web applications, and on-premises systems, mitigating vulnerabilities and improving end-user experience.

Our solution utilizes ephemeral certificates and strong authentication factors, such as biometrics and hardware tokens, to provide secure access without the traditional pitfalls of password management. Teleport supports standards like FIDO and WebAuthn, enabling users to authenticate without passwords, thus reducing the help desk burden associated with password resets and account recovery.

Moreover, Teleport’s implementation of passwordless authentication simplifies the authentication process, offering a user-friendly experience without compromising on security. It extends beyond user access, securing machine-to-machine communications and ensuring that every entity within the infrastructure is authenticated based on inherent or possession factors, rather than passwords or credentials that can be stolen.

In essence, Teleport champions passwordless authentication as a cornerstone of modern cybersecurity strategy, providing a robust, secure, and user-centric solution that aligns with the evolving landscape of digital security and trusted computing. By leveraging passwordless technology, Teleport aims to protect against the sophisticated tactics of cybercriminals, ensuring that every access request is securely authenticated and authorized within a zero trust framework.