We’ve been promised alternatives to passwords for a number of years, and though we’ve seen features like SMS two-factor authentication, ‘email me a login’ tools, and features such as Sign In with Google and Sign in with Apple, logging into your favorite accounts is still time-consuming and tedious.
Apple appears to have cracked the code with its latest venture, offering passwordless access to your accounts across Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs later this year. Rather than using a password, you’ll be able to log into online accounts using ‘passkeys’. Instead of remembering passwords for dozens of accounts or using a password management tool like LastPass, passkeys replace passwords using Touch ID and Face ID.
When you try to log back into that website, Passkeys will help you prove who you are using your biometric information, rather than having to type in a password. These passkeys will sync across all of your devices using iCloud Keychain, and because keys are stored on your device rather than on Apple’s servers with end-to-end encryption, the chances of them entering into the wrong hands are much lower. What’s more, Apple uses Web Authentication API (WebAuthn) for further security and peace of mind – with lots of under-the-hood benefits.
Should passkeys be widely adopted, they could mark a serious step forward for online security and reduce the chances of phishing attacks. After all: passwords cannot be stolen if they don’t exist in the first place, and because every account will have a unique passkey, you also don’t have to worry about someone finding your ‘master password’ and suddenly having access to all of your accounts online. A 2019 Google study with Harris Poll found that 13 percent reuse the same password across all accounts, and a further 52 percent use the same one for multiple accounts. Only 35 percent use a different password for every account.
The truth is that Apple’s idea for a passwordless future isn’t exactly new: schemes like this have been tried in the past. But what is new is that the world’s biggest technology company is embracing the idea, and that could make a real difference. Apple first teased passkeys at last year’s WWDC conference, and The FIDO Alliance has also been working on the standards that are needed to replace passwords for many years.
Passkeys are Apple’s implementation of these standards, which could help other giants like Google follow suit. Indeed, earlier in the year, Apple, Microsoft, and Google all offered their support for the new FIDO standards, which will unify any potential future implementations and ensure that consumers are protected. Microsoft has already begun adopting them, by offering users the chance to replace their passwords with one-time login links and codes, whilst Google has experimented with passwordless technology, setting out its own journey earlier this year.
Provided all of these companies implement the same ideas, it should be possible to use your iPhone to log into Windows machines, and vice versa. FIDO’s standards mean that tech brands must work collaboratively; passkeys could be a universal feature in the near future.