What's the Difference Between Passkeys and Passwords?

8/30/2023 Jing Gu

As a developer, you understand the importance of ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of digital interactions. You also know about the weaknesses attackers exploit to gain access to user accounts and data. Your job is to build in safeguards that help protect that data. Do you choose passwords or passkeys for authentication?

The Not-So-Secret World of Passwords

Let's imagine you've got a “strong” password you think no one will ever guess. Using that password online is like talking about your deepest secrets at home while you've got a neighbor visiting. Your secret is bound to get out. 

This is because:

  1. Passwords are stored in a database. Databases are goldmines for attackers because they contain passwords and other sensitive customer information. While password hashing and encryption are useful techniques for protecting passwords, they are not enough, evidenced by the frequency of data breaches that occur each year. 
  2. Passwords are vulnerable to phishing attacks, adversary-in-the-middle attacks, and other forms of common credential attacks. This means that no matter how diligent users are, they are never protected from credential attacks. This is evidenced by the fact the Verizon Data Breach Report continues to report that credentials account for over 80% of breaches. 

Enter The Passkey

Passkeys are like a secure lock to an application that only the user is able to unlock with a key only they can use. Passkeys help protect user accounts from unauthorized access by eliminating shared secrets. With no password or shared secret used, it is extremely difficult for a bad  actor to gain access to user  accounts.

Unlike passwords, passkeys rely on asymmetric cryptography which means no secrets are shared. In an asymmetric model of authentication, there is a public-private key pair where the private key is never shared outside of the users’ devices. This translates to online privacy and better security. Instead of a phishable password, passkeys step up security by requiring the user to supply biometrics (a fingerprint or your face) to prove identity in tandem with the private key stored in the device’s hardware TPM. 

Passkeys are a powerful and effective way of keeping data secure. By using them, the user can protect their accounts from unauthorized access and get rid of the cause of most login headaches and security issues—the password. 

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