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Passkeys: Unlocking a password-less future

It’s official – passwords will soon be dead. They are being replaced by “passkeys“, designed to reshape how we will access all of our accounts, web sites and data in the very near future. Leading this change are tech giants like Google (who recently announced that they were making passkeys the default) and Apple (who have built passkeys into their operating system since iOS16).  As this change looms, understanding passkeys and getting ready for their integration is crucial.

The switch to passkeys brings a host of advantages, marking a clear upgrade from traditional passwords:

  1. Improved security: At the core of passkeys is public key cryptography. This involves a two-key system—a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption—enhancing security against common cyber threats like phishing.
  2. Ease of use: The hassle of memorising and managing many complex passwords will soon be over. Passkeys simplify the authentication process to a fingerprint scan, face recognition, or a PIN entry.
  3. Quick access: The streamlined authentication process enables quicker access to online platforms, a benefit in our fast-paced digital world.

Here are a few examples of how this new technology will make your life easier:

  1. Easier account recovery: Imagine a scenario where you’ve lost your phone, which had the passwords saved on it. With traditional passwords, regaining access to your accounts could be a tedious process involving password resets through email or answering security questions. However, with passkeys stored securely in iCloud, you can easily regain access to your accounts on a new device without going through the cumbersome recovery process.
  2. Secure online shopping: Consider the process of making a purchase on an e-commerce website. Typically, you’d create an account with a password or log in if you already have one, which can be time-consuming and potentially insecure if your password is weak or reused across sites. With passkeys, you could authenticate quickly using biometrics like Face ID or Touch ID, making the shopping experience not only quicker but also more secure.
  3. Safeguarding sensitive information: If you work in a profession where you handle sensitive information, the security of your accounts is paramount. With passkeys and the underlying public key cryptography, you can ensure a higher level of security compared to traditional passwords. The cryptographic keys provide a robust line of defense against phishing attacks and other common cyber threats.

While the benefits are clear, one potential challenge could be the learning curve as users transition from the traditional password system to the new passkey protocol.

For Apple users, this transition to passkeys is expected to be smooth. The process is based on the WebAuthentication (or “WebAuthn”) standard with Safari and the operating system (iOS, macOS, etc) doing all the hard work for you. Here’s all you will need to do:

  1. Software update: Make sure your device is updated to the latest iOS version (iOS 16 or later) to use the passkey feature.
  2. Account registration: During account registration on an app or website, your device will create a unique cryptographic key pair associated with your account.
  3. Authentication: Use features like Touch ID or Face ID to authorise the use of your passkey, ensuring seamless and secure access.

That’s it – no more weird passwords (strong or otherwise)! Your face, your fingerprint or a PIN will be all you need to access the data you need. Everything else is calculated and stored securely in your Apple device and the iCloud.

For Apple, the secure storage of passkeys in iCloud is a significant feature. This means that even if you lose your phone or get a new device, your passkeys are safely stored and easily retrievable from iCloud. This level of secure and convenient storage alleviates concerns about losing access to online accounts and provides a seamless transition when changing devices.

The switch to passkeys is an exciting step towards a safer and more user-friendly digital environment. Apple, well-known for making things easy for users, is leading the way to this new way of signing in – where you’ll simply use your face or fingerprint. The fact that other big tech companies like Google are also on board highlights the importance of this change. As we get ready for a future without passwords, getting to know the easy and secure nature of passkeys is a good idea. This not only gets us ready for what’s coming but also opens the door to better digital security and user experience. The move to passkeys is more than just a tech upgrade; it’s a step towards making the online world a safer and easier place for everyone.

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