The traditional method of safeguarding our accounts with passwords is facing growing challenges. As technology evolves, so do the methods employed by hackers, making passwords both inconvenient and increasingly susceptible to breaches.

You may have heard that passkeys are an emerging method to secure our accounts and devices in the digital age. But what is a passkey? Here, we explain what a passkey is, how it works, and why they are emerging as a compelling alternative to the traditional password.

What is a Passkey?

A passkey is a new method of signing into online accounts that offers more security than a traditional password or passcode. Passkeys use biometric verification to confirm your identity and unlock your account or device. This delivers quicker logins and easier use while helping to prevent any unauthorized users from accessing your information.

Passkeys are still in their early stages of adoption but are becoming more prominent in everyday life. For example, many smartphones have already implemented passkey technology and have begun to transition away from traditional alphanumeric passwords. iPhone users have benefited from passkey technology for years through their devices’ face and fingerprint scan features.

A passkey uses your biometrics to determine if you are authorized to access your devices or online accounts, eliminating the struggle of remembering complex passwords. This adds an extra layer of security to your accounts and delivers unmatched convenience.

How Does a Passkey Work?

When you create a passkey for a website or app, your device generates a unique pair of cryptographic keys: A public key that’s shared with the website or app and a private key that’s stored securely on your device and never leaves it. These keys are mathematically linked, but it’s nearly impossible to determine the private key from the public key.

Your device sends the public key to the website or app, along with a unique identifier for your device, such as a credential ID. The website stores this public key and associates it with your account, but it never receives or stores your private key.

When you want to log in to the website or app, it sends a challenge to your device. Your device uses its private key to generate a unique cryptographic signature based on the challenge. This signature is sent back to the website, along with the credential ID. The website verifies the signature using the public key it has stored. If the signature matches, it confirms your identity and grants you access.

In essence, passkeys replace the traditional password exchange with a more secure, cryptographic handshake between your device and the website. This public-key approach makes it much more difficult for hackers to steal or compromise your credentials, even in the event of phishing attacks or website breaches.

Passkey vs. Password – What’s the Difference?

Passkeys are a modern alternative to passwords. The main difference between a passkey and a password boils down to how they authenticate your identity and the level of security they offer.

Passkeys and passwords have different authentication methods. With passwords, you remember and manually enter a secret string of characters. With passkeys, you use your biometric information – like a fingerprint or face scan – or a personal identification number (PIN)/pattern stored on your device.

Passwords are more vulnerable to phishing attacks, data breaches, and other hacks that target weak credentials. Hackers can also trick you into revealing your password on a fake website. On the other hand, passkeys are more secure than passwords because of their public-key cryptography technology, which creates a unique cryptographic signature that cannot be easily stolen. Passkeys are also stored locally on their devices, rather than a cloud-based storage approach like the iCloud keychain. This makes it more difficult for hackers to obtain.

Passkeys also offer convenience that passwords simply cannot compete with. The struggle to maintain strong passwords is almost paradoxical. It is best to routinely update passwords, using a random mix of numbers, letters, and symbols without any recognizable pattern. However, a strong password that meets all these criteria is too complex to remember, and writing it down, physically or digitally, is too risky. While password managers offer a solution to this, the convenience of passkeys eliminates this struggle in a more secure way.

The cryptographic technology of passkeys offers strong safety improvements from passwords, such as:

  • Keeping private information private. The website never receives or stores your private key, preventing it from being compromised in a data breach.
  • Stronger Authentication. The signature generated by your private key can only be created by your device, ensuring only you can authenticate.
  • Phishing Prevention. Even if you’re tricked into visiting a fake website, your passkey won’t work because the fake site won’t have the correct public key to verify the signature.

Bottom Line

Passkeys are ushering in a new era of online security and convenience. By leveraging public-key cryptography and your unique biometrics, they eliminate the weaknesses and frustrations of traditional passwords. While still in their early stages of adoption, their superior security, enhanced usability, and phishing resistance make them a clear upgrade for the future of online authentication.

From smartphones to websites, the seamless and secure login experience offered by passkeys promises to revolutionize the way we access our digital lives. As this technology continues to evolve and gain wider adoption, we can expect a safer and more user-friendly online environment for everyone.

Another important way to help keep your information secure is IdentityIQ identity theft protection. IdentityIQ services track and monitor your personal information and alert you to possible suspicious activity. A passkey can be a step in helping secure your digital identity, and IdentityIQ identity monitoring can help provide complete protection.