How To Make Passwords Obsolete - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Cloud
News
4/7/2015
07:06 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

How To Make Passwords Obsolete

Why do we still rely on the human-memorized password for authentication? Here are seven alternatives worth considering.
Previous
1 of 10
Next

(Image: Geralt via Pixabay)

(Image: Geralt via Pixabay)

We've all complained about passwords for years, yet very little has changed. If you had asked me five years ago about the future of the username and password authentication mechanism, I would have proclaimed that the practice would be long dead by now. And I would have been wrong.

That raises two questions: Why do we still rely on the human-memorized password for authentication, and what methods are out there that could finally render it obsolete?

On the following pages, we'll talk about seven of the top password alternatives. Some of these methods, such as fingerprint and facial recognition, have been around for a while, but are being implemented in new areas. Other forms of authentication leverage the popularity of social networking, using our Facebook or Twitter accounts to let us access other applications on the Internet. Still others let us use our smartphones as an authentication mechanism. Whether through the use of geolocation identification, NFC/Bluetooth transmissions, or other app-based authentication, smartphones and other smart devices can act as a set of virtual house keys that grant us access to all of our protected digital assets.

In order for many of the authentication methods presented here to work, there needs to be a change in philosophy in terms of what levels of security are needed. Risk levels need to be determined on a per-application and per-authorization level. If risk levels are low, perhaps a simplified authentication method will suffice. When risk levels are high, by all means lock it down like Fort Knox.

The point is that the password is no longer the best way to authenticate users. Now, it's a matter of choosing the right authentication method for your system or application and implementing the authentication tool that best suits your needs. Check out these promising authentication methods, and tell us in the comments section below whether you think any of them can actually replace the password.

Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Previous
1 of 10
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
mtanenbaum801
100%
0%
mtanenbaum801,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/7/2015 | 11:58:06 AM
making passwords obsolete
It seems like most of these solutions are designed to make it easier to use, not more secure.  How does logging in with your social media account make things more secure?  Yes, it means you have one less password to remember, but it also means that if your social media account is hacked, the hacker not only can send Facebook messages on your behalf, but can also empty your bank account.  That doesn't seem like a good plan to me. 

How does Yahoo's plan to eliminate passwords in favor of text message tokens make you more secure?  That means (a) if your phone is lost or compromised, so is your Yahoo account and (b) since text messages are sent in the clear, an eavesdropper can just listen in and snatch it.

Security or convenience - pick either one.  

Client side certificates are an interesting solution that has been around for a long time, but there are challenges regarding revoking them (3 out of 4 Fortune 2000 companies still have not revoked or replaced their SSL certificates compromised during Heartbleed.).  There are also challenges of moving the certificates from computer to computer as you move around (home to work to Grandma's house).

We need to continue to discuss the situation and try different things, but I don't think we have found a silver bullet yet.

My two cents.
Stratustician
100%
0%
Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
4/7/2015 | 3:47:14 PM
Re: making passwords obsolete
I agree.  While signing in with partner sites (such as social media sites) seems easier, it just opens a lot of issues around privacy and security.  The problem with passwords is that they are still rooted in human behavior, that is to be easy on the user, which often means there is a large security trade off.  Users know they should be using complex passwords, but are they actually doing so?  Probably not.
RockFox
50%
50%
RockFox,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2015 | 10:20:05 AM
Re: making passwords obsolete
I agree.  There is no way I would every login anywhere using my Facebook or Google account.  These guys already know too much about me.

I use a password manager (RoboForm) that will generate complex passwords that I do not have to remember.  I make them with as many characters as allowed.  I only have to remember my master password.  Of course I have my database backed and stored in a safe location.  I give my master password to my POA and also my executor.
Andrew Froehlich
50%
50%
Andrew Froehlich,
User Rank: Moderator
4/8/2015 | 10:27:52 AM
Re: making passwords obsolete
@RockFox - You bring up a great point about password management software. I too use it...and it is a great help. But I think that it's simply a crutch to help us with an authentication mechanism that needs to be replaced with something better.
jagibbons
50%
50%
jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:33:55 PM
Re: making passwords obsolete
I don't know that I'd agree with a password manager, like Roboform or many others, being a crutch for the lazy. I use one such tool, and it has more than 500 unique and complex passwords stored in it. I use them routinely for work and personal activity online. I couldn't possibly create and memorize that many complex passwords.

The reason 2-factor seems to be better than just a password is that, when implemented properly, requires a theif to have two pieces of information rather than just one. The odds of guessing my complex password while also having a copy of my fingerprint are pretty slim, at least I would hope.

No security access mechanism is perfect. The best solutions utilize a number of components to properly identify the risk based on the user and then require the right number of authentications to make it statistically improbable that the user isn't who he/she says they are.
Andrew Froehlich
50%
50%
Andrew Froehlich,
User Rank: Moderator
4/8/2015 | 1:36:46 PM
Re: making passwords obsolete
@jagibbons -- I didn't say it was for the lazy. But the fact that you need a seperate tool in order to properly maintain all of your authentication needs tells me that there is something interently wrong with the authentication mechanism in the first place.
jagibbons
50%
50%
jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:41:37 PM
Re: making passwords obsolete
Quite right, I misread the earlier comment. I agree that if we need a tool to help us manage, the thing we're trying to manage in the first place is broken.
vnewman2
50%
50%
vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2015 | 2:38:25 PM
Re: making passwords obsolete
It was so nice when a password was in fact and actual word and not a motley mess of characters, numbers and symbols that no one can remember because it varies site to site and there's no standard naming convention. I am a fan of dual authentication - password + authentication code sent to a device or email you own. It hasn't let me down yet. No one has broken the accounts of mine that have that applied.
nomii
50%
50%
nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2015 | 3:46:07 AM
Re: making passwords obsolete
@vnewman2: I think it is proven than dual factor authentication is difficult to crack but some companies are still avoiding it either because of extra efforts involved or they have customer base around the globe and it would cost them much higher to send a text every time for authentication. I think a pin code which would last for a month can also be an applicable solution.
vnewman2
50%
50%
vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2015 | 12:30:23 PM
Re: making passwords obsolete
@nomii - yes you are correct.  It's a hassle for all parties involved - people hate two-steps processes that used to requre only one. 
nomii
50%
50%
nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 3:41:34 AM
Re: making passwords obsolete
And the two step process will become even more annoying if so much complexity is added in the first password that it is already hard to remember. On one side gadgets are placed to avoid memorizing even a phone number but on the other side they are forced to make much effort in order to memorize huge number of complex passwords at a time.
Shantaram
50%
50%
Shantaram,
User Rank: Moderator
4/22/2017 | 4:25:05 AM
Re: 192.168.1.1
Comments to the article are no less interesting than the article, thanks for helping to understand this topic
nomii
50%
50%
nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2015 | 3:33:42 AM
Re: making passwords obsolete
@jaggibons: I agree with you remembering the complex passwords created by the tool would be even difficult. My problem is not with remembering one time complex password even for multiple sites but the problem is when you have to change it every month. I think it would be better if the complexity of the password lower down and replace it with dual factor.
Andrew Froehlich
50%
50%
Andrew Froehlich,
User Rank: Moderator
4/8/2015 | 10:24:36 AM
Re: making passwords obsolete
@mtanenbaum801 -- You are correct. Many examples of authentication are less secure than a standard username/password. I think that much of the problem is that we try to treat all of our authentication the same from a security perspective. 
soozyg
50%
50%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/7/2015 | 8:46:58 PM
multiple users
As the mother of two children who each have their own cell phone, I would ask that the security not get more complex. Verizon has a program (Family Something....] that emails me everything coming and going from my kids' phones, but I would like to be able to get into those phones any time. So hopefully, whatever new security is created, it allows for multiple users.
HAnatomi
50%
50%
HAnatomi,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2015 | 2:19:26 AM
No cyber life is possible where there is no password.
Something dependent on the password (ID federations, 2/multi-factor, biometrics, etc) cannot be the alternative to the password.   

It is too obvious, anyway, that the conventional alphanumeric password alone can no longer suffice and we urgently need a successor to it, which should be found from among the broader family of the passwords and the likes.
anon1345044580
50%
50%
anon1345044580,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2015 | 10:37:33 AM
Short Sighted
In today's NSA world it's seems kinda obvious that it's not enough to make our accounts and devices more secure.  They have to be both secure and allow us to keep our privacy (if we want it, or at least have the knowledge of what is being given away).  I think biometrics it ripe for abuse.  Same thing with geolocation.   I like the idea of on demand passwords.  Though it is weak from the standpoint of theft, I think that's a bit better than allowing any group to permanently track people's biometrics.  
NJ Mike
50%
50%
NJ Mike,
User Rank: Moderator
4/8/2015 | 11:17:29 AM
Is the solution more of a pain than the problem
Yes, passwords can be a pain, but the concept is simple, so everybody understands what is happening.  The idea of using individual certificates?  Just one more pain in the butt thing to remember when you get a new device/computer.  And how many people, especially those not in IT, understand what the heck they are and how they work.

Biometrics sound nice, and I like just swiping my finger on my cell phone to unlock it - but if I cut my finger, good thing there is an old reliable password, as a band-aid renders the finger swipe useless.  Will I need to take off my glasses everytime I want to do a retinal scan?  How much do things like this add to the cost of a device?

Log on using social networks?  No f***ing way.  I just don't trust Facebook - as another reader pointed out, what if your password there gets compromised.  Also, as previously stated, why does Facebook need more information about us?  I don't need my activity reported on Facebook as part as one of their new "features".

Yes, passwords are a pain, but they are simple, cheap, and they work. 
NJ Mike
100%
0%
NJ Mike,
User Rank: Moderator
4/8/2015 | 11:18:43 AM
Is the solution more of a pain than the problem
Yes, passwords can be a pain, but the concept is simple, so everybody understands what is happening.  The idea of using individual certificates?  Just one more pain in the butt thing to remember when you get a new device/computer.  And how many people, especially those not in IT, understand what the heck they are and how they work.

Biometrics sound nice, and I like just swiping my finger on my cell phone to unlock it - but if I cut my finger, good thing there is an old reliable password, as a band-aid renders the finger swipe useless.  Will I need to take off my glasses everytime I want to do a retinal scan?  How much do things like this add to the cost of a device?

Log on using social networks?  No f***ing way.  I just don't trust Facebook - as another reader pointed out, what if your password there gets compromised.  Also, as previously stated, why does Facebook need more information about us?  I don't need my activity reported on Facebook as part as one of their new "features".

Yes, passwords are a pain, but they are simple, cheap, and they work. 
hho927
50%
50%
hho927,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:04:26 PM
Re: Is the solution more of a pain than the problem
The problem is people don't remember their passwords especially when the passwords are complex.
jries921
100%
0%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 11:45:39 AM
Facial recognition could work
...as could Star Trek style voice authentication, though in the latter case, apparently it takes both voice recognition *and* a password to blow up one's ship.

 
freespiritny25
50%
50%
freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
4/12/2015 | 8:33:56 AM
Re: How To Make Passwords Obsolete
I utilize social log in when it is available. It is a temporary solutuion to memorizing multiple different passwords. 
Commentary
CIOs Face Decisions on Remote Work for Post-Pandemic Future
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  2/19/2021
Slideshows
11 Ways DevOps Is Evolving
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  2/18/2021
News
CRM Trends 2021: How the Pandemic Altered Customer Behavior Forever
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  2/18/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
The State of Cloud Computing - Fall 2020
The State of Cloud Computing - Fall 2020
Download this report to compare how cloud usage and spending patterns have changed in 2020, and how respondents think they'll evolve over the next two years.
Video
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you.
Slideshows
Flash Poll