What is Passwordless Authentication?

Venu Shastri - June 21, 2024

What Is Passwordless Authentication?

In today’s business landscape, data security concerns are ringing louder than ever. According to the CrowdStrike 2024 Global Threat Report, a staggering 75% of attacks used to gain initial access were conducted without malware in 2023, indicating the use of valid credentials for unauthorized entry. Even as digital applications and software as a service (SaaS) tools become integral to daily work life, the practice of strong authentication hygiene lags behind, highlighting a critical need for modernized authentication methods.

The limitations of password-based authentication highlight the critical need for modernized security measures. Passwords, which are often weak or reused across multiple platforms, remain a weak link in security protocols, exposing organizations to substantial risks. Moreover, the burden of remembering and managing complex passwords adds friction to the user experience and increases the likelihood of human error. To address these challenges, organizations are increasingly turning to more secure and user-friendly alternatives like passwordless authentication.

Passwordless authentication offers a promising solution by eliminating reliance on traditional passwords, enhancing security and streamlining the user authentication experience.

Passwordless authentication

Passwordless authentication is a method of verifying a user’s identity without requiring them to enter a traditional password. This approach enhances security and usability by leveraging alternative authentication methods that are more secure and user-friendly.

Unlike traditional password methods, passwordless authentication uses ownership factors (something the user has, such as a cell phone) or inherence factors (something specific to the user, such as a fingerprint) to verify their identity. Some of the passwordless authentication methods include:

  • Biometric authentication
    Uses unique biological characteristics — such as fingerprints, facial recognition, retinal scans, or voice recognition — to verify identity. For example, smartphones commonly use fingerprint or facial recognition for unlocking, replacing the need to enter a password.
  • Token-based authentication
    Uses a physical or digital token to authenticate a user. This token can be a hardware device (like a USB security key) or a software-based token (such as a mobile app). The user presents the token to prove their identity instead of a password.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
    Requires users to present multiple factors to verify their identity. In passwordless MFA, none of the factors involve passwords. Commonly used factors include biometrics (e.g., fingerprint or face scan), possessions (e.g., a smartphone or hardware token), and inherence (unique physical traits). An example of passwordless MFA is using a combination of fingerprint scanning and a hardware token to access a system.


Passwordless authentication brings a host of advantages, helping organizations do the following:

  • Enhance security by eliminating reliance on traditional passwords, which are prone to reuse, sharing, cracking, and phishing attacks. Passwordless authentication methods offer stronger security against unauthorized access.
  • Improve user experience by eliminating the need for users to remember complex passwords or adhere to strict password policies. This simplifies the authentication process and reduces user frustration, leading to a more positive overall experience.
  • Reduce IT costs by eliminating the need for password storage and management. This also reduces the workload on IT teams, since they won’t have to handle tasks like setting and enforcing password policies, resetting forgotten passwords, or complying with password storage regulations.
  • Enhance credential visibility and control by using passwordless methods that tie credentials to specific devices or unique user attributes (like biometrics). This integration enhances visibility and control over authentication, reducing the risk of credential misuse and unauthorized access.

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Technologies and solutions

Implementing passwordless authentication involves leveraging a range of technologies and solutions that eliminate the need for traditional passwords while enhancing security and user experience. Key approaches include:

  • Biometric authentication
    Biometric authentication uses unique biological traits like fingerprints, facial features, or iris scans to verify a user’s identity. This method offers a high level of security and convenience, allowing users to authenticate by simply presenting their biometric data.
  • Hardware tokens
    Hardware tokens are physical devices that generate one-time passwords (OTPs) or cryptographic keys for authentication. Common examples include USB security keys or smart cards used by enterprises for secure authentication.
  • Mobile authenticator apps
    Mobile authenticator apps generate time-based OTPs or push notifications for authentication. By leveraging smartphones as authentication devices, authentication apps offer convenience and widespread accessibility, making them popular choices for implementing passwordless authentication.
  • FIDO2 standards (WebAuthn)
    WebAuthn is a core component of the FIDO2 Project that uses modern authentication technology to enable strong passwordless authentication. WebAuthn enables web applications to use external authenticators (such as biometric scanners or hardware tokens) for user authentication directly in web browsers, eliminating the need for passwords.

Implementation considerations

When planning to adopt passwordless authentication, organizations should carefully consider several key factors to ensure successful implementation:

  • Compatibility with existing systems
    Evaluate the compatibility of passwordless authentication solutions with your organization’s existing systems, platforms, operating systems, and browsers. Conduct thorough compatibility testing and review vendor support docs to ensure seamless integration that minimizes disruption and maximizes efficiency.
  • User acceptance and training
    Anticipate that you’ll have a user ramp-up period and provide adequate training and support to ensure a frictionless transition to your new authentication method. Offer drop-in “office hours” meetings the first couple weeks to help address any concerns or questions users may have about the new authentication methods.
  • Regulatory compliance (e.g., GDPR, PCI DSS)
    Verify that the chosen solution adheres to relevant regulatory requirements for data protection and privacy, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Evaluate how user data is collected, stored, and transmitted, and implement appropriate security measures and safeguards to ensure compliance.
  • Risk management strategies
    Implementing passwordless solutions requires ongoing attention to security. Continuously monitor the security landscape, stay updated with the latest patches and updates, and promptly address emerging vulnerabilities or threats. Regular security assessments and penetration testing can identify weaknesses and help ensure the resilience of the authentication system against evolving threats.

The future of passwordless authentication

Emerging trends

Passwordless authentication technology is reshaping digital security practices, driven by the increasing demand for secure and seamless access solutions in remote work and cloud-centric environments.

The adoption of decentralized identity (DID) models, leveraging blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, is gaining traction. DID allows users to manage their digital identities independently of centralized authorities, enhancing privacy and security. By eliminating the need for traditional passwords and instead using cryptographic keys, DID aligns well with the principles of Zero Trust security models.

Zero Trust security is becoming mainstream, especially with the rise of remote and hybrid work. This approach challenges the traditional notion of “trust but verify” by assuming that no entity, whether it’s inside or outside the organization’s environment, should automatically be trusted. Passwordless authentication fits seamlessly into this framework, helping organizations prevent unauthorized access attempts.

Integrating AI into passwordless authentication systems is also driving new techniques, such as continuous learning of user interactions, which can dynamically adapt authentication mechanisms. As biometric technologies like facial recognition and fingerprint scanning continue to advance, they further enhance the capabilities and reliability of passwordless authentication methods. This evolution offers users a convenient and secure way to access their digital resources.

These advancements underscore a shift toward more sophisticated, user-centric security solutions in response to evolving cybersecurity threats and digital transformation trends.

Challenges and considerations

Implementing passwordless authentication comes with several challenges and considerations that organizations need to address:

  • User adoption
    It’s easy to be uncomfortable with change, so it’s important to help your users embrace passwordless authentication methods. Organizations should consider effective change management strategies — including education and training — to facilitate a smooth transition.
  • Interoperability and integration
    Passwordless authentication solutions must integrate with existing IT infrastructure and applications, ensuring compatibility across platforms and devices. As with all new technologies, this will require some testing and analysis to make sure the solution operates properly with your environment.
  • Security and privacy concerns
    Though it enhances security by eliminating passwords, passwordless authentication introduces new considerations for protecting biometric data and ensuring user privacy.
  • Backup and recovery considerations
    Providing backup and recovery alternatives is essential in case of device loss, biometric data changes, or technical issues to ensure continuous access for your users.

2023 Threat Hunting Report

In the 2023 Threat Hunting Report, CrowdStrike’s Counter Adversary Operations team exposes the latest adversary tradecraft and provides knowledge and insights to help stop breaches. 

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Embracing the future of security

Passwordless authentication represents the future of security by offering enhanced protection against cyber threats while improving user experience and operational efficiency. By eliminating reliance on vulnerable passwords and adopting advanced authentication methods like biometrics or hardware tokens, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches. This transformative approach not only strengthens security but enhances the user experience, fostering a more resilient and agile security framework aligned with modern cybersecurity challenges.

To kick-start your organization’s journey toward implementing passwordless authentication, here are some actionable steps you can take:

  • Conduct a security assessment
    Begin by conducting an assessment to identify existing authentication risks and assess the suitability of passwordless authentication for your organization.
  • Select a method
    Research and evaluate different passwordless authentication technologies. Set requirements for your proof of concept (POC) evaluation and choose a method that aligns best with your security requirements and user needs.
  • Decide on the number of factors
    Determine the number of authentication factors that are optimal for your organization’s use cases and security. Consider using MFA without passwords to enhance protection.
  • Develop an implementation plan
    Create a phased implementation plan tailored to your organization’s specific needs. Define clear milestones and timelines for each phase of the implementation process, including pilot testing and full deployment.

Learn More

Find out more about how the CrowdStrike Falcon Platform can stop modern identity-based attacks in real-time CrowdStrike Falcon® Identity Protection


Venu Shastri, a seasoned Identity and cybersecurity product marketeer, serves as Director, Product Marketing at CrowdStrike for Unified Endpoint & Identity Protection. With over a decade of experience in identity, driving product marketing and management functions at Okta and Oracle , Venu has a US patent on passwordless authentication. Prior to his identity experience, Venu had co-founded and drove product management for an enterprise social software start-up. Based out of Raleigh, NC, Venu holds an MBA from the University of Santa Clara and Executive Certification from MIT Sloan.