In what has the potential to be a major development in the shift towards a passwordless future, Microsoft announced that it will be rolling out support for its Authenticator app as well as its biometrics-based Windows Hello service for all Microsoft account holders, and giving them the option to disable password-based authentication.
The rollout — which is expected to happen over the next several weeks — will allow the company’s users to use biometric authentication, a hardware authentication token, or a verification code sent via text or email, as alternatives to the traditional PIN/password modality most of the world has been using for several decades now.
The change will be available to all Microsoft account holders, and will include access to popular services such as the Office 365 suite, and OneDrive.
“The number of cyberattacks has increased as a result of identity and password theft—as defenders, we really have our work cut out for us in this asymmetric game,” said Vasu Jakkal, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Security, Compliance, Identity, and Management. “Without passwords you get advanced security, and it’s so much easier. It’s just a slam dunk.”
The popularity of passwordless authentication has grown in popularity over the past several months — with special attention to biometric authentication in particular — with many security experts pointing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as one reason behind its ascent.
Due to the various stay-at-home measures implemented throughout the world, the pandemic has spurred a dramatic rise in online traffic, with incidents of cybercrime and fraud rising almost proportionately. With recent studies pointing to poor password hygiene as one of the leading causes of digital security breaches, passwordless authentication is increasingly seen as a safer and more secure alternative to combat fraudsters.
According to Jakkal, Microsoft users who choose to make the switch to passwordless authentication will be able to revert back to using a password with their account if they so desire, however she expressed confidence that they “[won’t] want to go back.”