For years, Big Tech has insisted that the death of the password is right around the corner. For years, those assurances have been little more than empty promises. The password alternatives—such as pushes, OAUTH single-sign ons, and trusted platform modules—introduced as many usability and security problems as they solved. But now, we’re finally on the cusp of a password alternative that’s actually going to work.
The new alternative is known as passkeys. Generically, passkeys refer to various schemes for storing authenticating information in hardware, a concept that has existed for more than a decade. What’s different now is that Microsoft, Apple, Google, and a consortium of other companies have unified around a single passkey standard shepherded by the FIDO Alliance. Not only are passkeys easier for most people to use than passwords; they are also completely resistant to credential phishing, credential stuffing, and similar account-take-over attacks.
On Monday, PayPal said US-based users would soon have the option of logging in using FIDO-based passkeys, joining Kayak, eBay, Best Buy, CardPointers and WordPress.com as online services that will offer the password alternative. In recent months, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all updated their operating systems and apps to enable passkeys. Passkey support is still spotty. Passkeys stored on iOS or macOS will work on Windows, for instance, but the reverse isn’t yet available. In the coming months, all of that should be ironed out, though.