Passwords are as old as the road to Rome, literally: the Roman military used passwords to determine if someone was friend or foe. If you knock on the door of the fort and cannot provide the correct password, you will not be able to enter. Unlike today, passwords were not used to identify individuals, but rather their role was to identify whether someone was or could be part of a particular group. Whether to get to something: Just think of “Open Sesame” from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. During World War II, the Allies worked with the “Situational Response” system around D-Day. If you meet someone else, you yell “flash.” If he answers “thunder,” you know he’s an ally.
So passwords have been a part of our culture for thousands of years. So it’s not surprising that when the modern computer was invented in the mid-20th century, people quickly looked to passwords to protect (parts of) systems and to authenticate users. This shifted the focus from checking if someone belonged to a group to identifying individuals via the now archaic group of username and password. The more we started using computer systems, the more usernames and passwords we had to come up with and remember. It’s easier to have a single combination of username and password, but it’s safer to use a unique combination everywhere.
Because all these combinations are difficult to remember, many people still use simple passwords or passwords are reused. More tech-savvy users are often turning to a password manager, so they can use unique passwords for each account without having to remember them themselves. For the general public, a password manager can be quite complicated. Therefore, companies have been looking for a new way to log in and authenticate for years, one that is secure, that no longer works with passwords and simply works so that everyone can use it.
These are the passkeys. Or rather: that’s the promise of passkeys, an initiative of the FIDO Alliance, a partnership to which Apple, Google, and Microsoft, among others, are affiliated. In this article we look at what passkeys are, how they technically work, how you can get started with them now and of course the advantages and disadvantages compared to passwords.
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