How Passwordless Systems Prevent Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are one of the most common and dangerous threats on the internet. They aim to trick users into revealing their personal or financial information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account details, by impersonating legitimate websites or emails. Phishing attacks can lead to identity theft, fraud, or malware infection, and can cause serious damage to individuals and organizations.

What is a phishing attack?

A phishing attack is a type of cyberattack that uses deception to lure users into providing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. Phishing attacks often rely on social engineering techniques, such as creating a sense of urgency, exploiting trust, or appealing to curiosity or greed.

A typical phishing attack involves the following steps:

  • The attacker sends an email or other communication that appears to come from a reputable source, such as a bank, a government agency, or a popular service provider.

  • The message contains a request or an offer that requires the user to click on a link, open an attachment, or reply with personal information.

  • The link leads to a fake website that mimics the appearance and functionality of the real one, or the attachment contains malware that infects the user’s device.

  • The user enters their login credentials, payment details, or other confidential data on the fake website, or the malware steals the information from the user’s device.

  • The attacker collects the information and uses it for malicious purposes, such as accessing the user’s accounts, making fraudulent transactions, or selling the data to other criminals.

Some examples of phishing attacks are:

  • An email that claims to be from the user’s bank and asks them to verify their account details due to a security breach.

  • An email that claims to be from a delivery company and asks them to open an invoice attachment for a package they never ordered.

  • An email that claims to be from a lottery organization and asks them to click on a link to claim their prize.

  • An email that claims to be from a social media platform and asks them to reset their password due to suspicious activity.

FIDO2 Authentication

FIDO2 authentication is a relatively new way to authenticate users online. Instead of using a traditional username and password, you can use a physical device, such as a USB key or your smartphone, to prove who you are. FIDO2 authentication is based on two open standards: the Web Authentication (WebAuthn) specification by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Client to Authenticator Protocol (CTAP) by the FIDO Alliance.

FIDO2 authentication works by using public key cryptography and challenge-response mechanisms. When you register with a website that supports FIDO2 authentication, you create a unique cryptographic key pair for that website. The public key is stored on the website’s server, and the private key is stored on your device. You also create a gesture, such as a fingerprint scan or a PIN code, to unlock your device.

When you log in to the website, you are asked to present your device and perform your gesture. Your device then signs a challenge from the website using your private key and sends it back. The website verifies the signature using your public key and grants you access.

FIDO2 authentication offers several benefits over password-based authentication, such as:

  • Security: FIDO2 cryptographic login credentials are unique across every website, never leave your device, and are never stored on a server. This security model eliminates the risks of phishing, password theft, and replay attacks.

  • Convenience: You don’t have to remember or type complex passwords for every website. You can simply use your device and your gesture to log in quickly and easily.

  • Privacy: FIDO2 cryptographic keys are not linked to your identity or any other personal information. They cannot be used to track you across websites or services. Your biometric data, when used, never leaves your device.

How Passwordless Helps

Passwordless authentication is a form of FIDO2 authentication that replaces passwords with something you have (your device) and something you are or something you know (your gesture). Passwordless authentication provides a more secure and user-friendly way to access online services without relying on passwords.

Passwordless authentication helps prevent phishing attacks by:

  • Removing the need for passwords: Passwords are the main target of phishing attacks. By eliminating passwords from the authentication process, you also eliminate the possibility of falling victim to phishing emails or fake websites that ask for your passwords.

  • Using device-bound credentials: Your login credentials are bound to your device and cannot be copied or transferred to another device. This means that even if an attacker manages to obtain your credentials through phishing or other means, they cannot use them without having physical access to your device.

  • Using challenge-response mechanisms: Your device only responds to challenges from legitimate websites that you have registered with. This means that even if an attacker manages to trick you into clicking on a malicious link or opening an attachment, your device will not sign any challenge from the fake website or the malware.

  • Using user verification: Your device requires you to verify yourself with your gesture before signing any challenge. This means that even if an attacker manages to steal or compromise your device, they cannot use it without knowing or spoofing your gesture.

Passwordless authentication is a powerful way to protect yourself and your online accounts from phishing attacks. By using FIDO2 authentication standards and devices, such as the YubiKey, you can enjoy a more secure and convenient online experience without relying on passwords.