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Explore FIDO2, a modern authentication standard that replaces traditional passwords with secure and user-friendly methods using public key cryptography and biometrics. Learn about its history, how it works, and its advantages and limitations as it revolutionizes online account access.
FIDO2 is a modern authentication standard that aims to replace traditional username and password authentication methods with stronger, more secure methods that are easier to use. It stands for Fast Identity Online 2.0 and is a standard developed by the FIDO Alliance, an industry consortium focused on creating open standards for strong authentication.
FIDO2 authentication uses a combination of public key cryptography and biometrics to provide secure and easy-to-use authentication. This approach eliminates the need for the user to remember complex passwords and reduces the risk of account takeover through stolen passwords. Instead, FIDO2 relies on a user’s biometric data (such as fingerprints or facial recognition) or a hardware key (such as a USB token) to verify their identity.
FIDO2 authentication is increasingly being adopted by companies and websites as a more secure and convenient way for users to access their accounts.
In this article:
The FIDO Alliance is an industry consortium that was established in 2012 with the goal of creating open authentication standards that are secure, easy to use, and widely adopted. The Alliance’s members include some of the world’s leading technology companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Intel.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a global community that develops open standards for the web. It was founded in 1994 and is led by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. The W3C’s mission is to ensure the long-term growth and interoperability of the web.
The FIDO Alliance and the W3C collaborated to develop the FIDO2 authentication standard, which was released in 2018. The standard incorporates the W3C’s Web Authentication (WebAuthn) specification, which enables FIDO2-based authentication to be integrated with web browsers.
The collaboration between the FIDO Alliance and the W3C was crucial in creating a widely accepted and interoperable standard for strong authentication. By working together, they were able to create a standard that could be adopted across a wide range of devices, platforms, and services.
With the rise of biometric technology, PayPal and other tech leaders began working on an industry standard for passwordless authentication using public key cryptography.
The FIDO Alliance was founded in July 2012 by six companies: PayPal, Lenovo, Validity Sensors, Nok Nok Labs, Agnitio, and Infineon. The founding members recognized the need for stronger authentication methods and wanted to create an open standard that would improve security and boost the user experience. The FIDO Alliance quickly started growing, attracting members from a range of industries, including technology, finance, and telecommunications:
Over the years, many smart devices have adopted FIDO authentication, including smartphones, laptops, and IoT devices. This adoption has been driven by the FIDO Alliance’s focus on creating standards that are easy to use, secure, and interoperable. As more companies adopt FIDO authentication, it is becoming an increasingly important part of the broader shift towards stronger, more secure authentication methods.
FIDO and FIDO2 are related but different authentication protocols developed by the FIDO Alliance.
FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) is the first set of open authentication standards that the Alliance developed. It includes two protocols: Universal Second Factor (U2F) and Universal Authentication Framework (UAF). U2F allows users to authenticate with a physical security key, such as a USB key, while UAF uses biometric data, such as fingerprints, to authenticate users.
FIDO2 is the next generation of FIDO protocols, and is designed to improve security and usability. It includes two new protocols: WebAuthn and CTAP (Client to Authenticator Protocol). WebAuthn allows web applications to interact with FIDO2 authentication devices, while CTAP allows other types of applications, such as mobile apps, to interact with FIDO2 authentication devices.
The main difference between FIDO and FIDO2 is the level of security and the range of applications that they support. FIDO provides a strong level of security with physical security keys and biometric data, but is limited to web-based applications. FIDO2, on the other hand, expands on the capabilities of FIDO by allowing other types of applications to interact with FIDO2 authentication devices, and by adding support for multiple authentication factors, including biometric data and PIN codes.
A FIDO2 security key is a type of hardware authentication device used for secure logins into online accounts and services. It’s a small, physical device that plugs into a USB port or uses a wireless interface, such as Bluetooth or NFC, to communicate with a device. It generates a public-private key pair, where the private key is securely stored on the device and the public key is shared with the online service or account.
Registration in FIDO2 begins with the user initiating registration on a FIDO2-enabled service or application. The service or application generates a new key pair for the user, consisting of a public key and a private key. The private key is securely stored on the user’s device or security key, while the public key is sent back to the service.
The service then sends a challenge to the user’s device, which the device signs using the private key and returns the signed challenge to the service. The service verifies the signature using the public key, and if it is valid, associates the public key with the user’s account.
This process results in the user’s device being registered as a FIDO2 authenticator, allowing the user to authenticate without a password using biometrics or the security key.
Subsequent authentication attempts involve a similar process to registration, where the user’s device signs a challenge presented by the service and sends the signed response back for verification. The authentication process requires the private key to work.
When logging into a FIDO2-enabled website, users can choose between the traditional sign-in option (username and password) or biometric authentication. The previously registered user’s device signs the challenge using the private key associated with the user’s account and returns the signed response to the service. The service verifies the signature using the previously registered public key, and if it is valid, grants the user access to their account.
FIDO2 offers several advantages over traditional authentication methods:
However, FIDO2 does require an additional step in the authentication process, such as touching a fingerprint sensor or inserting a security key. It doesn’t allow users to rely on the device or browser automatically filling in credentials. Some users may find this additional step inconvenient, especially if they are used to traditional authentication methods.
While FIDO2 has gained wider adoption in recent years, it is not yet supported by all applications and services. This can limit its usefulness for some users and organizations, who may need to use alternative authentication methods for certain applications.
Frontegg is a self-served and multi-tenant user management platform for SaaS businesses that are looking to cover both authorization and authentication bases with one centralized solution without worrying about in-house coding and other maintenance requirements. Just manage your roles and permissions, create strong flows based on your use cases, and customize your Login Box, all via one centralized dashboard. It’s really that easy.
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