Magic Links: Powering the Passwordless Shift

The SaaS space is slowly but steadily moving away from the use of passwords, with biometric and camera-based methodologies gaining traction. But magic links are still the most effective and common way to get things done. Let’s take a closer look at this technique and how one can get started with just a few clicks.

Before starting off, we highly recommend you check out our article about Password Authentication and why it is getting outdated. Besides the obvious security benefits, magic links are helping companies become PLG-d today. 

What are Magic Links?

Magic links work in a similar way to one-time passwords, also known as OTPs. However, the main difference is that the end-user is accessing the link via email. This passwordless methodology is extremely suitable for B2B setups where dozens of SaaS applications are being used on an ongoing basis with end users mostly using their personal computers or laptops to access them.

The magic link flow is pretty straightforward:

  1. The end-user tries to access the app via the login page where the email ID needs to be filled in before continuing with the process.
  2. Once a valid email address is used, a unique magic link token is generated, ideally with an expiry time for security purposes.
  3. The end-user receives an email with the magic link for logging in.
  4. Once the email is opened and the link is clicked upon, the end-user is authenticated with the unique token and redirected to the app.
  5. The end-user can start using the app. The best practice here is that this process needs to be repeated once the end-user has gone inactive.

Magic links can be used as a stand-alone solution, but can also be combined with other methods for security reasons. For example, app developers can implement a hybrid authentication setup in tandem with Social Logins if needed.

Related: All You Need to Know About Passwordless Authentication

The Pros of Using Magic Links

Magic links and passwordless techniques in general are allowing SaaS companies to deliver more robust offerings that are better suited to today’s dynamic usage patterns. Here are three major benefits of using magic links.

1. Improved Security Posture

It’s no secret that cybercrime is on the rise. Weak or reused passwords are often the culprit. As per a recent Digital Guardian report, more than 60% of people admitted to reusing or repurposing passwords. No matter how well educated the end-user is, human nature always leads to poor security hygiene and compromised security standards. Magic links solve this problem instantly.

Related: Read Our Two-Factor Authentication Guide

2. Less Stress on IT and Support Teams

Password resets are ranked very high in the list of roadblocks and frustrating-tasks that IT and support teams have to perform today. Besides that simple fact that every password reset is costing organizations around $70, there is also increased overhead and pressure on multiple stakeholders. The backlog grows when this is an application that scaling up fast and offering a Freemium version.

Passwords also need to be stored securely. This responsibility often falls upon engineering teams. Instead of focusing on innovation, they have to deal with mundane tasks like migrating databases or creating backups.

3. Elevated Customer Satisfaction

Magic links improve the customer experience during one of the most crucial stages of the application’s use – the login stage. With passwords, this stage creates a lot of friction and often leads to cumbersome reset processes that accelerate churn. Magic links essentially give end-users more independence, which is at the core of the ongoing Product-Led Growth (PLG) revolution. 

Related: Password Hacking: How Passwords are Breached

The Cons of Using Magic Links

No methodology is perfect and the same applies to magic links. Now that we have covered the pros of this passwordless methodology, let’s take a quick look at the cons you need to be aware of to eliminate security blind spots.

1. Usability Hiccups

Many email providers, especially in B2B setups, are extremely aggressive when it comes to filtering incoming emails. This means that magic links can end up in Spam folders, something that can frustrate all sides involved and increase friction. Thankfully, this issue can be solved by mentioning it at the start of the login process and using clear email subject lines for added clarity.

Related: Read Our JWT Authentication Guide

2. Email Dependencies

Magic links are passwordless entities, but they do rely on emails. This means that if the end-user has a compromised email account, he is creating a supply-chain vulnerability that can be escalated pretty easily. But the good news is that this issue can also be resolved by enforcing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), as mentioned earlier. An added layer of security should get the job done.

3. Security Blind Spots

Magic links are often sent to personal email boxes on remote machines or private laptops. This creates security blind spots for security teams since they have no direct access to these machines or accounts. The best way to reduce the risks involved is to set expiration dates for all magic links. More and more SaaS apps are limiting the validity to 5 minutes only.

Related: Social Logins: Is the Hype Justified? 

Implementing Magic Links with Frontegg

Configuring passwordless authentication with magic links is very easy with Frontegg. Our self-served solution lets choose between One-Time Codes (OTCs) and magic links, all with just a few clicks. Frontegg also lets you customize the email that you’ll use – from CSS/HTML elements, all the way to the content and messaging. An end-to-end solution for your app.