Passwords have many known issues:
- Password strength tends to inversely correlate with usability
- Passwords can be attacked remotely
- Attackers have built a variety of automated tools for cracking passwords
These issues have prompted the rise of biometrics and other methods of authenticating, with advantages such as:
- High ease of use
- Local-only authentication mitigates remote attacks
- Authentication hardware mitigates the use of automated tools
- Biometric data meets or exceeds most PINs and medium to strong passwords when compared on bits of entropy; for example, a scanned fingerprint typically has 40-82 bits , while a 4-digit numeric PIN has only 5.8 bits .
However, biometrics have drawbacks:
- In the event your biometric information is stolen, as it was in the OPM hack of 6 million victims , there is no password reset feature for that information.
- Attackers can and have used a victim's online photos (social media, etc.) to fool current finger, eye/iris, and facial biometrics systems (except Apple Face ID and Windows Hello for Business facial recognition) , .
The two main criteria we use when evaluating the security of passwordless authentication are the False Acceptance Rate (FAR) and published attacks.
FAR refers to the odds that a random person will successfully impersonate another. A FAR of 0.002% means that on average, only 1 out of 50,000 people will successfully impersonate another with that authentication system, using their own biometrics rather than an attack technique. It would be like trying to enter a random password to see if it works.
Published attacks vary in success rate, complexity, speed, and whether they can be done remotely or require a local attacker.
With these factors in mind, below are guidelines to help you match passwordless authentication solutions to your security and business needs. If you would like us to evaluate an authentication option not listed below, please contact the Information Security Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Information Security Office recommends the following, based on a strong baseline False Acceptance Rate (1 out of 1,000,000) and a lack of published attacks as of this writing. These methods are ideal for the most valuable systems in your department.
|Authentication Option||Operating System||Notes|
|Apple Face ID*||iOS 11||Available on iPhone X |
|Token (Smartwatch, BlueTooth token, FIDO-compliant USB, etc.)||Multi-platform|
|Windows Hello for Business||Windows 10||Facial recognition* and PIN** only , , |
*Biometrics is still a rapidly changing landscape, with new attacks and countermeasures developing yearly. This list is subject to change.
**A Windows Hello PIN must meet the following requirements:
- It must be at least 8 characters long.
- Avoid easily guessed sequences such as 1234 or abcd.
- If the PIN is numeric, it should not contain personally identifying information like your birthday, phone number, or other information publicly obtainable about you.
- Do not use the same PIN as you do for your ATM card, voicemail, or other accounts.
- If alphanumeric, a PIN should not contain personally identifying information like your name, or other publicly obtainable information about you (e.g., address, phone number, office number, etc.).
- If alphanumeric, a PIN should not contain a dictionary word unless it is part of a hard-to-guess phrase.
- A changed PIN should be substantially different from the previous PIN.
- A PIN should be memorized.
IT Support Staff should implement Group Policies for enforcing the above PIN requirements; resources can be found here.
While these authentication methods are not as strong as those in the Top Security section, they are still effective, with a False Acceptance Rate of 1 out of 50,000 or better.
|Eye/iris scanners||Multi-platform||Published Attacks: , , |
|Finger/thumb scanners (includes Apple Touch ID)||Multi-platform||Published Attacks: , , , , , , , , |
|Face scanners, other||Multi-platform||Published Attacks: , , , |
|OTP software or hardware token||Multi-platform||Published Attacks: , |
If you have questions about these products, or satisfying policy, please do not hesitate to contact the Information Security Office at email@example.com.
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