Microsoft joins FIDO group hoping to replace passwords with public key cryptography

Microsoft logoMicrosoft has joined the board of directors of the FIDO ("Fast IDentity Online") Alliance, an industry consortium that is attempting to create a set of protocols to enable consistent, secure, passwordless access to Web-based applications. Other members include Google, BlackBerry, PayPal, Lenovo, and MasterCard.

The problems with passwords are well-known. They're poorly chosen, regularly stolen, and routinely reused across sites, meaning that a compromise of one account can lead to compromises of many others.

FIDO hopes to replace passwords with a system built around public key cryptography. To register with a FIDO site, you won't enter a password into the site. Instead, hitting register will alert your authentication devices—typically an app on your smartphone—of the attempt to register. If that attempt is approved (for example, by using a registered fingerprint or entering a PIN), the device will generate a public/private key pair. The public key will be sent to the online service; the private key will be retained on the authentication device.

Subsequent log ons will have a similar overall flow. You'll choose to log in to the site, and the request will be sent to your device. If you approve the login attempt, the device will use the private key to sign some data sent from the online service and then send the signed data back to the service. The service will then use the public key to verify the signature.

Microsoft joins FIDO group hoping to replace passwords with public key cryptography

FIDO will also have a protocol for acting as a second factor, to be used in conjunction with a traditional password.

Applications could already use similar techniques for authentication today, but developers would have to create all the components and communications protocols themselves. This poses a substantial burden (especially given the security-sensitive nature of the development) and would also mean that each different online application would need its own protocols and authentication app.

The Alliance intends to create standard protocols for this communication between online services and authentication devices so that services could simply make use of existing libraries, and users could use a single authentication app for all of their FIDO-secured services. Once this protocol has been created, the group plans to submit it to IETF or some similar standard body.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Microsoft, security

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