Biometrics Year in Review: Password Date of Death

Another year is almost behind us, and what a year it’s been for biometrics. When it comes to authentication, especially for consumers, the identity industry has made an incredible amount of progress. With biometric sensors and software becoming standard fare on newly released smartphones, an increasing number of feasible consumer grade modalities, and major IT companies like Microsoft embracing FIDO standards, it seems like the password is finally on its way out the door.

2015 was also a year of cyber crime. Major data breaches made the news on a regular basis, with governments and private enterprises seeing a predictably large number of hack attacks. As such, there is a major demand for strong password alternatives across the board: consumers are aware of the insecurity of their secret codes, and other public and private interests are all but waiting for their turn to suffer at the hands of online criminals.

We are now crossing the threshold into the dying days of the password. Supply is here to serve the demand, or so it would appear. We asked the respondents of our 13th annual Year in Review survey—over 150 professionals—whether they thought the password would be dead by the year 2020. Here’s what they said:

Biometrics Year in Review: Password Date of Death

 

A Passwordless 2020

Biometrics Year in Review: Password Date of DeathThe large majority of respondents believe that biometrics are on track to replace passwords by 2020, though they admit that there are still advances to be made in the technology. Given what we’ve seen throughout the past year in terms of setting the stage for such a major paradigm shift in online security, this seems like a reasonable stance to take.

This year Acuity Market Intelligence released a forecast on the mobile biometrics market that corroborated such a post-password stance. According to Acuity biometrics will be standard on 100 percent of all smartphones by 2020, and that in the target year alone over 5.5 billion apps that use biometric features will be downloaded.

That said, over the next five years there are admittedly some challenges to overcome. Issues in public perception and overall security system integrity (which we will explore later in our Year in Review analysis) still need to be addressed. Thankfully, 2015 also saw major milestones reached in both areas, alongside increased use cases that put biometrics in the hands of users the world over.

The Multi-factor Future

Biometrics Year in Review: Password Date of Death

There is a middle ground when it comes to the post-password future, and it’s supported by about 25 percent of our survey respondents. The second most popular online security vision of 2020 is a multi-factor situation in which passwords are supplemented by strong authentication such as biometrics. Widely known as second factor authentication, this security paradigm is described in the FIDO Alliance’s U2F specifications.

In 2015 we saw an increased visibility of two-factor solutions, with events like Two Factor Tuesday lending a platform for the modality’s promotion. In terms of a possible future, a multi-factor password/strong authentication solution is perhaps the more pragmatic choice, as it can easily assuage the common (if a little misguided) fears of biometric theft and irrevocability.

The Extremes

Biometrics Year in Review: Password Date of DeathAround three percent of our respondents think that in 2020 passwords will still be the primary method for logical access control, while about seven percent believe the password is already dead. In terms of the former selection, the possibility seems narrow and dependent on a halting of the market. It is also worth noting that about three percent of our survey selection reported that they never personally use biometrics.

The latter segment, on the other hand, appears perhaps as optimistic, but given that a large portion of our respondents (43 percent) use biometrics more than five times per day, it is easy to understand where this viewpoint comes from. The fact is, as we head into 2016, there are are more ways than ever to authenticate with technologies that reach beyond the password alone. Biometrics and second factor solutions are being offered to consumers and businesses at an unprecedented level of accessibility and, if one is inclined, a user can rid her life of almost all passwords right now.

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Stick with FindBiometrics throughout December as we bring you more results from our 13th annual Year in Review. Be a part of the conversation by following us on Twitter and tweeting with the hashtag #FB2015.

December 9, 2015 – by Peter B. Counter