The Future of Internet Passwords & What "WebAuthn" Means For Businesses

Tom DiScipio

Director of Client Success, Partner, Speaker, 8+ Years Sales & Client Success Expertise

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The Future of Internet Passwords & What "WebAuthn" Means For Businesses Blog Feature

Published on March 6th, 2019

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“Did I capitalize the first letter or did I use the special character?”

“Shoot… I entered the wrong password too many times and now I’m locked out.”

“Looks like someone hacked my account! How is that even possible with my extra strong password? I even used an asterisk...”

Ever said these things when attempting to access your favorite web-based app, social, or shopping website?

Unfortunately... it happens to the best of us.

Logging in by entering a username and password (or authenticating as a user) on a website has been the standard by which we’ve grown up with online -- but soon that may all change.

The Problems with Passwords

Despite it being fairly painless in concept (and sometimes practice), passwords create some real challenges:

  • With the number of websites users access every day (from personal banking to work-based project management), passwords become numerous and difficult to remember

  • Passwords are the culprit to over 80% of data breaches

  • In general, despite the interface being simplistic, it creates friction with users.

If you’ve ever had to enter your phone number to get a code in order to login, go back to your email after creating an account in order to verify the account, or use the “Forgot My Password” link, you know what I’m talking about...

Setting A New Web Standard

Solving for the above is no easy task, especially considering it’s been the standard for businesses across the globe for years.

However, on March 4, 2019, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C - the group responsible for establishing the standards by which people build on and interact with the world wide web),  officially announced a new standard of user authentication designed to replace the use of and need for passwords. W3C refers to this as WebAuthn which stands for “Web Authentication.”

According to W3C, enabling the WebAuthn standard, “gives users the option to log in more easily via biometrics, mobile devices, and/or FIDO security keys, and with much higher security over passwords alone.”

For reference, the FIDO security model, “eliminates the risks of phishing, all forms of password theft and replay attacks.”

While W3C has only recently appointed WebAuthn as the new standard, the technology has been in circulation for some time.

The Verge reports that, last year, Dropbox and Microsoft were two of the early adopters to integrate WebAuthn.

As this becomes more and more common, it could dramatically transform online user behavior.

Why Is This Important for Marketers & Businesses to Know?

So, you might be wondering… as a marketer, salesperson, or business leader, “why should I care about this?”

Clearly, WebAuthn has a long road to travel before achieving widespread adoption.

However, with the leading web-giants beginning to integrate this new standard, others will of course follow suit, and in the near future, will create a world where using typed-in passwords are no longer commonplace.

This means that the average, future internet user will learn to become accustomed to almost no-touch access to the places they go or things they use online.

Using passwords will feel like driving a car without blind spot detection or accessing an iPhone without fingerprint or facial recognition. Once we have these amenities, we don’t ever want to live without them.

In W3C’s press release, they referenced a statistic from a Yubico study stating, “users spend 10.9 hours per year entering and/or resetting passwords, which costs companies an average of $5.2 million annually.”

As businesses that leverage the internet and form fills to generate traffic, leads, and revenue, we need to understand that all of our potential customers and customers alike deeply value the removal of friction in the user experience in order to buy or use what you sell.

What Should We Do About It?

While this article specifically refers to improving a user's online experience and better protecting their data through an improved authentication system, it speaks to a much broader topic: Making it easier for your potential customers (and existing customers) to do business with you.

And... as businesses we have to:

  1. Get ahead of this. Eventually, WebAuthn will become the new industry standard for all organizations that operate an online retail store, have a SaaS product, sell digital subscriptions, or simply have a login portal of any kind - and consumers will come to expect it.

    Investing in this technology ahead of the curve can have a dramatic impact on the way buyers perceive your dedication to customer experience.

  2. Take action on how this new standard can have a global influence on your marketing and sales. When was the last time you took a step back and analyzed how easy (or difficult) it is for a qualified, net-new prospect to buy from you? What things are standing in the way of them having a frictionless process from discovering your content and brand, to engaging with sales, to signing an agreement?

    If we start with marketing, make sure you're producing educational content on your website that answers the key questions all buyers have as they're determining which product or service is a good fit for them or their company. In other words - make it easier for them to find the right answers, and in turn... find you.

    From a sales perspective, once we've determined a prospect is a good fit, reassess the number of stages they must go through in order to make a purchase. You may find that you're forcing prospects to waste time on calls that are self-serving. For example, instead of spending an hour with the prospect reviewing an estimate, could the review be created as a video and sent to the prospect to view with other stakeholders at their convenience?

In short, as technology continues to improve the digital lives of consumers, it should force us as marketing and sales leaders to continuously reevaluate if we're meeting the inherent needs of prospects and customers in the best way: by reducing the friction in their ability to do business with your organization and improving the ease at which they can become customers. 

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