Passwords vs. Passkeys: What Are the Differences?

open padlock with key beside it

The use of strong, unique passwords is an important part of anyone’s online security. Provided they are of sufficient strength, they keep our accounts secure.

Passwords, however, aren’t ideal in all circumstances. They have distinct disadvantages and those disadvantages can often be taken advantage of by hackers. Many security professionals now recommend that the world moves on from passwords and into passkeys. Passkeys offer similar advantages to passwords but are potentially more secure.

So what is the difference between a password and a passkey? And which one should you be using to protect your accounts?

Why Are Passwords Insecure?

Passwords are the primary concept that allows internet users to keep online accounts private. Provided the password is only known to the account holder, nobody else can access the account. The problem with passwords is that they also have inherent flaws.

Passwords are created by users and are often chosen based on ease of use, rather than how secure they really are. Passwords are often too short which allows them to be cracked using software. Passwords are often easy to guess because they are based on personal information or popular words. And passwords are often reused across multiple accounts, allowing a single hack to take out all accounts.

Passwords are also easily stolen; so much so that they can be revealed if the user visits a phishing page or submits personal information to any compromised or unsecure service.

It is possible to protect your accounts using nothing more than a password, but it requires a level of password discipline that many people fail to practice. This causes people to lose both their accounts, and, depending on the nature of those accounts, their personal information and bank balance.

What Are Passkeys?

Password Field With Lock Symbol on It
Image Credit: Christiaan Colen /

Passkeys are an alternative to passwords. Instead of entering a password, access to an account is granted by using what’s known as an authenticator. This authenticator is typically another device in your possession such as a smartphone or laptop.

When using a passkey, you are asked to log into your device rather than the account that you are trying to access. This might be done by entering a PIN in your smartphone or by using biometrics.

Access is then granted to the account because you are in possession of your device rather than because you have provided a password.

The advantage of passkeys is that none of the disadvantages of passwords apply. Unless an attacker has both your authenticator and the ability to open it, it’s impossible for them to access your account.

Phishing attacks are no longer possible because there are no passwords to steal. Passkeys also cannot be guessed or cracked using software. Anyone who uses a passkey won’t lose their account because they didn’t choose a strong enough password.

Passkeys are also potentially easier to use. You don’t need to remember lots of different passwords for different accounts and logging in using a passkey is typically faster.

Should You Use Passkeys?

Passkeys are now supported by a wide range of websites. Most small account providers, however, still only accept passwords.

While passkeys are expected to eventually replace passwords, when this actually happens is not yet known. Regardless of the superiority of passkeys, most people aren’t going to change account providers in order to use them.

Whether or not you should eventually make the switch to passkeys depends on how you currently use passwords. If you have strong password discipline, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Strong, unique passwords will always be an effective way to prevent hacks and there’s no reason to change if you like them.

If you have a tendency to use weak passwords, or reuse passwords across accounts, however, it’s a good idea to make the switch. You will benefit from higher levels of account security.

Are Passkeys About to Become Obligatory?

Many websites place restrictions on the type of password that you can use. You might have to use a specific length or a mixture of numbers, symbols, and letters. Many websites also make the use of two-factor authentication obligatory.

No one knows whether passkeys are going to become widespread. They are still a somewhat new concept, and they are unlikely to become obligatory anytime soon. But as their usage increases, and the occurrence of hacks decreases accordingly, it’s possible that users won’t be given a choice if they want to use a particular service.

While preventing users from making their own choices obviously isn’t ideal, the amount of people being hacked because of weak passwords isn’t ideal either. Any policy that makes people’s accounts more secure is potentially welcome.

What If You Want to Keep Using Passwords?

phishing key on keyboard
Image Credit: Richard Patterson/Flickr

Passkeys aim to fix the weaknesses of passwords, but they aren’t strictly necessary if you are using passwords correctly.

If you’d don’t like the idea of passkeys, here’s how to continue using passwords without putting your accounts at risk.

  • Use a long password that contains random letters, numbers, and characters. This prevents a hacker cracking or guessing the password.
  • Use different passwords on all accounts. This prevents a hack on one account impacting all your accounts.
  • Worried about not being able to remember all your passwords? Try a password manager, one of the smartest ways to store login credentials.
  • Watch out for phishing. Provided you understand what phishing emails look like, you are unlikely to fall for one.
  • Utilize two-factor authentication. This is similar to passkeys in that it also requires a hacker to access your device in order to access your account. It protects against passwords being cracked, guessed, or stolen.

Passkeys Are Superior and Are About to Become Widely Used

Any online account is a potential target for hackers. While a strong password provides an adequate defense, the invention of passkeys provides internet users with a superior option for keeping their accounts secure.

By opting for passkeys, you won’t need to keep a list of passwords and the threat posed by phishing is likely to be limited to the theft of personal information rather than account hacks.

If you’d like to use passkeys now, a wide variety of online services have introduced them. The availability of passkeys is constantly increasing and soon anyone will be able to go passwordless regardless of what online services they use.

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