Biometric Web Authentication: WebAuthn To Secure All The Web Applications

In the past two decades, the usage of web applications has grown significantly, such as social media, financial websites, cloud services, online shopping platforms, corporate websites, entertainment websites, etc. A person may use all such applications for various applications or more than one website for a similar service. For example, a person may depend on more than one website for an online purchase. Similarly, a person with multiple bank accounts may need to use several web applications for financial transactions. Users must authenticate each time while accessing these web applications. Most people use passwords or PINs to secure these applications, which might need more than a dozen passwords. Remembering so many passwords must be challenging, and using the same password for all websites poses a security risk. Otherwise, the user might need to spend a lot of time resetting passwords.

Popular web applications and browsers are turning to use biometric authentication to improve security. To standardize the authentication, in 2018, the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) introduced a standard called WebAuthn. This standard has been endorsed by Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, PayPal, and Qualcomm. Biometric authentication is the future of web application security, whether for social media or accessing corporate websites and cloud storage, because it is more reliable and difficult to hack.


Biometric authentication for web applications: How does it work?

Biometric authentication allows users to identify themselves to a website by using their behavioural traits through web browsers. Biometrics has largely replaced passwords and PINs in access control, device login, smartphones, attendance tracking, and other applications. However, biometrics are now being used in web apps to make the authentication process more seamless and safe.

Web applications function as standalone software that may be accessed via a browser without installing it on a device. So biometric authentication can only work through the browser. The web browser will establish a connection between the web application's server and the local biometric device through an Application Program Interface (API). Biometric authentication can be used for email, social media accounts, etc.


How does biometrics integrate into web applications?

To use biometric authentication in web applications, it is necessary to have proper hardware and software support. For users, it is simple to connect the biometric device and install the SDK in the system. For web developers, there are a couple of options to incorporate biometric authentication into their websites. We will discuss this in the following sections:


Biometric login device

Users can use biometric login devices to scan and upload their biometrics into web apps. In biometrics, there are different modalities, such as fingerprint, facial recognition, palm, and iris recognition scanners, and there are several advantages of multimodal biometric authentication. For biometric login applications, fingerprint scanners are the most commonly used biometric sensors. Most developers incorporate fingerprint recognition since they are compact and easy to use.

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Biometric SDK

Each device should have a specific SDK drive; the device manufacturers will provide the SDK. The SDK includes all the tools, function libraries, and sample code needed during the development process.


Biometric API

The Biometric API (Application Program Interface) is a software interface program that must be embedded into the web application that enables it to connect with biometric hardware. Every web developer should use the biometric API to enable biometric authentication. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook provide their own API. Developers can download APIs from their respective websites. Also, they can consult with software developers to create their APIs. The Biometric API comes as a software package as well as a cloud solution.

A cloud-based API does not necessitate the installation of any additional plugins. The web-only needs to connect with the cloud biometric API, and the cloud fingerprint system allows users to authenticate automatically without the requirement of a local biometric setup. A cloud fingerprint system is a way in which a well-established SaaS (Software as a Service) methodology is used to enable biometric fingerprint identification over the cloud and provide it as a service.


WebAuthn: A standard for biometric authentication

Biometric manufacturers can provide an API to developers that enable interconnection with their hardware. The problem with such APIs is that they are compatible only with specific hardware. Addressing the rising demand for a common standard for biometric authentication on web applications, FIDO (Fast Identity Online) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a new standard called WebAuthn to meet the requirements of developers and biometric manufacturers. This standard is supported by major corporations, including Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Paypal, and Qualcomm. It enables users to use biometric authentication for websites and applications via browsers.


How does WebAuthn work?

How does WebAuthn Work

An authenticator biometric device that complies with FIDO standards must connect to the system. This biometric device will generate public-key credentials and store them on the webserver while the biometric data stays on the local device.

The user asks through the browser for the API to generate a credential for the user.

As the authenticator receives consent from the web app, the biometric device generates a key pair. One key will be sent to the web app, and the app will store it on the server.

The server stores the public key coupled with the user's identity for future verification.

When the user tries to log in, the browser asks for the credentials (fingerprint scan). The browser will verify the credentials sent by the user.

The browser sends the credential to the web application after successful credential verification. The web application connects to the server for key verification.

The authentication is declared successful once the server has validated it.


How secure is biometric authentication for web applications?

Even if biometric authentication makes it easy to log in to web applications, users will be concerned about the privacy of their biometric data. FIDO addresses these concerns with public/private key cryptography. FIDO ensures that biometric data is never sent to a central server. Instead, the biometric data is stored on the local device and encrypted before being sent.

Instead of storing a large volume of people's biometric data on a server, each device preserves its individual user's biometric data. There are no third parties involved in hosting biometric data recorded on a device unless the user voluntarily chooses to do something like backup a device to the cloud or allow a mobile application to access the biometric data.

Because the biometric data is stored on the local device, FIDO assures that people can withdraw permission to use biometrics at any time. FIDO also offers a variety of authentication techniques, which improve the security of e-commerce and financial websites.


Bottomline

Now is the perfect time to step up from passwords to fingerprint authentication. People who use web apps are probably aware of how tough it is to remember all passwords for different web applications. Resetting passwords is also time-consuming and takes effort. Here, biometrics could bring seamless authentication to any web application. Biometrics is one of the many options available to developers and vendors for secure authentication. It can reduce the long-standing problem of passwords by enabling faster authentication and greater security.

With biometric authentication, employees can mark attendance at their desks or remotely on the computer. Their attendance will be marked only when the employee login to work applications. WebAuthn is a significant milestone in internet security. By introducing multi-biometric identifications to the internet, eventually, users can eliminate passwords and PINs.

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