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The password problem and the biometric fix

  • Password habits may be a main culprit behind why consumer accounts get compromised as over a third of people admit to using weak and repeated passwords across sites.
  • Given the vulnerability and inherent friction of passwords, some companies like Mastercard and American Express are moving decidedly in another direction: biometrics. 
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The password problem and the biometric fix

Last month Payoneer customers in Argentina were hit with a phishing attack that started from receiving a link for a password reset and resulted in customers losing their funds. A spokesperson from the company said that the attackers were able to target a “limited” number of customers but that the company acted quickly to contain the attack surface. 

But passwords leading to account takeovers and loss of funds is a problem Americans can relate to, since 46% report having their password stolen in 2023. Password habits may be a main culprit in why consumer accounts get compromised as 35% of consumers state they use weak passwords and 30% admit to repeatedly using a password across platforms. 

Once bad actors are in, customers are likely to lose an array of personal information. 24% of customers report losing their social security number and 25% losing their credit card number in attacks. 

Source: Forbes

Considering that users tend to lose money and personal information, why do consumers use weak passwords or use them repeatedly across platforms? 

One answer may be that passwords are a design problem, not just a security one. 

Even though the most popular password fields  mask password entries by showing asterisks or bullets, there isn’t a lot of proof that this strategy necessarily works. 

“Usability suffers when users type in passwords and the only feedback they get is a row of bullets. Typically, masking passwords doesn’t even increase security, but it does cost you business due to login failures,” said Jakob Nielson, user advocate and the founder of the usability engineering movement. 

He adds that when users can’t see what they are typing they are more likely to make errors or rely on very simple passwords.

Secondly, inconsistency of security protocols across platforms impedes usability. While one website may use a minimum password length of eight characters and require the use of special characters, another may use a different minimum password length altogether. All of this adds more friction to the password creation process and makes the usage of tools like password managers difficult as well. 

Combining insights from multiple sources shows that current password practices in the industry are at best full of friction, if not outright outdated. 

The biometric fix?

Given the vulnerability and inherent friction of passwords, some companies like Mastercard and American Express are moving decidedly in another direction: biometrics. 

Last month, Mastercard announced its Mastercard Biometric Authentication Service.

“The Mastercard Biometric Authentication Service is extra secure because all of your data stays on your personal device. You don’t have to share any secrets, like your password or answers to security questions, which significantly reduces the risk of hacks or identity theft,” said Dennis Gamiello, an executive vice president who leads Identity Products and Innovation at Mastercard.

The card network company isn’t alone – American Express piloted its biometrics system at online checkout late last year. The company claims to be the first card issuer to launch facial and fingerprint recognition technology which it is calling SafeKey. The program will run in the background during online checkout to check whether the authorized user is making the payment and in case of any inconsistencies will ask the user to confirm their identity through face or fingerprint ID. 

While the program was in pilot stages in October 2023, it is expected to roll out fully early this year. 

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