Microsoft has joined the FIDO Alliance, an industry group attempting to craft industry standards that reduce reliance on passwords, long regarded as a weak point in Web security.
Launched in July 2012, FIDO, which stands for Fast IDentity Online, is hoping its specifications for security devices and browser plugins will be widely adopted across the technology industry.
Such efforts depend on voluntary adoption by many companies and organizations. So far, those participating in FIDO include heavyweights Google, MasterCard, Lenovo, Infineon, LG Electronics and a variety of smaller companies.
Authentication hardware and software widely varies, with many proprietary clients and protocols. FIDO hopes that standardizing authentication technologies will lead to better interoperability and innovations in biometrics, PINs (personal identification numbers) and secondary authentication technologies, according to its website.
Usernames and passwords underpin most online services but are easy to intercept. Computer security experts have long warned of password weaknesses, such as easy-to-guess ones and people who reuse them across multiple services.
Password replacement technology has a high bar: it needs to be both effective and simple for users.
FIDO envisions a software client that’s installed on computers that employ public key cryptography to authenticate users. All major Web browsers will be supported. The initial focus will be on securing access through Web browsers to Web applications. The group also plans authentication options for Android phones soon and eventually for Windows tablets and Apple products.
When FIDO authentication is used, a user will not need to submit their biometric or personal information to an online service.
The FIDO Alliance will eventually submit its protocol to groups dedicated to Web standards, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force or the World Wide Web Consortium.